Couscous Watermelon Salad


I love this couscous watermelon salad so much. I was out of couscous a few months ago, and this salad came about when I realised that watermelon makes a great alternative. The only potential problem with it is that the seeds can get stuck between your teeth. To prevent this, I’d recommend brushing your teeth after eating it.

Recipe: Minted Summer Couscous with Watermelon and Feta

Cubes of sweet watermelon, chunks of crunchy celery, and savory feta cheese — this hybrid between fruit salad and savory salad has lazy lunch written all over it. Whole wheat couscous provides a nourishing base — it needs no cooking, just a few minutes of steaming. What’s not to love?

To make this salad into a full meal, grilled chicken or shrimp are a perfect match. Or add a plate of dry-cured prosciutto and a bowl of olives alongside your bowl, and call it a day.

A Week of Wholesome Whole-Grain Meals from Maria Speck

Tester’s Notes

This is the perfect summer grain salad: nutty whole wheat couscous, juicy sweet watermelon, and salty feta cheese. The dressing is an easy mixture of lime juice and honey, and the sprinkling of mint leaves adds a refreshing herbal flavor. It would be great at your next BBQ or potluck, and perfect with a side of grilled meat!

Honeydew or cantaloupe would also be a delicious substitute for watermelon, if you have that handy.

Minted Summer Couscous with Watermelon and Feta

YIELDServes 4 to 6Show Nutrition


  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup whole wheat couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Pinch of saffron, optional
  • 2 or 3 medium limes, preferably organic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons honey, depending on your preference
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup celery, cut into 1/4-inch-wide slices (about 1 stalk)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed torn fresh mint leaves, plus a few leaves for garnish
  • 1/2 cup crumbled mild feta, preferably sheep’s milk


  1. Add the water to a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in the couscous, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the saffron, cover, and set aside until the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer to a large serving bowl, spreading and fluffing the grains again. Set aside 
to cool for about 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, zest the limes until you have 2 teaspoons zest. Squeeze the fruit until you have 3 tablespoons juice. Place the zest and juice in a small screw-top jar and add the olive oil, honey, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Shake vigorously until the dressing is amalgamated.
  3. Once the couscous has cooled, distribute the watermelon, celery, and mint across. Drizzle the dressing across and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind that feta can be quite salty). If you have time, allow to sit for 30 minutes for flavors to meld.
  4. To finish, toss again, top with the crumbled feta and the mint leaves for garnish, 
and drizzle with a touch more olive oil.


Make it ahead: You can prepare the salad — without adding the feta and mint for garnish — up to four hours ahead. Refrigerate, covered; when ready to serve, remove to take the chill out, then finish.

Make it gluten-free: About 2 1/2 cups cooked white quinoa is a fine replacement for the couscous.

A bit of saffron adds glamour to this lazy preparation, coloring your couscous with enticing golden flecks.


Watermelon and couscous salad with feta and mint is a refreshing Middle Eastern style grain salad for summer!

watermelon and couscous salad is a unique summer salad

You know I live for recipes like this, that take classic summer ingredients and offer a whole new way to enjoy them. This gorgeous watermelon and couscous salad makes a healthy side dish or lunch for those glorious summer months we all love. Mostly plant based (vegans leave off the feta,) with layers of fresh flavor…I can’t stop eating it!

what makes this couscous salad special?

The profile is Mediterranean/Middle Eastern, with a few out of the ordinary ingredients that should be available to you in your supermarket.

  • COUSCOUS ~ in this case it’s a whole wheat form of couscous called MAFTOUL. Maftoul is a couscous from Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. It’s a variation of traditional couscous (which comes from North Africa) that is made from whole wheat, rather than semolina. The grains are a bit larger than regular couscous, and maftoul has a wonderful firm texture and nutty flavor. Look for it with the regular couscous or in the International section of your market. You can find it online, or in specialty or gourmet food stores.
    • If you can’t find muftoul substitute a whole grain Israeli or pearl couscous. Look for a nice medium size, nothing too big.
  • SEEDLESS WATERMELON ~ this is a no brainer, look for a good firm heavy-for-its-size specimen.
  • FETA CHEESE ~ always look for authentic Greek feta, which is made with sheep’s milk. It’s the real deal, more nuanced and less sharp than American feta, which is made from cow’s milk.
  • PISTACHIOS ~ more available than ever, the American pistachio growers have been pushing them for a while now, and they’re delicious. I bought mine in the shell, which is a little tedious, but you can sometimes find them already shelled.
  • RED ONION ~ not in the original recipe but oh so important. Thin slivers are best.
  • OLIVE OIL ~ extra virgin, and I’ve been playing around with bold or robust versions and loving them in salads.
  • POMEGRANATE MOLASSES ~ one my favorite ingredients! It’s pure pomegranate juice that’s been reduced down to a thick syrup. It should be in the International aisle of your supermarket.
    • You can make your own pomegranate molasses, it’s easy!
  • LIME ~ the original recipe calls for rosewater, but I like lime better.
  • SUMAC ~ a Middle Eastern spice made from ground sumac berries. It has a mild, citrussy flavor. You’ve tasted it before in my Fattoush Salad and my Kofte Bowl with Warm Spiced Yogurt.
  • SALT AND PEPPER ~ fresh cracked pepper is a must.

make it ahead

The maftoul couscous can be made a day ahead, and the whole salad can be prepped ahead except for the watermelon. That’s best added shortly before serving because diced watermelon will start to lose its crisp texture in the refrigerator.

Middle Eastern watermelon and couscous salad with sumac

variations and substitutions for watermelon and couscous salad

Don’t love watermelon? I think this couscous salad would be amazing with peaches or nectarines.

