Couscous mixed with chopped vegetables served in a white serving bowl.

This Couscous Garden Salad is seasoned with lemon and dill, then tossed with a rainbow of fresh vegetables.

Couscous is probably the easiest side there is to make. I’ll admit I had no idea what couscous was until about a month ago when I started cooking with it. Like most people who have never tried couscous, I assumed it was a type of grain. If you’ve always wondered what couscous is, stick around for a few minutes while I shed some light on the subject.

Lemony Couscous Garden Salad close-up served in a white serving bowl.

What is couscous?

Couscous is made of crushed durum wheat semolina. That’s the same stuff pasta noodles are made of. So, technically speaking, couscous is a form of pasta. One of the most notable differences between pasta and couscous is that couscous isn’t pressed like pasta. It’s partially cooked then rolled in a drum to give it its circular shape.

If you’ve looked for it in the past and had a difficult time finding it in the grocery store, you’re not alone. I had the same problem the first time I started looking for it. Some stores carry it in the ethnic aisles, some in the pasta aisles, and others in the rice and grains aisles. Most stores don’t shelve couscous next to spaghetti and its brothers and sisters (AKA elbow, shell, lasagna, you get the picture).

I thought that was weird at first, but now I think I understand why. My guess is because couscous isn’t boiled in water the way pasta is.

How to cook couscous.

Traditionally, couscous is reconstituted with a little bit of water first, then steamed three times in a sieve-style pot and steamer. It’s a two-part process that results in fluffy pasta-like granules that aren’t mushy or grainy.

There are different grain sizes available ranging from small, like the one I’ve used in this couscous garden salad recipe, to larger pearl sizes.

Most of the couscous we find in the U.S. has already been steamed once for us then dehydrated for packaging. It’s basically instant couscous. All we have to do is add some boiling water, keep it covered, and let the water and steam do their magic.

I’ve taken it a slight step further in my recipe, however, by seasoning the water before adding the couscous. Couscous is as bland as it looks. Just like any other grain or pasta it requires a good seasoning base to start with. Currently, I’m crushing on a salt and oregano combo in my couscous. Feel free to experiment with your favorite dried herbs.

How to use couscous

You can make it a few days in advance if you want to cut down on prep time for a party. For a salad like this, it’s probably best to make the couscous at least a couple of hours ahead of time because the next thing you’re going to do is add raw ingredients to your cooked couscous. Nobody wants warm tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocados in their cold salad. Right?

Speaking of avocados, here’s a tip to help keep your avocado from turning brown too quickly. Put the diced avocado in a small bowl or cup and pour half the lemon juice over it. Stir the avocado with lemon juice gently to coat all the pieces. Let the avocado sit in the lemon juice for a few minutes before mixing into the salad.

Lemony Couscous Garden Salad ingredients in a large white serving bowl.

Once you have all the ingredients in your serving bowl ready to go, drizzle two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil over everything, followed by the remaining lemon juice. Gently stir everything together well.

In case you’re wondering which EVOO I prefer to use, that’d be Cobram Estate all the way, baby. ­čśë

Serve this Lemony Couscous Garden Salad with grilled shrimp or chicken strips, baked cod, pan fried steak, or nothing at all. It really is good enough to eat all by itself.

Couscous garden salad served in a large white serving bowl

Some other helpful links with tips, thoughts, and recipes on couscous…

Don’t Make These Couscous Common Mistakes (Unlike Everyone Else)

How to Cook Couscous: Tips, Techniques, and an Easy Recipe

How to Steam Couscous the Moroccan Way

Couscous garden salad served in a large white serving bowl with serving spoon.

Enjoy, friends!

Lemony Couscous Garden Salad

Course Side Dish
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients

For the couscous

  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup couscous

For the salad

  • 2 cups cucumber, cubed
  • 1 1/2 cup Roma tomato, cubed
  • 1 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup kalamato olives, sliced
  • 4.25 ounce canned crushed black olives
  • 3 tbsp scallions, minced
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill, minced
  • 1 large avocado (or 2 small avocados)
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. In a 2-quart pot, bring water, oregano, and salt to a boil. Turn off heat and immediately add the couscous. Level the couscous with a fork to make an even layer, cover with a lid and let steam for 5-7 minutes. Remove lid, fluff couscous with a fork. Let cool completely before adding the vegetables.

  2. While the couscous is cooling, prepare the remaining ingredients. 

    Combine 1 teaspoon lemon juice with the avocado separately before adding to the bowl of vegetables. 

    Add couscous to bowl.

  3. Pour EVOO and remaining lemon juice over all the ingredients, stir well to combine. Season with salt to taste.

Recipe Notes

If the couscous isn’t breaking apart evenly and you notice some clumps, drizzle a teaspoonful of EVOO in the couscous and use your fingers to break the clumps apart. You can also fluff the couscous over a large plate or shallow bowl.

This couscous salad can be made a day in advance. Keep it refrigerated until the day of the party/dinner. Keep it covered, but take it out about an hour before you start serving so it’s not too cold.