Watermelon and couscous salad with feta and mint is a refreshing Middle Eastern style grain salad for summer!
watermelon and couscous salad is a unique summer salad
You know I live for recipes like this, that take classic summer ingredients and offer a whole new way to enjoy them. This gorgeous watermelon and couscous salad makes a healthy side dish or lunch for those glorious summer months we all love. Mostly plant based (vegans leave off the feta,) with layers of fresh flavor…I can’t stop eating it!
This recipe lightly adapted from one I spotted in The Guardian by Ravinder Bhogal.
what makes this couscous salad special?
The profile is Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, with a few out of the ordinary ingredients that should be available to you in your supermarket.
- COUSCOUS ~ in this case it’s a whole wheat form of couscous called MAFTOUL. Maftoul is a couscous from Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. It’s a variation of traditional couscous (which comes from North Africa) that is made from whole wheat, rather than semolina. The grains are a bit larger than regular couscous, and maftoul has a wonderful firm texture and nutty flavor. Look for it with the regular couscous or in the International section of your market. You can find it online, or in specialty or gourmet food stores. I used this brand, and I liked it.
- If you can’t find muftoul substitute a whole grain Israeli or pearl couscous. Look for a nice medium size, nothing too big.
- SEEDLESS WATERMELON ~ this is a no brainer, look for a good firm heavy-for-its-size specimen.
- FETA CHEESE ~ always look for authentic Greek feta, which is made with sheep’s milk. It’s the real deal, more nuanced and less sharp than American feta, which is made from cow’s milk.
- PISTACHIOS ~ more available than ever, the American pistachio growers have been pushing them for a while now, and they’re delicious. I bought mine in the shell, which is a little tedious, but you can sometimes find them already shelled.
- RED ONION ~ not in the original recipe but oh so important. Thin slivers are best.
- FRESH PARSLEY AND MINT
- OLIVE OIL ~ extra virgin, and I’ve been playing around with bold or robust versions and loving them in salads.
- POMEGRANATE MOLASSES ~ one my favorite ingredients! It’s pure pomegranate juice that’s been reduced down to a thick syrup. It should be in the International aisle of your supermarket.
- You can make your own pomegranate molasses, it’s easy!
- LIME ~ the original recipe calls for rosewater, but I like lime better.
- SUMAC ~ a Middle Eastern spice made from ground sumac berries. It has a mild, citrussy flavor. You’ve tasted it before in my Fattoush Salad and my Kofte Bowl with Warm Spiced Yogurt.
- SALT AND PEPPER ~ fresh cracked pepper is a must.
make it ahead
The maftoul couscous can be made a day ahead, and the whole salad can be prepped ahead except for the watermelon. That’s best added shortly before serving because diced watermelon will start to lose its crisp texture in the refrigerator.
variations and substitutions for watermelon and couscous salad
Don’t love watermelon? I think this couscous salad would be amazing with peaches or nectarines.
If you can’t find whole wheat maftoul you can use Israeli couscous.
For a gluten free alternative try small French lentils.
Instead of pistachios try chopped almonds or walnuts. I would toast them first. If you can’t do nuts, sunflower seed kernels would work.
If you’re not a fan of mint, you can leave it out. A substitute would be oregano, thyme, or za’atar.
more lunch-worthy grain salads
- Lunch Prep: Loaded Farro Salad
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Shrimp
- Wheat Berry Salad with Beets and Feta
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Tuna
- Lunch Prep: Instant Pot Wheat Berry Salad
- Rye and Carrot Salad
- Loaded Tabbouleh Salad
Watermelon and Couscous Salad
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used a robust variety)
- 1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (you can add more to taste)
- 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
- 2 cups (heaped) cooked maftoul couscous. You'll cook this according your package instructions and measure out 2 cups for the recipe. Note: measure AFTER cooking.
- 4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
- 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
- 1/4 small red onion, thinly slivered
- handful of fresh parsley, chopped
- fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tsp sumac
- 2-3 ounces Greek feta cheese, rough crumbled (maybe 1/2 cup or more)
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients.
- Put the maftoul in a large bowl, it's ok if it's still a little warm. Toss with 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing.
- Toss the watermelon with the lime juice and add to the bowl, along with the onion, chopped pistachios, herbs, and sumac. Toss the salad with more of the dressing.
- Top with roughly crumbled feta and a good grinding of black pepper. I like to garnish with some parsley and/or mint leaves.