Summer Couscous Salad
2. Beach barbecuing.
The latter has become a true passion for both me and my roommate, and I’m thrilled to report that we’ve really perfected our setup and menu game in Sag Harbor over the past few months.
We started with sandwiches and beers on a blanket (awesome in its own right) but have now graduated to full-blown feasts with festive cocktails in front of a raging portable bonfire. There’s a mini grill, a table that folds out of a tiny Mary Poppins bag, and an array of #notsponsored Yeti products involved, and some of the meals we’ve had on the beach have been the best in recent memory.
It reminds me of camping, except you get to go home after dinner. HALLELUJAH.
Most of our beach menus fall into the “classic with a twist” bbq category and involve some variety of grilled proteins—from burgers and dogs to cilantro-lime chicken and Dude Diet lemon-herb shrimp skewers—and a couple sides that travel well and can be served at room temperature. (Obviously, no mayo.) Enter: Summer Couscous Salad.
I’ve always gravitated toward grain and pasta salads in general, but they are truly the best packable sides for picnics/bbqs/potlucks, and this Summer Couscous Salad has become my most beloved summer offering. Israeli couscous loaded with peaches, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, herbs aplenty, and simply dressed with plenty of fresh lemon and olive oil is a wildly versatile, crowd-pleasing summer smorgasbord salad that never gets old. Seriously. I’ve made it at least once a week this entire summer, beach bbq or not, as this sweet and savory staple is equally fabulous as a dinner party side or #sassydesklunch.
As always, I encourage you to use this summery salad recipe as a roadmap. It can be adjusted in infinite ways to suit your personal preferences and what you have on hand, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite you do you options here:
- The slightly chewy texture of Israeli couscous pearls is delightful, but substituting Moroccan couscous is absolutely fine if you prefer. Just make sure to adjust the cooking method: Bring 1½ cups water to a boil with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Once boiling, turn off the heat and stir in the couscous. Cover, and let the couscous stand for 5 minutes, then fluff it with a fork.
- Not into couscous? Sub orzo or any whole grain that you like!
- Play with fruit! Cherries, plums, or any other stone fruit will work instead of peaches, and feel free to use any type of tomatoes.
- Exercise herb flexibility! I’m particularly fond of the combination of cilantro or basil and mint that’s listed in the recipe, but you can throw in any combination of scallions, basil, cilantro, mint, chives, and parsley that your little heart desires.
- Cheese? If you please! I love feta, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella or even blue cheese crumbled on top of this salad. Avocado is also great if you want a dairy-free creamy element.
- Go nuts! If you love extra crunch, try adding ½ cup or so of toasted almonds or pistachios into the mix.
- Not a lemon fan? Balsamic or champagne vinegar are fun. Start with 3 tablespoons and add more to taste if needed.
This recipe serves 8 generously as a side dish or 4 as a vegetarian meal, but it’s easily cut in half if you’re cooking for 1 or 2. With that said, I promise you’ll be excited about leftovers—this keeps amazingly for about 4 days in the fridge. Just take the salad out of the fridge about 15-20 minutes before you plan to eat (I don’t love any salads straight from the fridge as the cold dulls the flavors), and freshen it with some extra lemon and olive oil.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra as needed)
- 1 1/2 cups Israeli (aka pearl) couscous (GF friends can substitute quinoa or brown rice!)
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus extra to taste
- 2 ears sweet corn, kernels removed (or 1.5 cups frozen or canned sweet corn)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 peaches, pitted and diced
- 1 dry pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced crosswise into 3/4-inch rounds (I love to use heirloom cherry tomatoes for color and flavor variety.)
- 3 whole scallions, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 packed cup fresh cilantro or basil leaves, finely chopped (If you like things extra herb-y, feel free to use ¾ cup)
- 1/4 packed cup fresh mint leaves
- Juice of 1 lemon
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the couscous and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until lightly golden. (Toasting the couscous like this will enhance its flavor!) Add the water and ½ teaspoon kosher salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Immediately lower to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 8 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is tender. Transfer to a large mixing bowl or baking dish.
Wipe out the pan and return it to the stovetop over medium heat.Add ½ tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the corn, the remaining ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the corn is tender and lightly browned in spots. Transfer to the bowl with the couscous. Set aside to allow the couscous and corn to cool to room temperature. (Use this time to prep the remaining ingredients for the salad.)
Add the peaches, tomatoes, cilantro or basil, mint, lemon juice, and the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil to the cooled couscous and corn, and fold everything together with a spatula. Taste and season with a little extra salt and pepper if needed.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.
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