Preserves in Action: Israeli Couscous Salad with Roasted Squash and Pickled Cauliflower

March 11, 2015(updated on July 30, 2021)

finished couscous salad

Like so many of the salads I’ve in the past, this one came to be thanks to a chorus of ingredients that were clamoring for attention. I had a trio of rapidly softening shallots in the fruit basket, an aging butternut squash on the counter, and both some pickled cauliflower and wilted cilantro in the fridge.

butternut squash & shallots

I used Israeli couscous because it was the vehicle I could most easily put hands on (the bag was on the counter). Farro, wheat berries, orzo, or quinoa would also be good options. I happen to adore Israeli couscous because it has such a nice bite, but if you’re avoiding refined carbs or wheat entirely, know that the salad won’t suffer from a swap.

pickled cauliflower

Here’s how it came together. I peeled the squash, removed the seeds, cut away a soft spot, and diced it. I combined those cubes with slivers of shallot and a good glug of olive oil on a roasted sheet and tucked it into a very hot oven (450 degrees F). The couscous I cooked in a large pot of salted water brought to a rolling boil (it cooks quickly, so watch carefully).

steamy israeli couscous

Once the couscous was done, I drained it and turned it out into a large bowl. I added chopped bits of pickled cauliflower and minced cilantro. Once the squash and shallots were done, they went in too. I dressed it with pickle juice, olive oil, a squirt of lemon, a little freshly ground black pepper, and some of the orange zest salt I made recently.

I ate it warm over some baby arugula for dinner the first night and then cold for lunch for the next couple of days. I found that it benefitted from an extra dose of olive oil on the second and third days, as it needed just a hint of moisture.

couscous salad over greens

It’s a formula that is endlessly flexible for the season and the contents of your kitchen. In the summer, I make something similar with barley, pickled red onion, minced cucumbers, parsley, and crumbled feta. Once spring is more firmly here, I’ll be roasting asparagus and spring onions for a turn in a quinoa salad. The secret is to limit the number of ingredients to no more than six, use a fresh herb if you can get it, and chop the pickles very fine.

10 responses to “Preserves in Action: Israeli Couscous Salad with Roasted Squash and Pickled Cauliflower”

  1. Looks yummy! When you say pickle juice do you mean the liquid the cauliflower was in? Just curious 🙂

    • I do mean the brine from the pickled cauliflower. Or any pickle that you end up using.

  2. I’ve made a salad like this for a number of years now. I love Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend (Israeli couscous, orzo, small garbanzo beans, and quinoa), and would pair it with small-ish cubes of squash I’d roasted with herbs. Before popping the baking sheet in the oven, I slice the top off a head of garlic, place it in a piece of tinfoil, pour some olive oil over it, and seal up the foil. It just sits in a corner of the pan, and when the squash is done, I have yummy roasted garlic. Usually I just put it in the bowl, mash it a bit with my fork, then mix the couscous and squash in. Amazingly flavorful! 🙂

  3. This sounds like a great quick salad that I will be making. Actually I have all the ingredients on hand !

  4. ah, I’m going to pass this on to my best friend. She has some very strange pickles and they might do better in a salad than eaten out of hand.

    I have some strange pickles, too – pickled rhubarb. The sticks turned to mush in the jars. I thought of pureeing them and calling it chutney, but there are so many whole spices in there that’s it’s tiresome to separate them. Maybe I could sort of mash up a few sticks in a salad dressing like you’re talking about here. . . I’d welcome any ideas you have (and I am NEVER pickling rhubarb again).

    • Could you use the pickled rhubarb as part of a braising medium? I do that when I have a jar of jam, fruit butter, or chutney that’s not working on its own. Maybe pull out the sticks, mash them up, add some of the brine (without the spices) and do some chicken thighs or a small pork butt in it.

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