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Pearl Couscous Salad with Parsley-Mint Pesto, Currants & Pine Nuts

February 16, 2011

For about a year now, I’ve been striving to make most lunches at home—and bring them to work—rather than eating out every weekday (see here and here). It’s healthier, tastier, and a whole lot less expensive. But this endeavor isn’t without its challenges. How do you find the time to make a lunch that’s yummy and interesting (i.e., not just a PB&J)?

I ran into this problem recently—it’s sort of like writer’s block, but for cooks. Cooking block. Or something like that. Anyway, the point is that I was tired of making the same rotation of salads for lunch, and wanted to come up with a new idea. I didn’t want to make sandwiches or wraps, but rather something different. Maybe something like a pasta salad? But with loads of fresh herbs? And a little something sweet to go with savory flavors? Bingo! Cue the light bulb. That’s how this pearl couscous with parsley-mint pesto was born.

This recipe’s great not only because it’s something different. It’s also delicious. And filling (read: especially awesome after sneaking in a lunchtime workout). Plus, the recipe makes four entrée-sized portions. For me at least, this is critical—it means that instead of having to prepare lunch two nights in a row, I only have to prepare lunch one night in order to get two days worth of lunch for two people (just divide it among four to-go containers and pop in the fridge). This is a real time saver. Fantastic.

As a side note, have you tried pearl couscous (a.k.a. Israeli couscous) yet? It much larger than the traditional couscous that you usually see, and has a nice, chewy texture. It’s made from semolina, so it’s technically a pasta (not a grain), and is similar to orzo. But it’s much healthier and more nutritious than regular pasta. And it’s so yummy. In the summer, I plan to make it with cherry tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, or with cilantro and fresh, sweet corn. Yum. In the meantime, this dish is a great way to use pearl couscous during the winter. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


I added a little parmesan to the pesto and as a garnish on top of the couscous. However, you could easily make this dish vegan by skipping the parmesan. I’ve done this before, and it’s still delicious. Also, I made this as a lunch entree, served cold or at room temperature. But it would also make a nice side dish, served with (for example) a piece of grilled fish.

Serves 4 as a lunch entrée, or 6-8 as side dish

2/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus a little more for garnish
1 cup fresh mint, plus a little more for garnish
1/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 medium garlic clove
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (optional)
3 cups pearl couscous (a.k.a. Israeli couscous)
4 cups water
olive oil
salt & pepper

Cook the couscous. Bring 4 cups of lightly salted water to boil in pot. Add the couscous, and simmer uncovered for 6 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 10 minutes. Spread the couscous on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer to cool; this will prevent the couscous from sticking together while it cools. At this point, I like to lightly spritz the couscous with some olive oil to add a little moisture (again, to keep it from sticking together). Let stand until cool, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the pesto. In a food processor, chop the garlic clove. Next add the parsley, mint, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/4 grated parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (the acid from the lemon will keep the pesto green). Process until everything is chopped and combined (scraping down the sides as needed). With the food processor running, slowing add 1/3 cup good quality olive oil, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper (to taste).

In a large bowl, mix together the couscous, parsley-mint pesto, and currants. At this point, you’ll want to taste seasonings. Add more salt and pepper, as needed. Divide among 4 to-go containers—or 4 bowls, if you’re eating it right away—and top each with the remaining pine nuts and parmesan. Garnish with fresh mint and parsley leaves.

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