Recipe: Salad days of summer — spotlight on couscous

Couscous salad with blistered tomatoes and red onions.

Couscous salad with blistered tomatoes and red onions.
Lynda Balslev | TasteFood

The star of this summer salad is Moroccan couscous. Couscous is often referred to as a grain, but this is a misnomer. These tiny morsels are grainy in appearance, but they are made from semolina and water and rolled into tiny granules. So, in fact, couscous is a type of pasta (and not gluten-free).

To confuse matters further, there are several types of couscous. Israeli or pearl couscous consists of larger globules, about the size of small pearls or peppercorns. They are toasty and chewier. Lebanese couscous is an even larger variation and less commonly found in the supermarkets. Moroccan or North African couscous is the finest and easiest to cook, due to its size. It merely needs to steam or steep in hot water for several minutes to soften. It has a mild and slightly nutty taste that provides a blank slate for absorbing flavor.

Couscous is also notable for its versatility. Add a smattering of spices to the hot water in which it steeps, and the couscous will obligingly absorb the aromatics and drive deep flavor into a dish. Use it as an accompaniment to stews, such as North African tagines, or as a side dish in pilafs and a neutral substitute for rice.

Couscous is delicious served warm or at room temperature and is a hearty base for salads. Top with cooked chicken, feta cheese or roasted vegetables. In this salad, the couscous is infused with Mediterranean spices and lemon and tossed with a generous amount of fresh green herbs. It provides a bright and aromatic bed for roasted onions and tomatoes, which blanket the couscous and infuse the grains with their pan juice.

Couscous salad with blistered tomatoes and red onions

Active time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

• 1 pint grape tomatoes

• 8 to 10 baby red onions, halved, or 2 to 3 small red onions, cut in wedges

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• Kosher salt

• Freshly ground black pepper


• 1 1/2 cups couscous

• 1 1/3 cups boiling water

• 2 large garlic cloves, minced

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground coriander

• 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

• 1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

• 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus more for garnish

• Chopped fresh mint leaves for garnish

• Lemon wedges for serving

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the tomatoes, onions and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Season with salt and black pepper. Roast in the oven until the tomatoes collapse and release their juices, and the onions are lightly charred and tender, about 30 minutes.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, combine the couscous, water, garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne in a bowl. Cover the bowl and let stand until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 15 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork, then stir in the parsley, cilantro and lemon zest. Taste for seasoning.

3. Spread the couscous on a serving platter. Top with the tomatoes, onions and pan juices. Garnish with the mint, additional lemon zest, and lemon wedges for squeezing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at


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