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Quinoa Couscous Salad Recipe

This couscous salad recipe uses the ancient super-grain Quinoa to make a cool, fluffy, high-protein, low-fat dish perfect for the summer months.

Couscous is one of my favorite summer dishes — loaded with fresh vegetables like cucumbers, red onion and tomatoes — and lean protein from chicken breast, it’s a quick, easy and healthy main course or side dish that takes advantage of summer’s bounty of fresh vegetables. This particular recipe for couscous salad uses a surprisingly tasty and nutritious substitute for the normal couscous pasta — Quinoa.

What Is Couscous?

Traditional couscous (or kuskus, in the U.K)  is technically a form of pasta, not a dish unto itself. It’s made with tiny, BB size balls of moistened semolina flour that are then coated with a light layer of fine wheat flour. The pasta is then steamed and served under a stew made from meat or vegetables. Couscous is a staple in much of Northern Africa, in the same way that pasta is a staple in Italy and rice is in Asia. It’s also popular in parts of the Middle East, Israel and even Sicily. In the U.S., many people associate couscous with a dish eaten chilled as a salad.

Nutritionally, couscous is pretty much on par with other semolina-based pastas. You can get quick-cooking versions of couscous made with whole wheat flour in the rice isle at the grocery store, which is healthier than the non-whole-wheat couscous. However, eating grains in their original whole-kernel state is even better. But making couscous salad with something like cracked wheat or whole brown rice wouldn’t result in the fluffy, airy texture that makes couscous so delicious.

That’s where the Quinoa comes in.

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced: Keen-Wa) is an ancient grain cultivated for more than 6,000 years in the Andean region of South America. The grain is actually the edible seeds of the goosefoot plant, which is uniquely suited for high-altitudes and has been a staple in traditional Andean diets for centuries.

The ancient Incas held the crop to be sacred, but European explorers dismissed Quinoa as “food for Indians.” Turns out they shouldn’t have been so quick to write the grain off — it is extremely high in protein (12%-18% protein), is gluten-free and easy-to-digest, is high in fiber and has a complete amino acid profile. The last point is an important one, because traditional European grains like wheat or rice do not contain all eight essential amino acids. This makes Quinoa ideal for vegetarians, vegans or people who are just trying to add more non-meat sources of protein into their diet.  It’s also high in minerals like phosphorus, iron and magnesium.

Quinoa also has an extremely fluffy, light texture and a slightly nutty flavor. This makes it a great substitute for rice — or couscous.  And it cooks quite quickly — in under 15 minutes — making it convenient and easy to prepare.

What’s So Great About This Quinoa Couscous Salad Recipe?

This Quinoa couscous salad recipe is a nutritional home-run that also tastes amazing.

It uses a very light, lemon-based vinaigrette with a touch of olive oil which provides some heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The addition of fresh garlic, red onion, lycopene-rich tomatoes, and oregano (which is one of the most antioxidant rich herbs available from the spice rack) lets you take advantage of the health benefits of all these vegetables in a single dish.

The garbanzo beans also provide additional soluble fiber and minerals, and the chicken breast (which is optional if you want to make this vegetarian or vegan), makes it a bit more hearty and higher in protein. The recipe is also high in important vitamins and minerals like potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, Vitamin B-6, selenium and niacin.

When I put this recipe together, I wasn’t sure how the Quinoa would fare as a substitute for the traditional couscous. I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Quinoa laying around and was looking for some interesting and novel ways to incorporate more of it into my diet and recipes. So I decided to give it a shot in my usual couscous salad recipe.

When the couscous salad was finished and I ate a bowl of it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually preferred the Quinoa over the couscous pasta.  I taste-tested this recipe on about eight or nine people (many whom had never even heard of Quinoa, let alone tried it) and the verdict was unanimous: it tastes great!

Even better, the entire dish takes less than 25 minutes from start-to-finish to prepare, making it a great summer entree when you need something quick, healthy and flavorful. You can even make extra and eat it all week for lunch.

Quinoa used to be to be somewhat difficult to find. However, it’s superb nutritional profile and great flavor has boosted it’s popularity in recent years. It’s now possible to find Quinoa in your grocery store. It is also widely available at health food stores and places like Whole Foods.

Now, the recipe.

