This warm vegan pearl couscous salad is hearty, ultra creamy, bold in flavors and also super healthy. Make it for lunch, as a side salad or can even be full meal, it is so satisfying and filling! Also makes for great leftovers and is 100% dairy-free.
Salads have such a bad reputation and often are associated with restrictive diets or not being satisfying enough. But I obviously disagree with this! And this warm vegan couscous salad will definitely prove it.
I have been visualizing this recipe for over a week now dreaming about the crumbly pearl couscous paired with warm roasted vegetables drenched in creamy tahini pesto sauce. And the result didn’t disappoint, it is SO SO good. My husband thought it was the best salad he had since a while ✌️.
The vinaigrette simply is to die for, I wanted to eat it by the spoon. I only regretted not making more of if to have a delicious green sauce waiting for me in the fridge to drizzle over grain bowls in the next few days. The combination of tahini with fresh basil and lemon juice is such a great discovery!
Using tahini makes the sauce super creamy and rich without having to add any refined oil as seen in most classic pesto sauces. It also adds a subtle nutty flavor that's so yummy with the fresh herbs.
I also love the warmth of this couscous salad that's amazing at this time of the year when it is chilly outside. The addition of chickpeas plus the tahini in the pesto sauce will help you feel full and satisfied. We went through almost the whole batch in one sitting, so needless to say it was a hit.
You can serve it as a side salad with burgers or sandwiches, but we had it as a main dish and it was perfect. Again, it is hearty enough to qualify as a full meal!
I also love that you can easily swap the veggies for what you have or like, any root vegetables would be amazing I think. I used carrots, parsnip, zucchini, but cannot wait to make it again with beets, celeriac, kale, etc. This recipe is so versatile!
I hope you like it! Let me know how you made it ❤️
Highlights of this recipe
- Fresh and zesty yet earthy and filling.
- Healthy and filled with vitamins and plant-based protein.
- Perfect vegan warm salad recipe for fall or winter.
- Highly customizable and suitable for non-experienced plant-based cooks.
- Can be a fun alternative to a rice side dish.
- Vegan, dairy-free, vegetarian and nut-free.
Pearl couscous vs regular couscous
Regular fine couscous are granules made from rolled durum wheat semolina. It has to be steamed to cooked as opposed to boiled and it cooks very fast.
Pearl couscous, which a slightly larger version of Israeli couscous, is actually a type of pasta. Is was developed in 1950's when rice was difficult to find in Israel.
It is made by mixing semolina or wheat flour with water and then shaped into tiny balls. It looks like a larger version of the typical couscous, although it is a little different. It typically takes a few more minutes to cook compared to regular couscous, although still cooks very fast.
Ingredients you'll need
- Couscous: I used the Tri-color pearl couscous from the brand Red Mill shown below. I think pearl couscous works a little better for this recipe. You can use regular fine couscous, although you will have to read the label to cook it properly.
- Vegetables: you can easily swap the vegetables for this recipe. I roasted carrots, parsnip, zucchini and red pepper, which worked so well together. The carrots and parsnip stayed firmer while the pepper and zucchini became softer, adding a nice layer of texture. See below for more ideas.
- Chickpeas: they add more plant-based protein to make this salad more filling, which is especially great if you are enjoying this recipe as a full meal.
- Fresh basil: I used a whole bunch of fresh basil, which was about 1 ½ cups. Try to keep some extra leaves to top the salad at serving.
- Tahini: responsible for that amazing vinaigrette creaminess. I haven't tried using other seed or nut butter yet, but I'm thinking that almond butter might be a good swap if you don't have tahini (although would make the sauce not nut-free anymore). I love the tahini from the brand Sesame King that I get at Whole Foods Market. Its texture is super thin and pourable, which work well for dressings.
- Garlic: You can add more or less depending on how garlicky you want your sauce to be. I used two cloves, which added a perfect amount of pungent flavor for us.
- Nutritional yeast: try not to omit it, it adds so much amazing cheesy and umami flavor to the parmesan-free pesto sauce. I cannot recommend enough including nutritional yeast more in your vegan meals for a nice boost of flavor. I sprinkle it everyday on just about any savory recipe!
- Lemon juice: I used the juice of a whole lemon, which was about 3 tablespoons. You can obviously add more for a zestier dressing.
How to make it
This recipe is pretty easy to make, although takes a little time since the veggies will have to roast for 20-25 minutes. You can prep the rest while they bake, so this recipe can be done under 30-35 minutes!
Pre-heat the oven to 425º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Prepare the vegetables by cleaning them, peeling the carrots and parsnip and chopping them all in bite size.
Also, cook the couscous accordingly to packaging. For a pearl couscous (larger kind), I actually cook it similarly to pasta boiling it in plenty of water, then drain. Keep the noodles al dente.
