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Fresh flavors of the Mediterranean in one delicious, crunchy salad! Pearled couscous, caramelized fennel and onion, and wilted spinach. The perfect healthy side dish for any meal or BBQ. This couscous salad recipe is great for pleasing a crowd. One-swap for gluten free and vegan.
Pearled couscous is a great family-friendly side dish. It’s low maintenance for quick weeknight dinners. This healthier side dish is also an easy way to sneak in greens. Paired with fresh lemon juice, this couscous salad recipe is light, bright and zesty!
My favorite side dishes are those that combine carbs and vegetables! It makes for easier cleanup and more balanced meals.
I’m a huge fan of regular couscous. It’s a great carb side dish for when you’re bored of rice and quinoa. Pearled couscous is even more fun because it comes out as these tiny little, well, pearls!
What is Israeli couscous?
Israeli couscous is also known as pearled couscous, giant couscous and ptitim. It is actually a PASTA! It is machine-made into the pearled shape and made from semolina and flour.
How to make this salad
Making this salad with Israeli couscous, spinach and fennel is ridiculously easy and flavorful! There are only a few steps and the hardest part is probably cutting the fennel.
STEP ONE: Cut the fennel and onion into slices.
STEP TWO: Caramelize the fennel and onion.
STEP THREE: Add the Israeli couscous, water and cook.
STEP FOUR: Remove from heat and stir in spinach.
Ingredients and Substitutions
ISRAELI COUSCOUS. Israeli couscous, pearled couscous, or ptitim is necessary in this side dish recipe. Substitution would be orzo for a similar consistency. If you’d like to substitute for traditional couscous, that is fine. For a gluten free version of this side dish, substitute for gluten-free couscous, gluten-free orzo, or gluten-free pasta.
SPINACH. I like adding spinach to this Israeli couscous recipe because I love having a one-pot balanced side. Substitute for any green you like, the best options being kale or arugula. They will have a similar wilting effect.
FENNEL. When caramelized, the licorice flavor mostly goes away. It adds a nice different taste from the caramelized onions. If you’re really not a fan of fennel, swap for onion.
ONION. I use a yellow or white onion for caramelizing. You could definitely use red onion too!
FRESH HERBS. I love adding fresh green onion to this pearl couscous salad recipe. It adds both crunch and a new flavor. Substitute for parsley or fresh basil.
Want to spice this Israeli couscous salad recipe up?
- Roasted vegetables - add leftover roasted vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, bell pepper, or cauliflower to this salad.
- Cherry tomato - chop up fresh cherry tomatoes and add in at the end!
- Pine nuts - want some crunch? Try adding some pine nuts before eating.
- Feta cheese - if you’re not dairy free, try adding some feta cheese at the end for extra salt!
- Olives - add some fresh chopped kalamata olives right before serving.
How to cut fennel
Because fennel has a strong taste and the consistency of celery, I like to thinly slice it. When I eat fennel raw, I make sure to cut it even thinner. For caramelizing fennel, I like to cut it similar to an onion.
To cut fennel, first slice off the fennel stems (or separate the green and white parts). Next, cut the bulb in half. Remove the core by cutting a wedge or triangle-like shape off the bottom. Place each half on a cutting board flat side down. Slice the bulb lengthwise in strips, almost like you would an onion.
How to caramelize fennel
Caramelize fennel the same way you would an onion! Once you cut the fennel in thin strips, sauté in oil on the stove. Cook on low heat until soft and brown, about 10-15 minutes.
TIP! I like to caramelize my fennel and onion at the same time and stir often so it doesn’t stick to the pan.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Israeli couscous and regular couscous?
Both Israeli couscous and regular couscous are made from semolina and flour. The traditional method for regular couscous is by hand - sprinkling flour into boiling water. Israeli or pearled couscous is by machine and is much bigger in size.
Is Israeli couscous healthy?
Couscous is as healthy as any small pasta like orzo. I make sure to measure out how much I serve - about ⅓-½ cup dry pearled couscous per person.
How do I cook pearled couscous?
You cook pearled couscous almost as you would rice. Bring 1:2 ratio of couscous:water/broth to a boil and then low simmer for about 20-minutes or until water dissolves.
Should you wash couscous before cooking?
Couscous does not need to be washed before cooking. Since couscous is a pasta and not a grain, the starch does not need to be rinsed like rice.
Can you reheat Israeli couscous?
You definitely can! This Israeli couscous is best at hot or room temperature, but it can also be reheated. Keep in the fridge in a ziploc container for up to four days. When ready to eat, microwave for 60-seconds. Stir and then back into the microwave for another 30-seconds.
What to pair with Israeli Couscous Salad?
- Salmon or any white fish
- Chickpeas (for a full vegan meal or extra protein, try adding chickpeas!)
More Side Dish Ideas
- Healthier Potato & Brussels Sprouts Salad
- Vegan Mexican Rice
- Easy Asian Cucumber Salad
- Healthy Greek Roasted Eggplant Dip
Israeli Couscous Salad with Spinach & Fennel
- 8 OZ Israeli Couscous
- 1 Fennel Bulb washed thoroughly; shaved thinly
- 4 Cups Spinach washed thoroughly
- ½ Lemon juiced
- 4 TBSP Unsalted Butter or vegan butter
- ½ TSP Salt
- 1.75 Cups Water
- 1 Bunch Scallion washed thoroughly; sliced green tops only
- In a large pot on the stove, melt the butter on low heat.
- Add the fennel and onion. Cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until fennel and onion is caramelized. Fennel and onion will be soft and slightly browned.
- Once onion and fennel are caramelized, add the couscous, salt, water, and lemon juice. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil (about 5-minutes).
- Once boiling, turn heat back down to medium-low/low and simmer for 12-minutes, or until all liquid is gone.
- Take off the heat, and stir in spinach. Stir until spinach is combined and slightly wilted. Start with 2 cups of spinach and add more if preferred.
- Sprinkle with the green tops of scallion.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.