This vegan couscous salad with butternut squash is a hearty yet healthy meal, perfect for warming up after a cool walk on the beach. It's also a wonderful make-ahead salad or side dish for autumn entertaining. Let's dive in.
Psst - couscous not your thing? Check out this fall salad with lemon tahini dressing.
Sheet pans for roasting squash and chickpeas. Style points for lining with parchment paper or silicon mats for easy clean-up.
Medium saucepan for preparing couscous
Vegetable peeler, cutting board and chefs knife for chopping butternut squash
Prep bowls for coating squash and chickpeas in olive oil and spices, as well as mixing salad
Bonus: jar for vinaigrette and tupperware for meal prepping/storage
We have all the heavy hitters of the fall veggie world in this vegan couscous salad - from butternut squash and kale, to pomegranate seeds and slivered almonds. Even better: there are TONS of substitutes, so don't sweat it if you can't find something.
Roasted butternut squash: move over pumpkin! Butternut squash is the queen of all fall root veggies. The soft, velvety bites strikes the perfect balance between sweet and savory.
And best of all...she's low maintenance! Once you peel the squash and remove the seeds, dice into cubes. Then toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 350 F for 45-60 mins, flipping halfway through. If you're getting some golden brown action, pull it out, you're done!
It's like getting just the right amount of sun. You're not burned, but have a soft bronze-y glow.
Substitutes: sweet potato, pumpkin
Crispy chickpeas: these chickpeas check all the boxes for a great salad ingredient: they add protein, crunch, and flavor. First, drain and rinse a can (or two) or chickpeas. Pat dry, and toss with olive oil. Roast at 350 F for 60 minutes, shaking halfway through. While still warm, toss with a teaspoon or two of zaatar spice, or whatever spice blend you like (cumin, coriander, and paprike are a great combo as well). If you're ok with a lightly crispy chickpea, stop here!
If you want crispier, let the chickpeas cool - when there's no longer steam rising from the pan, and the chickpeas don't burn your fingers, you're ready for roast #2. This time for 15-30 minutes. Now they should be crunchy and ready to add to your salad.
Pro tip: do NOT salt your crispy chickpeas. Salt releases water, and water means no crunch. Let the seasoning of the salad handle it.
Substitutes: regular chickpeas, white beans
Pearl Couscous (aka Israeli couscous): I don't know about you, but a salad without quinoa, rice or couscous feels empty. Your girl needs PLENTY of carbs to keep going all day.
So once your squash and chickpeas are in the oven, start working on your couscous. When in doubt, follow the packages instructions. Couscous is technically a pasta - so you'll want to boil some salted water first. But unlike pasta and more similar to rice or quinoa - the amount of water you'll need is quite specific, unless you want to deal with a sticky mess or watery couscous.
If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, I highly recommend their Harvest Grains blend. It's pearl couscous with a few other little surprises that add some fun texture. I stock up on it whenever I see it...and have an entire pantry full of it. Score one for non-perishables.
Couscous tip #1: couscous should be the last thing you add to your bowl before mixing, because like most pasta, it can get glue-y if it sits out for too long. To prevent, add a little bit of vegan butter (such as Miyoko's) to the pasta pot before the couscous.
Couscous tip #2: to prepare leftover couscous that's sticking together, add a little bit of viniagrette and toss before eating to break up up those delish little balls.
Substitutes: quinoa, brown rice, farro
Kale: in my opinion, kale is best as an add-in to a salad, not as the base. The warmth from the couscous softens tough kale and makes it a more manageable. And when greens warm, they shrink, so this is a great way to sneak in more of the green stuff.
If you're working with kale leaves, remove the leaves from the thick stem. If you see any thick veins, remove those as well. Trust me, it's worth the time. Shred with your hands into bites as small as you need (~1 square inch works for me). If you're feeling the kale and have some time on your hands, massage with a tsp or two of olive oil and lemon juice. Or if you have a vinaigrette, use that.
Pomegranate seeds: these little rubies are like little candy jewels in this vegan couscous salad They're juicier and have a brighter flavor than the smooth, mellow butternut squash, but the two go together like ice in water - perfectly balanced and complementary.
