Israeli Couscous Salad

In the heat of the summer when tomatoes are lush and warm and cucumbers are cheap and numerous, I make a lot of Greek salads.  Sometimes there are lovely smoky hot peppers  and other times a few clean, green bell peppers suffice.  Feta makes an appearance if I have it. Crumbled cotija cheese is a fine substitute.  Leftover salmon or chicken might get thrown in.

The other day I saw something somewhere about Israeli salad and, while it’s similar to traditional “Greek” salad, it has lots of lemon and often includes mint and/or other fresh herbs.  When I read the words, “Israeli salad,” I just had to have some.  I like mine with cheese, but many people also add nuts or seeds. Some never add cheese so that the salad is pareve–doesn’t contain dairy or meat– or so that it’s vegan.   Whichever way you choose, I think you’ll be happy and full.

My favorite little bit about Israeli salad (which is served at many meals in Israel including breakfast) comes from legendary blogger David Lebovitz, who had Israeli food writer Maya Marom write a guest post about the salad after his return to Paris from a trip to Israel.  Maya tells us there just aren’t any rules about making the salad as far as ingredients go:

The very bare essentials – which are, just like everything else in Israel, up for discussion – are cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion. The rest is up to your liking, and the amount of chopping patience you have. Just a handful of raw vegetables, finely chopped (“dak dak”) and well-dressed (just olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice), will make a tasty bowlful of goodness. Great as a side, or on its own as a light meal.
The only rule of chopped salad is this: There are no rules. Use whatever vegetables you can find. It doesn’t really matter which kinds you put in, as long as they’re fresh, well chopped, and at room temperature. (Vegetables straight from the fridge tend to taste a little dull).

You can also look at–the photos are great– (or read if you read Hebrew) Maya’s blog here.

My own version of the salad, which often is made larger or fuller with the addition of fresh greens like spinach or arugula, includes Israeli couscous (pearl couscous), which is a very quick cooking small, round pasta that looks a bit like large tapioca.  If I have fresh fish like tuna (see cook’s notes), I grill it, slice it, and add  it on top with another big spritz of lemon.  For a dinner party, a large platter of the salad with a few sliced grilled fish fillets (or poached shrimp if, like me, you don’t keep kosher) is an easy main that can mostly be made ahead.  Serving it at room temperature means you can sit and have a glass of wine with your friends instead of standing at the stove or grill.   The leftover salad makes for great, healthy lunches or is perfect stuffed in pita.  Do taste and re-season if you serve it the next day as you would any refrigerated dish.  This particular bowlful contained fresh oregano as well as parsley only because it was that or sage, which didn’t scan for me.

Since this makes a significant amount of food, remember you can halve it.  My advice, however, is to invite a few friends and share this meal.

6-8 servings   See notes for GF and vegan versions, as well as an idea for adding grilled tuna.

  • 1 cup uncooked Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 English cucumbers, diced
  • 3 small tomatoes, seeded and diced (cut in half and squeeze seeds out; chop rest)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, reserve a bit for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 4 green onions, minced (green and white parts)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped feta cheese, reserve a bit for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • Juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Crushed red pepper
Into a medium pan, pour the boiling water over the Israeli (or pearl) couscous and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer about eight minutes or until tender.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Leave uncovered and set aside to cool a bit.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh herbs, peppers, onions, garlic, feta, and lemon peel.  Add the couscous and mix.   Drizzle lemon juice over everything, season well with a generous pinch crushed red pepper, kosher salt and pepper, and stir well.  (Begin with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and add more if needed.)  Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons olive oil and mix thoroughly.  Taste, re-season, and serve at room temperature.  Good cold for the next day or two for a leftover lunch.
Cook’s Notes: GF? Make rice instead of couscous  VEGAN? Leave out feta for vegan version.  ADD TUNA? To quickly grill tuna, heat stove-top grill or heavy skillet over high heat. Firmly place canola oiled, salted and peppered tuna fillets in hot pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on one side.  Turn and cook another 2-3 minutes on the other side.  They should still be quite pink in the center.  Let them rest a few minutes and then slice thinly at an angle.  4 ounces of fish, along with a big serving of the salad should be plenty for each person.
WINE:  I liked an Oregon chardonnay with this; it stood up to the tuna, if making. Try Chehelam or Bethel Heights.  If you make your salad quite spicy, see about an off-dry Riesling (the higher the alcohol %, the drier the Riesling–) from Washington, New York, or Germany.
Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

6 thoughts on “Israeli Couscous Salad

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  3. I love Greek salads and any recipe for the hotter weather arriving soon. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe, Alyce!

  4. We always enjoy this salad, but it’s best with garden-warm tomatoes and cucumbers, of course. It’s 42 degrees here and we just put our tomato plants out, so it’ll be a while until I see fresh produce other than herbs or greens. I do have some cherry tomatoes in pots on the deck for earlier eating, I hope. I don’t envy your heat, but am jealous of the produce you all enjoy! Hope your weekend is great, Roz.

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