Herbed Couscous Salad Recipe

My sister and I went through a pretty intense couscous* phase when we were teenagers: my mother kept a kitchen cabinet stocked with little pre-portioned pouches of semoule that barely needed a minute and a half of boiling before we could snip them open, pour their contents into a bowl, add a bit of salt and butter, and call it lunch. We loved the stuff.

I remember suggesting this very menu to Maxence once, early in our relationship, and he looked at me like I had two heads. (Sometimes I think about this, and my former flame for canned beef ravioli, when people ask, “So, were you always interested in cooking?”)

I no longer make whole meals out of plain couscous (see there, on top of my shoulders? only one head!), but I have retained my fondness for the unique mouthfeel it provides, each forkful soft and pillowy before it bursts into a thousand tiny beads that roll around the tongue.

I favor whole wheat couscous now, for reasons of nutrition and taste, and I serve it as an ultra-easy side to stews, Maghrebi in spirit or not. And in the summer, I like to use it as a base for quick, refreshing salads such as this one.

It is inspired by the North African tabouli, better known in France and more ubiquitous at parties than the Lebanese version: couscous-based where its Lebanese cousin involves bulgur (cracked wheat), the North African tabouli also reverses the proportion of white (grains) to green (chopped herbs).

Unless you make your own semolina, hand-rolling, steaming, and sun-drying the grains, which is crazy but admirable, preparing couscous takes ten minutes and approximately zero effort: the store-bought kind is pre-cooked, and only needs plumping in freshly boiled water. You don’t even need to turn on the stove; an electric kettle will suffice.

Other than that, there will be a little herb snipping involved — I like the well-balanced trio of parsley, chives, and mint, but you can pare that down or go wild depending on what you have on hand — and the slicing of a few cherry tomatoes, but that’s about it. Simple, really, and ideal for satisfying lunches, barbecues, and picnics.

Tabouli ordinarily calls for lemon juice, but I find its sharp trill can overwhelm the other flavors, so I prefer to use bottled verjuice — the juice of unripe grapes — as the acidic component.

The tomatoes in tabouli are usually diced from regular-size whole fruits, the juices of which help rehydrate the couscous grains, but cherry tomatoes tend to offer a sweeter and more concentrated tomato flavor that works nicely here, and is accented by a pinch of cinnamon.

About the cinnamon I use

I am in love with the fresh cinnamon I order from Cinnamon Hill, a small company that specializes in sourcing and selling the highest-quality, freshest cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Vietnam (ordinary cinnamon usually comes from China or Indonesia). I get whole sticks, and grate them with the beautifully crafted (and highly giftable!) cinnamon grater that Cinnamon Hill has designed. Truly, you don’t know what cinnamon tastes like until you’ve tried freshly harvested, freshly grated, top-grade cinnamon, and it makes an amazing difference in this recipe.

* The term couscous can be used to mean either, 1. a pasta of North African origin made of crushed and steamed Durum wheat semolina, like here, or 2. a North African dish consisting of said pasta, steamed and served with stewed vegetables and grilled meat.

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Herbed Couscous Salad Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Serves 2 to 3.

Herbed Couscous Salad Recipe


  • 240 ml (1 cup) uncooked couscous, whole wheat if available (bulgur or quinoa may be substituted)
  • Olive oil
  • About a dozen stems chives, finely sliced
  • 1 small handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 small handful fresh mint, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Harissa, to taste (substitute another garlicky chili sauce, such as sriracha)
  • A dash of zest from an organic lemon, finely grated
  • A pinch ground cinnamon (I use fresh cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill)
  • 180 grams (1 rounded cup) ripe cherry tomatoes, about 20, sliced in halves
  • Salt, black pepper


  1. Put the uncooked couscous in a medium heatproof bowl. Add a good drizzle of olive oil and rub it into the grains to coat lightly.
  2. Bring 240 ml (1 cup) water to a boil and pour it over the couscous. Cover and let stand for 10-12 minutes (or according to the package), until all the water is absorbed.
  3. Fluff with a fork or your fingers until no lump remains. Set aside to cool.
  4. In a medium salad bowl, stir together the lemon juice, a rounded teaspoon of harissa, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  5. Add the herbs, lemon zest, and cooled couscous. Sprinkle with cinnamon, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat. Fold in the tomatoes, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour if possible, so the flavors have time to meld, and up to 3 or 4, but not much longer or the herbs will wilt.