Substitutes: apples, grapes, raisins (use extreme caution if you have dogs at home - grapes and raising are highly toxic to pups)
Slivered almonds: if you have slivered almonds on hand, they add a nice light crunch, and the gentle nutty flavor contributes nicely to this fall salad.
Substitutes: pecans or walnuts
Parsley: optional fresh herb.
Vinaigrette: since this salad already has a lot going on, we're opting for a simple vinaigrette. For the uninitiated, a vinaigrette is a simple salad dressing that combines oil, vinegar, and water. In this vinaigrette, we're using good olive oil for richer flavor and texture, red wine vinegar, a touch lemon juice, pomegranate seeds, salt and pepper.
If you're feeling something different, there are tons of variations on the humble vinaigrette - a tsp of dijon mustard adds some creaminess and tang, and different spices (like oregano) can add a whole different feel to your dressing. This is an art, not a science, so pull out your tasting spoons and get to work!
Substitutes: lemon tahini dressing
Frequently asked questions
How do you make extra crispy chickpeas? To make extra crispy chickpeas, I like to double bake. Bake once, and remove from oven to let steam evaporate. Then bake again for ¼ to ½ the time. If serving in a salad, do not salt. If serving solo, salt before serving. Salt releases water, so we add salt at the end to avoid soggy chickpeas.
What can I use instead of pomegranate seeds? Apple cubes, grapes, and golden raisins all make wonderful fall salad additions. Be careful if you have a dog! While apples (minus the seeds) are totally fine, grapes and raisins are dangerously toxic to dogs. Even 1 or 2 could seriously hurt or kill your pup. We had a scare a couple years ago (Apollo is fine), so we don't buy these anymore.
I'm not a fan of vinaigrettes - is there another salad dressing I could try? Absolutely! This lemon tahini dressing would be incredible on this vegan couscous salad.
How do you keep couscous from clumping? Add some vegan butter or oil to your couscous water, and stir some into your grains once they're finished cooking.
Is it ok to eat the stringy stuff inside butternut squash? Yes! The stringy part is typically around the seeds - make sure to discard those. When roasted, this is the sweetest part of the squash, trust me you won't want to miss it.
What is zaatar? Zaatar is a middle eastern spice blend that contains sumac, sesame seeds, oregano, thyme and sometimes salt. In Israel, it's a table spice like salt and pepper. A little bit of zaatar makes just about anything taste extra special.
You can find it at a kosher grocery store. I found mine at the Fresh Market. If you're in a pinch and can't find it, try dried dill.Print
- 1 cup dried Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous)
- 1 can chickpeas
- 2-3 lb butternut squash
- slivered almonds
- pomegranate seeds
- handful parsley (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Zaatar (optional)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- juice of ½ lemon
- pinch of zaatar (optional)
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds
1. Prepare butternut squash: preheat oven to 350 F. Meanwhile, peel and remove seeds from butternut squash. Remove ends as well. Then dice into one inch cubes. Toss with a couple Tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast on a sheet pan for 25-30 mins, flip, then roast for another 25-30 mins. Squash is ready when it's soft and starting to brown.
2. Prepare crunchy chickpeas: drain and rinse chickpeas. Pat dry, then toss with a Tbsp or two of olive oil, and a pinch of salt, pepper, and zaatar (if desired). Roast on a sheet pan for 30-45 mins.
3. Cook couscous: when butternut squash is almost ready (or already out of the oven), prepare couscous according to package instructions. When finished, transfer immediately to mixing bowl with a little bit of vinaigrette to prevent sticking.
4. De-stem kale & prepare vinaigrette: shred kale, removing thick stems along the way. For vinaigrette, put all ingredients into a jar, cover securely and and shake to combine.
5. Build salad: start with kale and a couple Tbsp of dressing. Then add 2-3 big scoops of butternut squash, all of the couscous, chickpeas, a couple pinches of almonds, ¼ cup-ish of pomegranate seeds and a few leaves of shredded parsley if desired. Gently mix with the rest of the vinaigrette, and serve. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.