Roast the vegetables
Place the vegetables over the prepared baking sheet and spray olive oil over (optional). Then, sprinkle some salt and black pepper and toss.
Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing them halfway through cooking. They are done when tender and slightly browned.
Make the tahini pesto dressing
It is a good time to make the pesto sauce while the vegetables are roasting. Simply add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, nutritional yeast, basil, salt and ¼ cup of cold water to a blender and blend on high until smooth.
You will have to scrape the bottom around the blades and the walls of the blender and blend again since some pieces of herb and garlic often get stuck.
Once smooth, taste and check on consistency: add more water to thin it out as needed and more flavoring ingredients to your taste. Then, set aside.
Assemble and serve
Add the cooked couscous, roasted veggies, drained chickpeas and pesto sauce to a large bowl toss to combine. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed.
Watch how to make it
- If you end up cooking the couscous before everything else is ready, then I recommend to rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Dice the veggies all about the same size to ensure proper cooking. Also, aim for a smaller cube size as seen in the picture, I found that it worked better than larger pieces.
- If you have a large blender like mine, then a small amount of sauce like this one is a little trickier to blend. Just take many breaks to bring the sauce back towards the blades and also, you can crush the garlic instead of adding it whole to the blender. No one likes to chew on a large piece of raw garlic!
Variations to this recipe
This recipe is really forgiving and you can swap for what you like and follow the season. You can include red onions, baby kale or spinach, olives or red pepper flakes for a nice kick.
Right now in the winter, there are lots of amazing looking root vegetables you can find in the grocery stores. Here are a few good options:
- sweet potato
If making this warm salad during the spring or the summer, then you can also include:
- fresh tomatoes: don't roast them, simply dice them and add fresh to the salad.
- fresh corn: boil fresh corn cobs and then remove the kernels before tossing them in the salad. You can check out this video to see how to do this.
- roasted asparagus
- steamed green beans
As a side note, feel-free to use any kind of small pasta instead of the couscous if you prefer, such as orzo, ditalini (this is what I used for my pink pasta dish) or stelline. Pearl couscous is a kind of pasta, after all!
Great dish to bring to potlucks or BBQ's: simply combine the couscous, veggies and chickpeas and keep the dressing apart until ready to eat. You can serve it at room temperature. In that case, try to include summer veggies such as cucumber, corn and tomatoes.
This salad stores pretty well, although the dressing might be absorbed by the couscous while resting. Although this recipe makes for great leftovers, I found that the creamy texture really was at its best when just prepared. You can revive the texture with a drizzle of olive oil the next day.
We also loved the leftover salad cold, so you can warm it up for a few seconds in the microwave if you want, but that is unnecessary.
Keep the leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge and try to enjoy it within 24 hours if possible or it can dry out over time.
Yes, couscous is naturally vegan! While fresh pasta usually contains eggs, pearl couscous is dried and is made only with wheat product.
Couscous is naturally made using wheat so this recipe is not gluten-free. To make it GF, then simply use your favorite GF brand of short pasta. You could also swap for brown rice or other GF grain you like.
Then, you can simply crushed the garlic and chop finely the fresh herbs using a knife, then whisk the pesto sauce ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
The sauce is made without oil, so simply roast the vegetables without using any oil.
More vegan salad recipes you might like
- Vegan Waldorf salad
- Rice and quinoa Southwestern salad
- Red lentil pasta salad
- Rainbow salad bowl
- Asian cucumber and carrot salad
- Kale crunch salad
- Cucumber mango salad
- Vegan watermelon feta salad
- Healthy bean and corn salad
I hope you like this warm couscous salad recipe as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Warm Vegan Couscous Salad with Tahini Pesto
- 1½ cup pearl coucous (dry)
- 2 carrots - peeled and cubed
- 2 parsnips - cubed
- 1 medium-large zucchini (or 2 small) - cubed
- 1 red pepper - cubed
- 15 oz canned chickpeas
For the pesto tahini sauce
- ¼ cup tahini
- 1½ packed cup fresh basil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 lemon - juiced, about 2-3 tablespoons
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- salt - to taste
- ice cold water - to reach desired consistency, about ¼ to ½ cup
- Pre-heat the oven to 425º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Clean, peel (the carrots and parsnip) and chop the vegetables in bite size. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, spray some olive oil over (optional) and add some salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables and bake for about 25-30 minutes stirring halfway through or until done to your liking (which will depend on how small you chopped the veggies).
- Meanwhile, you can cook the couscous until tender in boiling water and make the sauce.
- To make the sauce, simply blend the tahini, basil, nutritional yeast, water, garlic, lemon juice and salt until smooth (some small pieces of herbs is fine). Adjust the water amount to reach desired consistency.
- Once everything is cooked, combine the couscous, roasted vegetables, chickpeas and the pesto sauce. Toss to combine and adjust salt and lemon juice to your taste. Enjoy!