Couscous has become a popular inclusion for many people following vegetarian or plant-based diets over the years. It has been a staple in North African diets for a long time, and is traditionally served with meat or vegetables. It’s the base for this vegan Mexican couscous salad recipe.
Although in appearance couscous looks like a grain, it is not. Technically it can be considered as a type of pasta, as it is made from durum wheat, making it a refined (processed) product. Couscous is a carbohydrate, by that I mean that it is a source of energy for your body. However, it is a simple carbohydrate, which means that your body digests and converts the energy pretty quickly. This leads to a spike in your blood sugar levels and a corresponding peak in energy levels that is then followed by a sharp drop in energy. It’s for this reason that we serve couscous once a week at the retreat. (If you are interested in learning more, then read our article: what are good carbohydrates to include in a plant-based diet.
Couscous is low in fat, which means it is a good addition to your diet if you want to enjoy a low-fat diet. It is also a good source of fibre and plant-based protein. (Remember, most plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins, which means you need to include a variety of items in your food. Read more here: what is vegan protein and how do I get it?). Couscous is high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant, so it helps to repair damaged cells, support your immune system and can help to decrease inflammation.
Personally, I find couscous itself lacking in flavour, however it does absorb the flavours from whatever you serve it with. So, when we cook couscous at the retreat we usually add flavour into the cooking water, to give it a bit more taste. You can use your favourite herbs and spices added into the cooking water to bring a lovely subtle flavour. In this vegan Mexican couscous recipe we team it with flavours traditionally associated with Mexico: green peppers, onion, paprika, cumin and lime.
As couscous is made from durum wheat, this means it contains gluten, so is an allergen for some people. It’s easy to swap couscous and make this recipe with another grain that does not contain gluten, like rice, millet, quinoa or buckwheat. Simply replace the 2 cups of couscous with 2 cups of brown rice – you are likely to need a little more water and increase the cooking time.
Cooking tip: There are different types of couscous available. The easiest (and fastest) couscous is the pre-cooked variety – it means all you have to do is add boiling water and it turns light and fluffy. You can also sometimes find whole-wheat versions (which we use at the retreat), it can take a little longer to cook, but will be better for you nutritionally. Check the packet instructions for cooking times when you buy it.
Vegan Mexican couscous salad
Calories: total, per serving
2 cups (uncooked) couscous
2 cups boiling water (more if needed)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 tin sweetcorn, rinsed and drained
3 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped and seeds removed
Handful fresh coriander (cilantro) chopped
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
Optional: 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lime zest
3-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
3 tbsp water
Place the couscous, cumin and cumin seeds into a pan and add the boiling water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes (or according to packet instructions), until the couscous is soft and fluffy. Use a fork to break up any clumps. Place to one side and leave to go cold.
Meanwhile cook the red onion in a frying pan for five minutes until starting to soften (use water to prevent sticking). Add the green pepper and continue to cook for a further 8 minutes, until soft and the onion is starting to turn golden brown. Once cooked remove from the heat and allow to go cold.
Once cold, add the couscous into a large mixing bowl. Add the sweetcorn, tomatoes and fresh coriander.
Using a hand-blender, combine the sweet paprika, ground coriander, cayenne pepper, ground pepper, lime zest, lime juice, 3 tbsp water and olive oil. I suggest adding the olive oil slowly, last, to allow it to combine well with the water.
Pour the dressing over the couscous and stir well. Leave to marinade for 10 minutes before serving the salad at room temperature.
To make this dish complete, I would suggest serving this Mexican couscous salad with some lovely green leafy vegetables, like rocket, watercress, spinach or lettuce.
It is also a lovely accompaniment to some of our stew-type recipes including:
More vegan recipes
If you have enjoyed this recipe, many more plant-based vegan recipes are available on our health and wellbeing blog. Just click on the box “food recipe”. You can also search for your favourite ingredients by typing in the ingredient into the search box.
We have two e-cookbooks available to purchase and download from our online shop: Summer Food, 30 delicious plant-based recipes and our new Souping for health, 40 stunning plant-based soup recipes.
Plant-based vegan food at La Crisalida health and wellbeing retreat
Nutrition is an important part of living a healthy and balanced life. Our tasty plant-based menu served at the retreat is freshly prepared by our talented team of chefs, every day, to deliver great nutrition to all our guests, enabling them to re-connect, re-balance and re-energise. Come to the retreat and enjoy the food for yourself.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).