Simple couscous salad recipes
What is couscous?
There are two different, though related, meanings for the word couscous.
First of all, it is a foodstuff that is made from semolina, which in turn is made from wheat. The semolina is dampened then rolled into small granules. These granules can be various sizes but most often they are a little larger than pin heads when dried. They swell considerably after steaming. Couscous is a staple in North Africa and is a good substitute for rice or pasta.
Second, the word is an all-encompassing term for a dish consisting of the semolina base which is served with a stew of meat or vegetables.
A couscous salad is very simple
I was late to discover the joys of couscous. I thought it was exotic and probably difficult to prepare but then came the day when I offered to host a farewell party for a friend. I had to rustle up dishes to suit a large number of people who would all too soon be arriving for a summer meal, and I wanted to have something to suit every taste.
I decided to give a couscous salad a try. There is nothing like jumping in at the deep end!
It was a success from every point of view: quick and easy to put together, everyone enjoyed it especially the guest of honour, and even those who said they previous didn't really like couscous. There was nothing left over!
Table of Contents
Preparing the couscous base
Preparing couscous for a salad is simplicity itself. It takes no skill, just follow the instructions.
Image from Allposters.com
- 10 oz/ 275 g medium couscous
- 18 fl oz/2 and a quarter cups/500 ml boiling water or stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Take a large heatproof bowl, considerably larger than the amount of couscous you use.
- Pour over the boiling water or, better still I think, stock.
- Stir quickly but thoroughly so that all the grains are coated.
- Leave to absorb the liquid.
- When the liquid is all absorbed, add salt and pepper if you think it's necessary, then fluff the couscous with a fork.
- That is all there is to it! Truly! It couldn't be more easy.
Variations on the theme
- Add a bay leaf, freshly ground pepper, and a tablespoon or so of oil to the stock and bring to the boil. Remove the bay leaf and pour the mixture over the couscous as before.
- Add a handful of chopped herbs: parsley, coriander (cilantro), chives, to taste. Roughly torn basil is great.
This plain and simple couscous can be used as an accompaniment either while still hot or after it has been left to cool. Better still, though, use it as the basis for another recipe.
Couscous salad with pine nuts and raisins
This was my first attempt at a couscous salad and has become a staple in our family. You don't have to keep to the recipe. You can add anything you happen like or have to hand, such as quartered cherry tomatoes.
- Basic couscous recipe prepared as above
- 1 oz/30g pine nuts
- handful chopped spring onions or chives
- 3 oz/75 g raisins or sultanas
- handful finely chopped fresh parsley
- While the couscous is absorbing the stock, toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat. Watch very carefully because they very quickly change from toasting nicely to being burnt.
- Chop the spring onions or chives.
- Chop the parsley.
- I like to add the raisins or sultanas while the couscous is cooling so that they absorb some of the moisture and plump up.
- About 5 minutes later when you feel the couscous is cool enough not to "cook" the herbs, you can add all the rest of the ingredients.
- The couscous with added raisins can be prepared in advance but I prefer to add the rest of the ingredients about an hour before serving.
Couscous salad with pine nuts (spicy version) - For a little extra bite
As with many couscous recipes, this one can be served as a main course for 4, or as a side dish accompanying something else. Depending on the spices you use, it can have quite a kick.
Harissa is a Tunisian mixture of spices so its heat is a little unpredictable and depends on the particular blend. The measurement of 2 teaspoons is for guidance only. Add enough to suit your own taste.
You could add about 4 oz/100 g of a firm cheese, cubed, to make it an altogether more substantial dish which would be perfect for a main course.
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tsp each of hot paprika and ground cumin and ground coriander
- OR 2 tsp harissa
- chicken stock
- 10 oz/ 275 g medium couscous
- 1 oz/ 30g pine nuts
- salt and pepper
- 1 tbs finely chopped parsley
- Fry the chopped onion gently in the oil until it softens.
- Add the spices.
- Continue to cook for a minute while stirring.
- Add the stock and bring to the boil.
- Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and cover with the stock.
- Leave it to absorb the liquid.
- While waiting for the liquid to be absorbed, place the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast gently, watching carefully that they don't burn.
- After the couscous has absorbed the liquid, fluff it up with a fork.
- When the couscous is cool, mix in the toasted pine nuts with salt, pepper and parsley to taste.
Grilled vegetable couscous
This makes a wonderfully tasty main course. If you are careful which cheese you use, it would be suitable for vegetarians. For vegans you can substitute one of the increasing number of non-dairy cheeses, or leave it out altogether - it's just as tasty.
- 1 large/2 medium zucchini/courgettes
- 1 eggplant/aubergine
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 large red onion
- 1 bulb of fennel
- 4 or 5 medium tomatoes (halved & deseeded)
- 2 -3 cloves of garlic
- 2 -3 tablespoons olive oil or other good oil
- couscous prepared to the basic recipe (10 oz/275 g)
- 4 oz/110g goats' cheese (or feta or haloumi)
- handful of basil leaves
- salt and pepper
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- First cut the aubergine and courgettes into thick slices or chunks
- Sprinkle with salt
- Place in a sieve or colander to drain for an hour or so. You could do it the night before.
- Meanwhile chop the remainder of the vegetables. If you don't like fennel, replace with a yellow bell pepper.
- Turn on the oven to 475 F/240 C
- Prepare the couscous basic recipe.
- Rinse, drain and dry the aubergine and courgettes.
- Place all the vegetables on an oiled baking tray
- Drizzle on a little more oil and place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or so until the vegetables look browned.
- Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper.
- Cut the cheese into small cubes half inch max, or 1 cm.
- Grate the zest from the lemon and squeeze the juice.
- Gently mix the roasted vegetables, cheese, torn basil leaves, lemon zest and juice through the couscous.
- When cool, serve with salad leaves and a dressing of your choice.