If you can’t find whole wheat maftoul you can use Israeli couscous.

Instead of couscous use wheatberries or farro.

For a gluten free alternative try small French lentils.

Instead of pistachios try chopped almonds or walnuts. I would toast them first. If you can’t do nuts, sunflower seed kernels would work.

If you’re not a fan of mint, you can leave it out. A substitute would be oregano, thyme, or za’atar.



It’s been the star of this season’s potlucks, getting rave reviews and many recipe requests. Best of all, no leftovers.

Since watermelon is one of my favorite fruits to eat, I’ve been trying lots of ways to use it this summer. The Watermelon Salsa I made recently was tasty and well liked by my guests, so I was up for trying another fun watermelon recipe. Enter Watermelon Couscous Salad.


But where to find Israeli Couscous in my little town in Central Illinois? Amazon of course! Israeli Couscous was delivered quickly to my door. Thank you, Amazon Prime.

I really should have read the description a little closer when I first purchased my bag of couscous, though. I’m now the proud owner of this HUGE bag of couscous. Yes, this “Value Pack” was a bargain, and I never pass up those ($7.25) but 5 pounds? That’s 10 cups’ worth folks! And I only needed 1 cup for the recipe.

So, I’ve been sharing with anyone who’ll take some off my hands. As for the rest? I will continue on my quest to find lots and lots of recipes to experiment with.


I was certain couscous was a grain. Like barley or quinoa. Turns out I was wrong. (Yes, family and friends, I admit it. I’ve even put it down right here in writing.)

Couscous is actually a pasta. It comes in a couple of different sizes. There’s the itty bitty couscous that looks like rice and there’s the larger pearl-like Israeli couscous. Watermelon Couscous Salad uses Israeli.


  • Prep the watermelon. Cut the watermelon into a small dice.
  • Place the diced watermelon in a colander and then place the colanderinto a large bowl.
  • Sprinkle the watermelon with a little bit of salt, about 1/2 teaspoon. This helps to draw out some of the liquid, and you need to get rid of the liquid.
  • Let the watermelon drain over a large bowl while preparing the rest of the salad.
  • Draining the watermelon helps prevent the salad from getting too mushy and waterlogged.


  • Follow the suggestions on the package for preparing basic couscous.
  • I followed the suggestions in the recipe and started browning the couscous before adding water. It took about 4 minutes for the browning to complete.
  • Stir the pan frequently as it browns. You don’t want it to burn. It should turn a beautiful shade of brown, with a pleasant nutty aroma.
  • Add water to the browned couscous and cook it for about 10 minutes.
  • Taste couscous for doneness. If they still have a little bit too much “bite” to them, continue to cook them for another 3 minutes.
  • The recipe indicated 15 minutes of cooking time, but I found that to be too long. My suggestion is to do as I did–start tasting at around 10 minutes. The couscous should have a little bit of a bite, al dente, just like all the other types of pasta.
  • When the couscous has reached the right color of brown, add 2 cups water and salt and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the couscous is tender.
  • Drain any remaining liquid from the pan.
  • Spread the couscous evenly on a baking sheet.
  • Drizzle 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous and stir to combine.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to cool.


  • In a large bowl, combine the cooked and cooled couscous, drained watermelon cubes, onion, cheese, basil and arugula.
  • In a separate small bowl, make the dressing.
  • Combine the remaining 3 Tablespoons olive oil and vinegar.
  • Pour dressing over salad, and toss to coat evenly.


I’m not fortunately to have easy access to arugula. And I have learned to be resourceful living in the corn belt. Lucky for me, I found that Walmart and Aldi sell a combination arugula and spinach. It’s takes a little time to separate the arugula from the spinach, but it works out well.

I save the spinach for a spinach salad and use the arugula for Watermelon Couscous Salad.

After adding arugula for the right amount of pepperiness and feta cheese for the right amount of salty flavor, I felt the finished salad still lacked a little flavor. The red onion I put in my Watermelon Salsa recipe tasted great so I decided to add it here, too. The red onion added just the right amount of oomph I was looking for.


  • Watermelon is high in vitamin C and amino acids that boots immunity. This helps ward off cardiovascular disease and maybe even cancer.
  • Watermelon has a high level of potassium and magnesium to help lower blood pressure along with cardiovascular and stroke risk.
  • High lycopene levels may help prevent prostate cancer and could lower the risk for kidney stones.
  • Watermelon is also a natural anti-inflammatory that may aid muscle aches and pains.
  • Did I mention natural diuretic? It’s that, too.

Watermelon Couscous Salad


  • 6 Tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups diced watermelon
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil chopped
  • 1 cup arugula chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine rice or sherry vinegar


  • HEAT 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan, ADD the couscous and STIR until the couscous begins to turn brown color and smell toasty, about 4 minutes.
  • ADD 2 cups water and salt and bring to a BOIL. REDUCE heat, COVER and SIMMER 10-15 minutes or until the couscous is tender. DRAIN any remaining liquid from the pan.
  • SPREAD couscous evenly on a baking sheet. DRIZZLE 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous and STIR to combine. COVER with plastic wrap and PLACE in the fridge to COOL.
  • CHOP watermelon into a small dice. DRAIN the watermelon while you cook the couscous and prep the other ingredients to get rid of excess liquid.
  • To make the salad: In a large bowl, COMBINE the cooked and cooled couscous, drained watermelon cubes, onion, cheese, basil and arugula.
  • In a separate small bowl, COMBINE the remaining 3 Tablespoons olive oil and vinegar. POUR dressing over salad. TOSS to coat thoroughly.

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