This pearl couscous and zucchini salad really checks all the boxes for texture and bold flavor. Thin slices of crisp-crunchy zucchini, juicy chopped tomato, and bouncy pearl couscous--there's a little bit of everything. The dressing is one of my favorite kitchen staples, too: tomato paste caramelized with garlic, then whisked together with bright, fruity lemon. Zippy and delicious.
Another reminder that "salad" doesn't have to mean lettuce!
I have a specific fondness for raw zucchini salads. I love the way thinly slicing zucchini transforms its texture from crunchy to tender-crisp. And I can't be alone in thinking that any kind of noodle dish is guaranteed to be at least good, if not inherently devourable. Using a small noodle, like pearl couscous, lets the main focus remain on the veggies, while still satisfying that bouncy noodle craving. A salad that feeds two birds with one scone, as the saying goes.
Speaking of zucchini salads... this zucchini and herb salad with shaved parm is another winner! Give it a try next time you need a bright, crunchy salad to pair with a night of summer grilling.
A handful of "extras" elevate this salad from simply delicious to stellar.
I've long been an advocate for adding herbs to your salads. Sometimes just as a flavor addition, and other times as the main structural star. In this case, it's somewhere in the middle. A full cup of fresh herbs adds some texture variation, but the biggest impact is in their bright, verdant flavor. Mint, dill, or basil (or a combo!) are all great complements to the other Mediterranean-inspired flavors of lemon, garlic, and tomato.
The final flourish is the double addition of salty feta cheese. I love feta. It's tangy, it's salty, it's creamy and dense. If you get sheep's milk feta, it also has an addicting grassy-savory character that is an outstanding addition to the lemony-tomato dressing. When folded in, it lightly breaks down and coats itself with the dressing. Scrumptious. But, I never skip that second sprinkling of feta over the top--it helps to make sure that there are plenty of chubby crumbles left intact!
If you're looking for a vegan option for this salad, the feta is absolutely skippable. You might want to increase the salt slightly if preparing it without cheese, but this salad definitely does not need dairy to be successful!
Bonus: This easy tomato dressing is incredibly versatile, and stores well in the fridge!
I developed this dressing specifically for this simple and summery zucchini couscous salad. It wanted a robust flavor that would get soaked up by the little noodles in a really satisfying way. The savory-tangy combo of garlic and lemon is a no-brainer for adding pizzazz to raw zucchini, and the concentrated sweetness from tomato adds so much more complexity than than the honey in a basic vinaigrette. I realized fairly quickly that the addictive vivacity of the dressing would be an amazing addition to so many different meals… I’ve even been known to use this as an easy pre-made pasta sauce! Just toss with cooked pasta, a splash of pasta water, and torn basil, and you’ve got dinner on the table! It's become a staple that I love having on hand, and I'll often make a bigger batch to use throughout the week.
Notes for Success:
If it's not quite prime tomato season when you're making this, reach for grape or cherry tomatoes. Their texture is much more consistent, even in winter. There's nothing more unpleasant than a sudden mouthful of mealy, mushy off-season tomato.
Pearl couscous is my preference for this salad, because of how small and bouncy it is. However, another small pasta, such as orzo or even ditalini, would do the job nicely, too.
Recipe: Pearl Couscous Tomato-Zucchini Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette
For the Salad
- 1 cup pearl couscous, Or orzo
- Kosher salt
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large, Or 2 cups diced heirloom tomatoes
- 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 cup lightly packed fresh herbs, torn if large, Mint, dill, basil, or a combination; Plus extra, to garnish
- 3 ounces feta cheese, plus more to garnish, ¾ cup
For the Tomato Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup tomato paste, Half a standard 6oz can
- 1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice, Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Step 1Make the dressing: In a small skillet over medium heat, cook the garlic and oil just until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened by a few shades to a brick red color, about 5 minutes. Scrape everything, including the oil, into a large heatproof bowl, and whisk in the lemon zest and juice, ¾ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Taste and adjust the salt to your liking. Set aside.
- Step 2Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the couscous until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, then rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain very well, then add to the bowl with the dressing. Stir to coat. Fold in the tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, and feta. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.Optional: Serve garnished with extra herbs, extra feta, and lemon wedges.