Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Olives, Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon

by formerchef on August 21, 2012

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It’s been hot here in Southern California. Really hot. Hot, as in the lawn has turned crispy, hot. Hot, as in run the A/C all night long, hot. Hot, as in melt your ipad case in the car, hot. Yep. That last one happened to my husband. He’s lucky the ipad still works.

When the weather is as unrelenting as it has been, I only want to eat cold food, and salads like this one serve double duty. I make one each weekend, usually with some sort of whole grain, rice, or pasta and lots of vegetables mixed in. We eat them first with a piece of  easily grilled protein (chicken or fish grilled outside to keep the house cool). Then I’ll serve the rest of the salad later in the week as a quick veggie lunch or with something like leftover chicken tossed in. These Simple Sunday Salads will serve enough for 8-10 as a side dish or feed two for a few days of leftovers. I’ll be featuring more of these salads in the coming weeks.

If you’re not familiar with Israeli couscous (also called Mediterranean or Pearl couscous) it’s slightly different from North African couscous. It’s still a pasta, typically made with semolina flour, but instead of looking like little grains, it’s more the size of small peas.  It’s usually toasted before cooking to give it a nutty flavor, similar to the Italian (Sardinian) pea sized pasta called fregola. This salad is inspired by the flavors surrounding the Mediterranean; olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, thyme, mint and preserved lemon. If you’d like to make it vegan, leave out the goat cheese, otherwise leave it in because it adds a nice tangy flavor and a bit of creamy texture to the salad.

Toasted Israeli Couscous Salad with Olives, Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon

To print this recipe use the green “print” button at the bottom of the page. 

12 oz Israeli couscous
(about 2 cups dried)
2.5 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 ea shallot, minced (about 1 oz)
1 oz red wine vinegar
3 oz extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

1 ea preserved lemon (recipe) (peel only, small diced)
3 oz black oil cured olives, pitted, cut in half
10 oz whole tomatoes, diced 1/2″
5 oz cucumber, peeled and diced 1/2″
3 oz crumbled goat cheese
1/8 oz fresh thyme, chopped
1/8 oz fresh mint, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the cous cous and toast in the oil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Carefully add the water (it will spatter), and bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the pasta is tender and all the water is absorbed. Cool on a sheet pan until room temperature.

To make the dressing whisk together the extra virgin olive oil,  red wine vinegar, and minced shallot. Season with salt a pepper to taste. You can also combine the dressing in a small jar and shake to combine as detailed in this post on making a basic vinaigrette. Mixing it in a jar makes for easy storage too!

Place the cous cous in a large bowl with the diced preserved lemon, pitted olives, diced tomato, and diced cucumber. Combine with about 2 oz of the dressing to start. Reserve the rest of the dressing for a later salad, or to add more later if needed (if the salad sits sometimes it will absorb the dressing). Add in the fresh herbs and gently fold in the crumbled goat cheese. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

This salad would be great served with marinated and grilled chicken, grilled fish, or even grilled lamb or goat skewers.

If you like this salad, here are some other salads to check out:

Beet Salad with Barley, Goat Cheese, Arugula & Mint

Orzo Salad with Asparagus, Artichokes, Tuna & Lemon Vodka Vinaigrette

Quinoa Salad with Shrimp, Asparagus, Fresh Corn and Herb Lime Vinaigrette

Winter Quinoa Salad with Mixed Beans and Tahini-Chili Dressing

Pesto Macaroni Salad with Tomatoes, Corn and Fresh Mozzarella

1 Angrboda August 21, 2012 at 8:17 am

Oh, that looks good! And good timing too, as I’m having a little New Recipe Challenge on my cooking days this week.

I haven’t got any preserved lemons, though. Could I use some zest instead?

2 formerchef August 21, 2012 at 8:29 am

Yes, you could start with a 1/2 a teaspoon of zest and go from there.

3 Angrboda August 21, 2012 at 9:02 am

Excellent. 🙂 I think I will make this tomorrow then.

I have printed out so many things from you website that have now become stables and favourites. Thank you 🙂

4 formerchef August 21, 2012 at 9:03 am

That’s great, thank you! Let me know how it comes out.

5 Angrboda August 24, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Well, I tried it today after a few small delays. Turns out I couldn’t find the right sort of couscous either where I live, so I tried with the regular kind instead. I thought that went well, although I know now for another time that I should adjust the measurements as well. I HAVE SO MUCH COUSCOUS! O.O I couldn’t even fit all of it in my bowl!

So I put the other ingredients in, and then just added couscous until I thought it was a good mixture, and that seemed to work fine. I was worried that it would go a bit dry, but that was not a problem at all.

I modified the dressing slightly and gave it a good squeeze of lemon juice instead of onion. I thought that came out rather nice.

Finally, as my husband is vegetarian, I couldn’t use your meaty serving suggestions, so I served it with some aubergines which I had sliced, coated with whisked egg, a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper and then panfried. I thought the two things went well together. Usually we have chips or a green salad with those, so it was nice to try something else with them.

I’ve got enough leftovers to feed an army though. :p It’ll probably end up in my lunch box on monday.

6 Myra August 21, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I love your Sunday Salad idea. I’m also a fan of cold food on a hot day, especially if it makes leftovers for later in the week. I haven’t tired Israeli couscous before, but it’s such a fun shape I’m sure my kids will love it.

7 formerchef August 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Myra, give it a try, I bet the kids will like it.

8 Daniela @ FoodRecipesHQ August 29, 2012 at 4:18 am

I’ve never tried Israeli CousCous, I hope I’ll be able to find it easily in supermarkets in London. I’m very curious about it.

9 formerchef August 29, 2012 at 6:14 am

If you have a hard time, try a neighborhood market where there are more Middle Eastern residents.

10 Steffani September 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Ahh, this sounds amazing! I’m gluten free and it’s really expensive to buy GF cows cous, but I could see something like garbanzo beans being a really tasty substitute. I’m going to be trying those quinoa burgers soon, so maybe I’ll make these to go with it!

11 MarlisB January 6, 2013 at 7:01 am

I found your wonderful recipe on foodgawker, and promptly bookmarked it. A trip to my favorite local health-food market yesterday, netted me some lovely Israeli couscous and I knew I wanted to try it again. Your recipe sounded the most appealing of all the ones I perused on foodgawker. Even in the dead of an Iowa winter. So, Tuesday’s lunch is planned. My beloved chickpea patties with cucumber sauce (I really should blog those), and your couscous salad recipe. Hmmm, I just can’t wait!

12 formerchef January 6, 2013 at 7:44 am

Thanks! It’s one of my favorites too!

13 formerchef August 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Well yes, 2 cups of regular couscous is going to make a lot more than the Israeli couscous, LOL. Glad you liked it anyway though. Serving it with fried eggplant sounds divine too. 🙂

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