This post was first published in July 2009 and updated in July 2016.

  • I think I had a couscous dish just like this in a hookah bar in Olomouc, Czech Republic. It’s neat to see how these influences spread across Europe!

  • Lovely and so perfect for summer :)

  • I’ve been making cous cous salads all summer, but I favor a Moroccan version with preserved lemons. I used the last lemon this weekend and started a new batch last night – so no more for one month. Maybe I’ll try this recipe soon. I have some fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes and lots of cilantro in the fridge.

  • Marie-Sophie

    Funny! I just bought Couscous 2 days ago as someone mentioned it and I thought “I really should give this a try” (especially as it seems so quick to prepare) but I didn’t have any recipes at hand … so it is a lovely coincidence that you happen to write about couscous! :-)
    Thanks so much for my first couscous recipe!!!

  • Mrs Redboots

    I love couscous, too – as a matter of fact,, we are having it tonight (Moroccan- or French-style, with stewed veg, chickpeas & harissa). I love it cold in salad, though. Almost nicer than my absolute favourite rice salad.

  • Claire

    To plump up the couscous, I prefer to use a roughly grated cucumber rather than hot water.
    It also add a fresh taste which goes well with the herbs.

  • Meg

    Your power to make me hungry for healthy food is unparalleled :)

  • Big couscous lovers here. It’s so easy to make and easy to adapt.

  • Yum, couscous. I think this is exactly what I am in the mood for now. I have never heard of verjuice before, I am going to have to keep an eye out.

  • Mmm- love couscous (and also love Buitoni canned beef ravioli too!!).

    Recently made this recipe which would work well with couscous instead of quinoa…

  • This sounds really good. I will make it this weekend to serve with salmon fillets baked with Maldon salt and a little cayenne pepper.

    I don’t use any oil at all ON the fish. I bake it in a hot oven in a pan in which I put a piece of aluminum foil in the bottom, grease the foil with olive oil, and then heat the pan in the oven (so the fish doesn’t stick) before I add the salmon skin side down to the pan, and cook until just done.

    By the way, I make your delicious cake with orange juice and orange zest all the time and serve it with lightly whipped cream laced with a little Grand Marnier.

    I think I’ll add a chopped cucumber to the couscous. It makes me hungry just thinking about it.

  • Rachel

    I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only teenager who liked eating couscous plain! ;)

  • Alix

    I am shocked to the core of my being that any foodstuff as low-rent (albeit delicious) as canned beef ravioli is even available in France. Wow.

  • Ursula

    One of our favorite winter dishes is a vegetable couscous stew – I saute onion & garlic in olive oil, add chopped up cabbage, diced turnip, diced carrot & chunks of potato, let it all simmer in some broth until just tender; add a can of chickpeas, a can or two of tomato chunks, salt & a few bay leaves, and let simmer until rich and soft and delicious – and serve over couscous, of course, with a sprinkle of parsely on top! The couscous sops up the lovely juices beautifully…

  • We share a love for canned beef ravioli!

  • Marie

    Sounds yummy! I’ll give that a try.

    I’ve a couscous recipe (developed for a vegetarian friend) that’s pretty similar. I add toasted pine and cashew nuts in addition to the parsley, cilantro and lemon juice. I also add some baby carrots to it.

  • I love tabouli (and bulgur) – what a great idea to use the same amount of herbs to spice up a couscous salad as well.

  • ellya

    I’m just back from Southern France where I’ve seen my mother in law prepare taboulé ithout adding water to the grain – the diced veggies helps the grain re-hydrate, she prepares it at least 12 hours before… the taste is amazing !!!

  • Tamsin

    You truly have a gift for creating perfect lunch box food which can be made quickly in the morning and improves as it sits (your chorizo, tomato and pistachio salad is a favourite of mine). I love having a nice lunch to look forward to when I’m at work, if only the weather was nice enough to sit outside!

  • Hmmm, couscous was my staple food when I was in college! I usually made it like your recipe, with some variations, or with chicken, bell peppers and dried apricots. I haven’t found the whole wheat – variety here in the Netherlands yet, though.

  • Lovely salad! I love the abundance of veggies and herbs in the summer; they make for such great additions to wholesome salads such as this one.

  • What a great recipe.

    Awesome photo too! Did you take it?

    The Cherry Tomatoes look so ripe and delicious. Yummy!

