Forget the dry, boring couscous you may have had before. This couscous salad is packed with vegetables, a creamy prune vinaigrette, and is vegan too.
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We have quite a bit of couscous in our house, partly as its so easy to make. I make it for the boys as a 'filler' to help them enjoy things like moussaka and braised lamb shanks and we all love how it mops up the sauce. However it has been a while since I made it as something to enjoy more on its own.
I think it's partly that it can taste a little dull, if I'm honest. I often avoid couscous at a potluck as it can be dry and lacking in flavor because simply adding a couple veggies isn't going to give a lot of flavor.
This salad is very different. Firstly, there's a tasty variety of add-ins, but mainly this salad gets its flavor from the California prune vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is almost creamy, despite no cream whatsoever. It doesn't cloy and the flavor is a lovely combination of sweet prunes and slightly acidic balsamic.
Prunes: an under-appreciated dried fruit
Prunes, to me, are a highly under-appreciated dried fruit. My sons have both become big fans and snack on them regularly, which I am more than a little happy about. They love the fact that they are naturally sweet, while I love all the added benefits. Did you know prunes are great for bone health, digestion and are a good source of vitamin K and antioxidants?
California Prunes have been cultivated for over 150 years now and I have to say, I think they've pretty much been perfected. The flavor and texture is ideal to snack on as well as cook with (see also trying chef'd meal kits).
One of the few countries that does get how great prunes are is Morocco, where you'll find them regularly appearing in dishes like lamb tagine and many more. Since couscous is also a staple there, that's partly what has inspired this salad.
One particular ingredient that's very typically Moroccan is preserved lemons. You can find them in Middle Eastern grocers, or you can make your own (either leaving them for a few weeks or using a 'quick' method). They add a lovely freshness to the dish which contrasts nicely with the sweet California prunes and crunchy vegetables.
How to make this couscous salad
As I mentioned, couscous itself takes no time at all to prepare, and the rest of this salad is pretty easy as well. The only thing that takes a little time is simmering the prunes for the vinaigrette, but they can cook away while you chop the peppers, radishes and parsley. Then whizz together the softened prunes with the rest of the dressing ingredients and mix it through the couscous. Add everything else and that's it.
This couscous salad is packed with flavor and nicely contrasting textures of soft California prunes and crunchy vegetables. It's easy to make and is a delicious light lunch or side. It also packs well so would be great for a potluck or picnic. Plus, you can enjoy it all the more knowing it's packed with healthy goodness too.
Try these other tasty couscous and grain salads:
- Kisir (Turkish bulgur salad)
- Caprese quinoa salad with avocado and beet
- Wild rice salad with dried fruit and lemon vinaigrette
- Fruit, herb and feta Israeli couscous salad
- Plus get many more lunch recipes in the archives.
Couscous salad with California prune vinaigrette
For the vinaigrette:
- 5 California prunes
- ½ cup water 120 ml
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp water or more to thin, as needed
For the salad:
- ½ cup couscous 90g
- 2 radishes
- ¼ red pepper
- ¼ cup parsley chopped, 4 tbsp (a small bunch)
- 1 oz California prunes 30g (4-5 prunes)
- 2 tbsp preserved lemons
- ¼ cup sliced almonds 24g
For the vinaigrette:
- Cut the prunes in half and put in a small pan with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for around 10 minutes until the water has almost all gone. Turn the prunes once or twice as they are cooking so both sides soften.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a small food processor. Add the oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard and blend until fairly smooth. Add 1 tbsp water, or a little more/less as needed to get a gently pourable thickness.
For the salad:
- While the prunes are simmering, put the couscous in a heatproof bowl (eg glass). Boil water and pour over the couscous so it is covered and the water is around ¼ in (⅔ cm) over the top. Cover and leave to expand.
- Meanwhile, thinly slice the radishes and cut the pepper into small chunks. Finely chop the parsley and cut the prunes in quarters. Remove the fleshy part from the preserved lemons and finely chop.
- Once couscous is ready, fluff it up with a spoon/fork and mix through the prune vinaigrette. It will become a bit sticky but don’t worry. Add the radishes, pepper, prunes, preserved lemon and almonds and mix well. Serve or pack to take with you.
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