Quinoa Couscous Salad Recipe

Recipe makes about 8 one cup servings

Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette Dressing

1/4  cup water
Juice of 1 whole lemon (or about 3 TBS)
1 TBS dried Greek oregano
1 clove fresh minced garlic
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil (you can also substitute another healthy oil like avocado oil, walnut oil or almond oil)
Salt and pepper to taste


1 cup uncooked Quinoa
One medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup pitted black cured olives, like kalamata or nicoise
4 oz cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained and rinsed (optional)
1 large, pre-cooked store bought rotisserie chicken, breast meat removed and shredded.

  1. To prepare the Quinoa, bring 2 cups cold water to a boil in a medium/2 qt. sauce pan. Add one cup uncooked Quinoa, bring back to a boil, cover and simmer over medium heat about 12 minutes or until the Quinoa completely absorbs the liquid.  Remove from heat, fluff, and let stand for 15 minutes, or until cooled.
  2. While the Quinoa is cooking, in a large glass bowl prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the water, lemon juice, minced garlic, dried oregano and olive oil.
  3. Add the Quinoa and remaining ingredients (cucumber, tomatoes, olives, red onion, feta cheese, chicken and garbanzo beans/chickpeas) and mix until the Quinoa is thoroughly coated with the dressing. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  4. Chill and serve.
Vegan/Vegetarian version of this Quinoa Couscous Salad:

To make the dish vegan or vegetarian, simply omit the chicken breast and feta cheese, and add extra garbanzo beans.

Modifications for individuals on sodium restricted diets:

Replace regular, canned chick-peas with low-sodium chickpeas (Goya carries a line of low-sodium beans that are widely available) or use chickpeas prepared from dried beans. Omit the feta cheese.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup prepared Quinoa couscous salad
Servings per recipe: 8

Amount Per ServingCalories: 365
Total Fat: 11.4 g
Saturated Fat: 2.9 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.6 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 3.9 g
Cholesterol: 46.8 mg
Sodium: 296.0 mg
Potassium: 252.3 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 41.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.3 g
Sugars: 3.0 g
Protein: 24.7 g

Vitamin A 4.9 %
Vitamin B-12 7.7 %
Vitamin B-6 21.3 %
Vitamin C 11.1 %
Vitamin D 0.0 %
Vitamin E 4.6 %
Calcium 9.3 %
Copper 4.5 %
Folate 3.7 %
Iron 15.9 %
Magnesium 6.4 %
Manganese 3.4 %
Niacin 34.4 %
Pantothenic Acid 7.4 %
Phosphorus 37.2 %
Riboflavin 53.7 %
Selenium 18.4 %
Thiamin 5.8 %
Zinc 6.5 %

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Comments (9)

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  1. Amanda Carrier (3 comments) says:

    I love quinoa flakes that i get from whole foods. its in the cereal/oatmeal isle and i make it like oatmeal and put a hunk of crunchy peanut butter in it and its so good like that and needs no sweetner unless u want it. u can also make it like grits n put butter & salt. it also has a recipe for the most amazing cookies right on the back. healthy guilt free high protein snack!

  2. Monica (5 comments) says:

    I LOVE quinoa. I pretty much have stopped eating brown rice and substituted quinoa for the rice in my stir frys. I buy quinoa in bulk at Whole Foods which seems to save me $$$ compared to the prepackaged stuff at the grocery store.

  3. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Hey Amanda, great to see you stopping by. I haven’t tried the quinoa flakes, but I’ll look for them the next time I go to store. If you like the quinoa with peanut butter mixed in like oatmeal, check out the recipe for healthy, high-protein “no bake” cookies:

    Everyone who tries this is hooked. It’s my favorite healthy “dessert.”

    I’m wondering if you could subsitute cooked quinoa in for the oats.

  4. amber (6 comments) says:

    mmmm …. this sounds really good. I’ve never had quinoa before. I’m always looking for something different from the usual brown rice and yams. Plus Amanda likes quinoa and look at her! Definitely will give it a try.

  5. Burn Calories Fast (4 comments) says:

    Sounds delicious, as long as there is garlic involved I’m a fan!  I’d never heard of Quinoa before but if its loaded with protein it’s definitely worth giving it a shot.

  6. John Vantine (1 comments) says:

    This sounds delicious, and I think I already have most of the ingredients. Thanks!

  7. Carla @ Yorkshire Pantry (1 comments) says:

    Even for a vegetarian this is a great recipe for couscous beacause you can adapt it so easily. Thankyou for sharing it.