Couscous Salad

Couscous salad is a quick and simple lunch, perfect for home or a lunchbox. You can vary the ingredients based on what you have in, and it’s very useful for using up leftovers or ingredient odds and ends – that last stub of cucumber or half a carrot. Whilst it can be packed with lots of fresh salad vegetables, the couscous base is filling, so the goodness of this lunch is not undone by a circa 3pm carb-crash that can only be addressed with half a pack of ginger-nuts.   

How to make couscous

Some packets will suggest that you need to make couscous on the hob, but I have always found this safe to completely ignore. Simply empty the couscous into a bowl, pour boiling water over it until covered by about 2mm of water, stir, and then cover the bowl with a plate. After about 5 minutes, the couscous will have absorbed all the water. Fluff it up a bit with a fork or spoon and you are ready to add the other ingredients.

The flavour of the couscous can be enhanced by adding some butter or vegan spread to the couscous (approx. 10g or about the same amount you’d use to butter two slices of toast) before pouring on the boiling water. Alternatively, vegetable stock is useful for adding a bit of savoury flavour and saltiness. Use half a stock-cube or 2 teaspoons of bouillon powder for 180g of couscous.

Picking a “star” ingredient

As with salads with leaves, you really want some nuggets of deliciousness in there to accompany all that virtuous raw vegetable. This is the perfect opportunity to use those less than full-portions of food lingering in Tupperware with no obvious future. So, ha! to you food insecurity – those last three spoonfuls of Tuesday night’s veg curry will get gobbled! In the absence of leftovers, the following kinds of ingredients can take on the ‘star ingredient’ role – marinated tofu pieces, feta cheese, generous dollops of hummus, ham, sundried tomatoes, meatballs, or fried slices of halloumi.


Use whatever vegetables you have (or can get hold of) as the salad items. The recipe below is one suggested combination, but really anything goes e.g. fresh cucumber, tomato, celery, carrot, lettuce, rocket, spring onion, avocado. Roasted vegetables are great too, but obviously take more time and prep.

Other nice flavours and textures

If you have them, any of the following can be pleasing additions to the couscous salad – fresh herbs, sunflower seeds or other seed mix, dried herbs such as a Dukkah mix, raisins or dried apricot pieces, or sliced nuts. As you’ll see in the recipe below, I add a very basic dressing of a tablespoon each of olive oil and lemon juice, but other options include ranch dressing, fresh yoghurt or pesto.

What goes with what?

I’ve tried to emphasise the flexibility of this recipe and how you can adapt to personal preferences and ingredient availability. However, I do hesitate about what ingredients actually taste nice together when trying to take this ‘chuck it all in’ approach. To avoid anything too clashy or gross, it can be helpful to think of what you’d like eating together on a pizza, or group loosely by cuisine e.g. an “Italian” couscous salad could feature basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto, or a broadly “Turkish” salad could be conjured from fresh mint, chickpeas, tomatoes, peppers, dried coriander and cumin, sliced almonds and raisins.  

Hope you enjoy and if you come up with any brilliant couscous salad recipes, please share with us!

Couscous salad

Serves 2
Time: 10 minutes


180g couscous
10g butter
2 roast chicken thighs or 4 tablespoons of marinated tofu (or leftovers of your choice)
1 carrot
1 spring onion
6 cherry tomatoes or 1 large tomato
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt (optional)

  1. Empty the couscous into a bowl and add the butter. Pour over enough boiling water to cover the couscous completely, plus 2mm. Give the couscous a good stir and then cover the bowl with a plate and leave while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Grate the carrot, finely slice the spring onion, and cut the tomatoes into pieces. Put the vegetables into a separate bowl and add the olive oil and lemon. Stir to combine.
  3. When the couscous has absorbed all the water (approx. 5-7 minutes) break it up into separate grains with a fork. Add the vegetables and chicken/tofu and yoghurt (if using) and mix everything together. Serve immediately or empty into a lunchbox for later.

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