This Israeli couscous salad is incredibly colorful and delicious. Filled with textures and flavor, it’s the perfect good-for-you make-ahead salad for picnics, potlucks, and lunch boxes.
Ever heard of Israeli couscous? This “couscous” is not a type of couscous, but rather a round-shapred pasta made with wheat flour. Called “ptitim” or “p’titim” in Israel, this pasta shape was created in 1953 by the country’s prime minister, who was looking for a wheat-based alternative to rice. The pasta was indeed first shaped like grains of rice (similar to Italian orzo), but then the company that manufactured the pasta first came up with a round alternative, which was inspired by couscous.
Israeli couscous is a wonderfully versatile foundation on which you can build tasty warm or cold dishes. Also called Jerusalem couscous, pearl couscous, or giant couscous, the chewy pasta absorbs surrounding flavors without ever losing its shape and texture or clumping together, possibly making it the ultimate ingredient for prepare-ahead salads.
In this Israeli couscous salad recipe, the chewy beads soak in the rich roasted tomato dressing and elegantly mingle with crunchy cucumbers, umami-rich black olives, earthy parsley, and peppery arugula. This is a bright, gorgeous salad, one that screams for you to put together a picnic on a warm summer day. It’s also a great salad you can make ahead and divide between individual lunch containers, meal prep-style.
To increase the protein content of the dish, simply fold in shredded cooked chicken, sauteed cubes of tofu, or crumbled feta cheese. However you choose to serve this Israeli couscous salad, you’re in for a treat.
Some brands of Israeli couscous sell the pasta already toasted, which saves you a step. But if the Israeli couscous you bought is not toasted, don’t skip the extra step! Toasting Israeli couscous is quick and easy and adds that trademark nutty flavor to the pasta.
If you can’t find Israeli couscous, you can use a very similar Italian pasta called fregola. Originating from Sardinia—hence its nickname “Sardinian couscous”—fregola pasta has the same shape as Israeli couscous, though it can be a bit larger in size. It’s most often sold toasted.
If you can’t find either Israeli couscous or fregola, you can substitute orzo pasta, which is readily available in all grocery stores. Make sure to toast the orzo as instructed in the recipe to add that extra nuttiness to the salad.
This Israeli couscous salad is the perfect make-ahead salad. In fact, the pasta absorbs even more flavor from the cherry tomato dressing as it sits.
If you’re making the Israeli couscous salad ahead of time, make sure to keep the arugula out of the dish and only toss it into the salad right before serving. Arugula is fragile, so its leaves would wilt upon sitting for several hours.
If you’re serving the salad at a picnic or potluck or as a side dish, bring the salad back to room temperature at least 1 hour before serving. Then toss in the arugula along with an extra drizzle of cherry tomato dressing. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.
If you’re meal prepping this Israeli couscous salad, prepare it without the arugula then divide it between individual containers. Add an extra drizzle of cherry tomato dressing over each serving, then top with a large pinch of (undressed) arugula. Close each container and refrigerate.
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