Pearl Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Lemon
Bright, citrusy, and loaded with tender couscous and tender-crisp asparagus, this Pearl Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Lemon is a cold and refreshing salad that’s perfect for lunch or dinner.
Did you know there are two kinds of couscous? There are the itty bitty couscous grains (couscous isn’t a grain at all but pasta), and then there are the bigger pearls, also called Israeli couscous. I love cooking with Israeli couscous – it’s such a fun shape, and it’s so easy to mix and match with other ingredients to create delicious dishes.
Delicious dishes, just like this pearl couscous salad. I’ve added a tangy lemon vinaigrette, and the asparagus, red onion, and cherry tomatoes add lots of flavor. It’s a bright and tangy salad loaded with crunchy bits, tender bits, and oodles of flavor.
This is a great salad – it’s quick and easy to make, and everyone loves it. It’s perfect for dinner as a side dish or even a meatless main dish, and I love nibbling on leftovers for lunch, too.
What is Couscous?
Couscous is pasta, and despite looking like a grain, there’s nothing grainy about it other than its shape. Originating in Northern Africa and made famous by Moroccan cuisine, couscous was traditionally made by hand. Today, you can buy it premade; all you need to do is add water and let it steam.
There’s also pearl couscous or Israeli couscous. Pearl couscous is also made from semolina flour and water, so it is also pasta. It, however, needs to be boiled because the pasta balls are larger. You cook it just like regular pasta – in salted, boiling water.
- Whole wheat pearl couscous
- Asparagus – Look for thin, uniform spears.
- Grape tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes will also work, but cut them in half.
- Red onion – Diced small.
- Lemon – Fresh lemon juice.
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper – To taste.
How To Make Pearl Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Lemon
This is a super easy salad to make, and you can make it ahead of time! The flavors will blend and get better after a few hours, so feel free to make it and pop it into the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
- Boil salted water in a large pot over high heat.
- Add the chopped asparagus and cook until just fork tender, then remove it with a slotted spoon and cool it under cold running water.
- Add the couscous to the boiling water and cook until tender, then drain it and rinse under cold water.
- Combine the couscous, asparagus, tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and mix well to combine.
- Adjust the seasoning and serve!
Fresh herbs are lovely in this salad. Add some finely chopped parsley if you have some on hand.
- No red onion? No problem! Use sliced green onions or even some sweet onions if you have them. Yellow or white cooking onions will be too strong.
- Can’t find pearl couscous? Use andy small pasta instead – the baby shells are a great substitute for couscous.
- Fresh lemon juice has so much more flavor than bottled. Use fresh lemon juice in this couscous salad recipe if you can.
- When draining the couscous, ensure your strainer has smaller holes than the cooked couscous, or you’ll lose it in the sink.
- Add leftover cooked chicken or shrimp to make this a protein-packed pearl couscous salad.
- Thinner asparagus will cook faster and is more delicate for the small couscous. Cut it into uniform 1-inch sized pieces before cooking it and pull it out of the water as soon as it is tender-crisp.
- Pearl couscous should boil for 8-10 minutes to get tender, but taste a bit to make sure it is cooked. For salads, couscous should be al dente.
- Rinsing the couscous under cold running water will stop it from cooking and cool it down at the same time.
- Don’t worry if your couscous is still a bit warm when mixing the salad – it’ll absorb more of the flavor that way.
Because there’s no mayonnaise or protein in this salad, it is perfect for cookouts, parties, and gatherings. I love serving it with burgers, honey baked ham, and ribs, but this easy salad is tasty alongside so many different dishes!
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can eat the leftovers chilled or at room temperature. This Israeli couscous salad will not freeze well – it is best eaten fresh.
Pearled Couscous Salad with Asparagus & Lemon
- 1 Cup whole wheat pearl couscous
- 1 Bunch thin asparagus tough ends trimmed & chopped into 1 inch pieces
- 1.5 Cups grape or cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/4 – 1/2 Cup red onion minced
- 1-1/2 lemons juiced
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until tender, about three minutes. Remove with a large slotted spoon and rinse in a colander in the sink under cold water to stop it from cooking. Add the couscous to the boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes. Drain the asparagus, being careful to use a colander or strainer with hole smaller than the couscous pearls. Rinse under cold water.
- Place couscous and chopped asparagus into a large bowl and add the tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more as needed.