Picnic Perfection: Couscous Salad

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

As a complement to my last post, I’d like to share one of my favorite salads that is just great for picnics, a cookout or a weeknight vegetarian dish. I first saw this couscous salad by chance on an episode of Paula Deen’s cooking show on the Food Network, and intrigued, I adapted it a bit to my taste…then a bit more. It’s one that comes together very quickly and lends itself to adaptation, so you may wish to try your own versions as well. Couscous is so versatile, which is one of the things I really love about it!

Regardless of whether you make this salad as I suggest, or play with it a bit, I think it’s one you’ll really enjoy. And I think you’ll agree, it’s a perfect salad for your outdoor adventures, or any time!

Spring-Summer Couscous Salad, with Variations
(Adapted from Paula Deen)Β 
8 servings

1 cup golden couscous
1 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil
10 oz. grape tomatoes, cut in half or quarters (about 2 cups total)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut into quarters lengthwise
1 cup Italian flat leaf parslely, chopped
5 oz. crumbled feta cheese

3 Tablespoons olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan with the 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add the couscous, then turn off the heat and cover, allowing it to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer it to a large bowl to cool slightly.

Add the tomatoes, olives and parsley to the couscous and stir to combine. Add the feta and stir lightly to incorporate. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients to emulsify, then add the dressing to the salad and stir gently to incorporate.

Allow the salad to sit at room temp for an hour before serving, or place it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Cinnamon: Now I know this sounds weird, but it’s fantastic. Sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon to the finished salad and stir it well to combine. This is the way we most often have eaten this salad.
Marjoram: Add 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of minced fresh marjoram to the dressing, then stir it into the salad. Marjoram can be strong tasting to the uninitiated, so add it to your taste, and I’d not recommend using cinnamon with the marjoram. We had this last night and I now like it even better than the cinnamon, because it is so fresh and lively.
Greek: Certainly you could add about 1/2 cup of peeled, seeded, finely diced and patted dry cucumber to this salad, a little chopped red onion, and add 1 teaspoon or more to taste of minced fresh oregano and even a dash of minced fresh garlic if you like to the dressing, et voilΓ , Greek couscous salad. (Again, no cinnamon with this one, I’d say.)


52 thoughts on “Picnic Perfection: Couscous Salad

  1. I love couscous but, i don’t know why, I just so seldom make it, but this simple recipe with all its scope for variations looks charming, I shall be making it this summer for sure, thanks betsy! c


    • It’s really, really nice with the lemon and the other flavors. It doesn’t make it sweet, but just adds a nice little undertone of spice that is hard to pinpoint as cinnamon, yet enhances all the flavors. Thanks for your comment, Ellen!


    • Interesting, Giovanna! I’ve seen Tabouli salad made from couscous in the traditional way with bulgur but no feta or olives. I didn’t know there was a French version, and I hope you’ll share your mother in laws’ recipe (if she allows)…I’d love to read it and try it!


  2. This salad, and its variations, really hits the mark, Betsy. Couscous is such a great little pasta, just perfect for salads like these. And your timing couldn’t be better. I happen to have a surplus of feta pickling in my fridge right now. I need to buy some couscous. πŸ™‚


    • I sure wish I had some of your feta pickling in my fridge. I’ve never tasted homemade feta and I know it would send this little salad into the stratosphere taste-wise! I love keeping couscous on hand these days. It’s so quick to make and there are so many ways to use it. πŸ™‚


  3. I love couscous salads – so tasty, healthy and easy to make. I like the Greek version, but might have to try the marjoram and cinnamon versions – thanks!


    • Hi Ali, the cinnamon is very good and unlike other salads of this variety that I’ve tasted. People love it and can never figure out that it has cinnamon in it. The same could be said of the marjoram version, but it is definitely more herby!


  4. This is also one of my favourite salads, Betsy, except we generally make it with Quinoa. I am normally not a huge Paula Deen fan, she just cooks so blatantly unhealthy, so I am quite surprised that she has a salad like this in her repertoire. I love the feta and the black olives in it. Really tasty.
    Eva kitcheninspirations.wordpress.com


    • I think the balance between sweet and savory is nice when you strike it right. That’s essentially what happens in the cinnamon version of this…but I still get some strange looks sometimes! πŸ˜‰


    • Hi Barb! Our most recent little wine tour was a very last minute decision to go, and I didn’t make it for that, but have for other mountain trips and for camping in the mountains and at the beach. I’ve taken this on many a picnic, to the drive-in, to parties and last weekend when I took these pics we had a little picnic in our yard! We’ve had the opposite of your spring, I think. It was 90 degrees today and high 80’s last weekend. More of the same this week…much more like summer than spring!


  5. Hi Betsy, I love a couscous salad! I like to add chopped red pepper too and leave it overnight so the red peppers flavour infuses a bit into the salad. I didn’t add feta before… I’ll do this next time – great idea πŸ™‚


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