Ready in under 20 minutes, this Mediterranean-style vegan couscous salad is quick and simple to make. Packed with fresh veg, olives, and a lemon and garlic dressing, it's a dairy-free and delicious alternative to rice or other side dishes.
Toasting the couscous gives it an extra nuttiness and texture, but this step is completely optional. If you don't have a pan with a tight-fitting lid, simply combine the dried couscous and hot liquid in a heat-proof bowl before mixing together with the other ingredients.
To turn this side dish into a healthy vegan main, try adding chickpeas, nuts, or seeds. Looking for more side dish inspiration? See these recipes for Moroccan couscous with chickpeas and roasted veg, spinach couscous, vegan three-bean salad, and crispy roast potatoes.
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What is couscous?
Couscous is a dish made from small balls of crushed durum wheat. Popular in North African and Mediterranean cuisine, it cooks quickly and is a great alternative to sides such as rice.
Although it looks like a grain, couscous is actually more like a type of dried pasta. This is because it's made from semolina, which is a coarser flour that's left over after the finer flour has been removed during the wheat milling process.
Is couscous the same as bulgur?
Although they look similar, bulgur wheat is different from couscous in that it's made from the whole grain of wheat. This is then parboiled, cracked, and used in dishes such as tabbouleh.
Is couscous vegan?
Yes, dried couscous is a vegan ingredient. While couscous dishes may sometimes include non-vegan ingredients such as cheese or meat, the small semolina pearls themselves are completely plant-based.
It's basically the same as dried pasta, which is usually vegan (unlike fresh pasta made with egg).
Is couscous gluten-free?
No, couscous is made from wheat and therefore not gluten-free. It is possible to find gluten-free couscous products, but in reality you may prefer to just make this dish with GF alternatives such as quinoa.
Note that other ingredients such as quinoa will cook differently to couscous, so cook according to package instructions before combining with the other ingredients. My recipe for vegan quinoa stew also includes instructions on how to cook quinoa.
What you'll need
This vegan couscous recipe is all about simple ingredients and fresh summer flavours. These include:
- Dried couscous, because it would be a terrible couscous salad without it
- Fresh veg in the form of red pepper, tomato, and cucumber
- Lemon and basil for a vibrant dressing
- Extra-virgin olive oil for silkiness and delicious flavour
Couscous to water ratio
For the couscous to water ratio, it's as simple as using a cup or mug to measure equal volume amounts of dried couscous and kettle-hot water (i.e. boiling water from a kettle). For example, a standard US cup measurement would be equal to approx. 180 g dried couscous and 240 ml water, but the actual vessel ratio is 1:1.
These ratios can be tricky to work out if you think in terms of the numbers and units (180 g and 240 ml), so just use a small-ish tea or coffee mug if you don't have measurement cups or a measuring jug.
All that being said, you should always check your specific package instructions. The information may vary slightly depending on the product or couscous variety.
How to make vegan couscous salad
To a large bowl, add the diced red pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, and sliced olives (1).
In a small mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. If you have a large lemon with a lot of zest, start with around half then add more zest to taste later on (2).
Heat a pan over low-medium heat and add the dried couscous to the dry pan. Toast for around 5 minutes or until golden brown, moving regularly to avoid burning (3).
Note: I like to make couscous in a pan with a tight-fitting lid, as it lets me toast the couscous first. Toasting isn't necessary but adds extra flavour. If you don't want to do this, you can just add the dried couscous and liquid to a heat-proof bowl with a lid or cling film (plastic wrap) to create a tight fit.
Once the couscous is toasted, remove the pan from the heat and pour over the boiling water or vegan stock. Cover with a lid and leave to steam for around 5 minutes or until the couscous is soft (4), then fluff it up lightly using a fork (5).
Roughly chop the fresh basil. Add this to the bowl of veg along with the couscous and lemon dressing, then mix everything together well (6).
Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.
This vegan couscous salad is great with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, as well as additional lemon, salt, and pepper to taste. If you're looking to pack some protein and texture into the dish, add crispy roasted chickpeas or make your own super seed mix to sprinkle over.
No, couscous is not gluten-free.
If you want a GF alternative to couscous, quinoa and millet are good choices. Note that these will take longer to cook than couscous, so follow the package instructions before mixing together with the veg and dressing.
Other alternatives (not gluten-free) include bulgur wheat and barley. Again, cook these separately according to package instructions.
You can store this couscous salad in the fridge in an airtight container for up to four days. While it's possible to freeze couscous, I wouldn't recommend freezing this particular dish once the veg and dressing have been mixed in.
Variations and tips for vegan couscous salad
- Add protein: Include chickpeas (or roasted chickpeas), nuts, or seeds to turn this into more of a complete main meal rather than a side dish.
- Other herbs: Parsley, mint, and coriander – or a combination of these – would all work well here.
- More zing: Balsamic vinegar is a nice addition, but it's not always strictly vegan so you may want to check.
- Garlic alternatives: If you don't want to use crushed garlic, you can leave this out or replace with a small amount of finely chopped red onion, spring onions, or chives.
- Other veg: Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted artichokes, and grated carrot would all be welcome additions in this salad.
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More vegan recipe ideas
If you liked this recipe, you may also enjoy:
- Harissa Couscous with Aubergine
- Mushroom and Tarragon Couscous
- Easy Vegan Chickpea Salad
- Cucumber Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing
- Vegan Raita with Cucumber and Mint
- Vegan Waldorf Salad
- Vegan Potato Salad
- 15-Minute Tomato Tahini Pasta
Easy Vegan Couscous Salad (Mediterranean-Style)
- 1 cup (180 g) dried couscous (see notes for ratio info)
- 1 cup (240 ml) kettle-hot water or vegan stock
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced
- ½ medium cucumber, diced
- 1 cup (150 g) pitted black olives, sliced in half
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more to taste)
- 2 small cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped (optional)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Small handful fresh basil
- To a large bowl, add the diced red pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, and sliced olives.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. If you have a large lemon with a lot of zest, start with around half then add more zest to taste later on.
- Heat a pan over low-medium heat and add the dried couscous to the dry pan. Toast for around 5 minutes or until golden brown, moving regularly to avoid burning.Note: I like to make couscous in a pan with a tight-fitting lid, as it lets me toast the couscous first. Toasting isn't necessary but adds extra flavour. If you don't want to do this, you can just add the dried couscous and liquid to a heat-proof bowl with a lid or cling film (plastic wrap) to create a tight fit.
- Once the couscous is toasted, remove the pan from the heat and pour over the boiling water or vegan stock. Cover with a lid and leave to steam for around 5 minutes or until the couscous is soft (it may take slightly longer depending on the variety).
- Once soft, fluff up the couscous lightly using a fork.
- Roughly chop the fresh basil. Add this to the bowl of veg along with the couscous and lemon dressing, then mix everything together well. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.
- Moroccan Couscous with Chickpeas and Roasted Veg
- Spinach Couscous with Lemon and Garlic
- Three-Bean Salad with Lemon, Mint and Parsley
- Vegan Slaw with Sesame Ginger Dressing
- Courgette Salad with Peanut Dressing
- Teriyaki Grilled Aubergine
- Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms
- Crispy Baked Potato Wedges
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