Pumpkin couscous salad is a healthy Mediterranean-inspired pasta salad made with Israeli couscous and feta. The roasted pumpkin and dried apricot provide sweetness, and pine nuts add crunch.
The beauty of this Mediterranean couscous salad is that you can make some or all of it ahead of time and serve it at room temperature. The flavors get even better after sitting for a few hours. So make a pumpkin couscous salad as an easy and colorful side dish with your next Mediterranean meal or for oohs and aahs at your next potluck.
About Israeli couscous
Israeli couscous, sometimes called pearl couscous, is a small pasta made from semolina flour, a high protein flour from durum wheat. Semolina flour also is used in other couscous and pastas.
The grains of Israeli couscous are larger than Moroccan couscous. But both are a great accompaniment for saucy dishes like shakshuka.
Variations and substitutions
- Substitute a winter squash like butternut or acorn squash for the pumpkin.
- Add roasted, spiced chickpeas or plain cooked chickpeas to add protein.
- Sub in toasted and chopped hazelnuts or pecans for the pine nuts.
- Sub in golden raisins or chopped dates for the chopped apricots. Or add pomegranate seeds for a burst of different color.
- Omit the feta or use a vegan cheese for a vegan couscous salad.
Tips and tricks
Peeling and roasting pumpkin for this couscous salad
You can treat sugar pumpkins like any other winter squash. The peel is the biggest challenge with winter squash unless it’s a delicata (which has edible skin).
The easiest way to cook and peel sugar pumpkin is to roast it after cutting it in half. First cut the lid off the pumpkin (Panels #1 and #2, below).
Slice the pumpkin in half from top to bottom (Panel #3, above), scoop out the seeds, and place the pumpkin halves face down in a baking pan. Put in the pan in the oven and pour an inch of water into the pan (Panel #4). It’s easier to add water to the pan on the oven rack than move the pan to the oven with water sloshing all around.
Roast the pumpkin at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes until you can pierce the flesh easily with a knife. Let cool, separate the flesh from the peel, and chop into about half inch cubes.
Tip from the wise quacker: don’t toss your pumpkin seeds! Separate the seeds from the pumpkin guts and toss with a bit of vegetable oil and salt. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven alongside the pumpkin until crisp.
How to cook Israeli couscous
The easiest way to cook Israeli couscous is in a large pot of salted boiling water like pasta. Or use a smaller amount of broth or another liquid to flavor the couscous – 1.5 cups of liquid for every cup of Israeli couscous. Some even recommend steaming your couscous instead of boiling.
Making the couscous salad
Cook the couscous until al dente, drain, and return to the pot. While the couscous is still hot, add the vinaigrette to the couscous in the pot. Stir it well, and then cover and let the couscous cool completely.
It’s the same reason why you should always stir warm pasta and your sauce together in the pot. This way, the couscous absorbs the flavors of the dressing.
The rest of the couscous salad comes together easily once the pumpkin and couscous have cooled. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir gently to combine.
Serve this pumpkin and couscous salad warm or at room temperature. If it is very warm, hold off adding the feta or other cheese until right before serving.
What to serve with this couscous salad with pumpkin
Serve this pumpkin couscous salad with:
- Lamb meatballs with pine nuts and raisins or a vegetarian variation in quinoa balls
- Use it in a Mediterranean lamb bowl
- Cast iron chicken breasts or Moroccan chicken with dates
- Fawaffle (falafel waffles)
- Lemon herb tahini sauce and homemade pita
Mushy couscous is overcooked couscous. The easiest way to cook Israeli couscous is like pasta. Boil the couscous in water or another liquid and drain it when it is al dente.
This pumpkin couscous salad will keep in the refrigerator for three to five days but is best served within a day.
Sulfured dried apricots are preserved with sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide makes them lighter in color than unsulfured apricots and prevents them from browning. Unsulfured apricots are dried using other methods, such as sun-drying.
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Pumpkin Couscous Salad
- 1 small sugar pumpkin no more than 3 pounds
Couscous and Vinaigrette
- 1½ cups Israeli couscous also called pearl couscous
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 small garlic clove mashed, grated, or chopped very fine
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 pinch sugar
Pumpkin couscous salad assembly
- ½ cup dried apricots roughly chopped
- ½ cup pine nuts or other nuts toasted
- ½ cup parsley, cilantro, mint, or combination of herbs chopped, plus a little extra for garnish, if desired.
- ½ cup feta crumbled
- Turn on your oven to 375°F.
- To roast the sugar pumpkin (see instructions in text for photos), slice off the lid, chop it in half from top to bottom, scoop out the seeds, and place the pumpkin halves cut side down in pan just large enough to fit the pumpkin. Put the pan in the oven, add water to come an inch up the sides, and bake until the pumpkin is soft and the flesh is easily pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes.1 small sugar pumpkin
- Let cool, peel, and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Israeli couscous and dressing for couscous salad
- While the pumpkin is roasting, heat a large pot with at least 4 cups of water to boiling. Add the couscous and cook, uncovered, until al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes.1½ cups Israeli couscous
- Meanwhile combine all of the ingredients for the dressing (olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic clove, mustard, salt, pepper, and pinch of sugar) in a small bowl or clean jam jar and whisk or shake to emulsify. Taste and add more oil or vinegar per your preference. Add more salt or pepper as needed.½ cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 small garlic clove, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon ground pepper, 1 pinch sugar
- When the couscous is cooked, drain any remaining water, return the couscous to the pot, add in the dressing, and stir. Cover the pot and let cool to room temperature.
Pumpkin couscous salad assembly
- Once your pumpkin and couscous have cooled, assemble the couscous salad. Combine all of the remaining ingredients (pumpkin, couscous, apricots, pine nuts, herbs, and feta) in a large bowl and stir gently to combine.½ cup dried apricots, ½ cup pine nuts or other nuts, ½ cup parsley, cilantro, mint, or combination of herbs, ½ cup feta
- Serve immediately or hold at room temperature for an hour. If desired, cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
This pumpkin couscous salad recipe was first shared December 3, 2022. It was last updated May 8, 2023.
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