  • I love couscous salads. We eat it often as it’s a quick and easy, yet nutritious meal for a family. We also eat it for breakfast with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Yum!

  • I made it in a very similar way recently (only I added cucumbers as well), and I used lemon juice. And it was really great

  • celine

    Well, I must admit that I still eat ready-in-2-minutes-couscous with a bit of salt and A LOT of butter every now and then…

    I still love how full I feel afterwards, and it reminds me of our teenage lunches at the kitchen table too! :-)

    (And also of a private joke that our mother made a while ago and that still makes me laugh!!)

  • Haha! I just wrote a post about my love of canned corned beef – something that is shameful in Australia, but in the Philippines (where I’m currently), part of the regular diet. It’s funny the looks and stares you can get from having a penchant for canned, tinned or packeted goods. But when you fell in love with them at a young age, the love can be hard to kick!

  • I also used to attempt to make couscous into the main dish. I would mix it with as many vegetables and as much chicken as I could. My family is thankful that it now gets used as a side dish. Thank you for reminding me not to go back to my own two-headed days.

  • I’ve been on a couscous kick lately serving it as a side with dinner and this looks like a great way to expand my repertoire.

  • sherrilll

    When I found no couscous in the pantry, I substituted bulgar and It was fabulous! Everyone loved it. It is destined to become a favorite.

  • Thanks for reporting back, Sherill, so glad you liked it with the bulgur!

  • I came across your blog via Mr. Tweet recommendation and I am so glad I checked out your site! That couscous salad looks so healthful and delicious. Your photos are absolutely stunning as well!

  • Great looking recipe – here’s another along the same lines, only with tabbouleh. I think couscous would work well too…

  • Recipe sounds delicious, I love cous cous. Why oh why is it so expensive here in Colombia?

  • I had never really thought about a “recipe” for this dish – some variation on it has been one of my lunch staples for years. I like to add, based on what I have handy, diced cucumber, a can of tuna, spring onions, or crumbled feta.

  • I too grew up eating and LOVING couscous. I really like the use of fresh mint in this recipe. Delicious!

  • msue

    I CAN NOT WAIT to make this next week for lunch!! I’m addicted to cherry tomatoes, and imagine they will look like jewels nestled in the couscous (or bulgur perhaps). It is an added delight that the recipe is so versatile.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  • I love all varieties of couscous, and am always looking for new combinations. I’m quite addicted to quinoa lately, too, and like interchanging the two.

  • Y

    I appreciate the secret pinch of cinnamon!

  • Hihihihi! I like the idea of you with two heads!

  • I love couscous! I cook it often and regularly add herbs and dried fruit into it to spice it up. I also like the cinnamon and the mint in the recipe. My family is Lebanese so we use a lot of mint in cooking. I found this great list of great staple ingredients, which make cooking in any kitchen no matter how small, possible.

  • I am very excited to see that I have all the ingredients, (except the couscous), in my backyard potager now! Thank you for this recipe… many others look delicious and I can not wait to try them.

  • Sam

    Great way to brighten up some cous-cous!

  • Linda in Michigan

    Cherry tomatoes stuffed with couscous make a great party appetizer. They go fast everytime.

  • I have been making a few variations of grain salads just like this one. Quinoa tabouli is a great if you add similar herbs, a little vinegar, and lots of citrus. I also created this delish rice salad with cherry tomatoes and almonds to give it a nice crunch. If you chop preserved lemons really fine, it also gives the salad a really interesting flavor profile.


  • Mady

    To give it the Moroccan taste, I’ll ad to Ursula’s recipe cumin and cinnamon… Serve with grilled meats and finally chopped onions cocked with little water and sugar until tender and chutney style. BON Appetit !

    Ursula’s recipe

    One of our favorite winter dishes is a vegetable couscous stew – I saute onion & garlic in olive oil, add chopped up cabbage, diced turnip, diced carrot & chunks of potato, let it all simmer in some broth until just tender; add a can of chickpeas, a can or two of tomato chunks, salt & a few bay leaves, and let simmer until rich and soft and delicious – and serve over couscous, of course, with a sprinkle of parsely on top! The couscous sops up the lovely juices beautifully…
    Posted by Ursula on July 22, 2009 3:01 AM

  • Jenna

    Absolutely delicious! I just moved to a new and discovered a local fresh food market so popped in a picked up a your ingredients. Such a fresh, light and easy meal!

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