This pesto couscous recipe is a simple side dish that comes together in just 10 minutes. It’s a great way to jazz up regular couscous and goes perfectly with meat or seafood.
When I think about family dinners growing up, the box of Far East couscous stands out vividly in my mind. I’m pretty sure we ate that stuff at least three meals a week, and after a while, it would come with whines of “couscous? Again, mom???” from the dinner table.
I get it, though; it’s pretty much the simplest thing you can ever make, easier than rice and pasta and tastier than quinoa. The only thing is, it can be boring.
That’s where pesto comes in. You can make this side dish even easier using a store-bought pesto or whip up your own in just a few minutes using the food processor to toss with the cooked couscous.
I used regular couscous in this recipe, but pearl couscous is also an option. I actually like pearl couscous a little more — it’s delicious in this fried couscous with bacon and asparagus — but either option can be tossed with pesto for this easy side dish recipe.
How to make a quick pesto for couscous
If you want to make the pesto from scratch, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Baby spinach
- Parmesan cheese —for a vegan dish, either omit the cheese or use a plant-based parmesan
- Pine nuts
- Sun-dried tomatoes — optional but an excellent unique flavor booster to the pesto
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
Store-bought pesto will work just as well, or you can choose another pesto recipe of your liking.
Zucchini pesto is excellent in the summer, ramp pesto is a beautiful seasonal spring recipe and radish greens pesto is one of my favorite ways to reduce food waste. Any of these would taste delicious paired with couscous. You can even select a red pesto like pesto alla Trapanese if desired.
Add all the ingredients except the olive oil to a food processor and pulse until finely minced, scraping down the sides as necessary. With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until a creamy pesto consistency results. You can thin it out with a bit of water if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
How to make couscous
While making the pesto, bring a medium pot filled with water or broth to a boil. Once boiling, add the couscous, immediately turn off the heat, and cover with a lid. Let the couscous stand for five minutes.
Remove the lid after five minutes and use a fork to fluff the couscous, which should have absorbed all the liquid in that time.
Making the pesto couscous
Once the pesto is made and the couscous is cooked, place the couscous in a large serving bowl and add a large spoonful of the pesto. Stir to combine, adding more pesto sauce as desired and season to taste with salt and pepper.
I also like to drizzle some extra olive oil on top with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.
Make it a meal — Instead of treating the couscous as a side dish, turn it into a meal by adding protein on top. Shrimp, chicken, tofu, salmon and even beans are delicious and straightforward choices.
Add cheese — Couscous originates from Northern Africa but is also often used in Mediterranean cooking. Adding feta cheese or fresh mozzarella can enhance the dish’s flavors and pair it with a main course from that cuisine, like chicken Sorrentino or stuffed chicken marsala.
Use another grain — If you don’t have either variety of couscous, you can make this dish with another grain like farro, wheat berries or millet. Millet is an excellent alternative for gluten-free diets. We use it in this gluten-free tabbouleh recipe instead of traditional bulgur wheat.
Turn it into a salad — Add chopped vegetables to make a pesto couscous salad. Bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and olives would make excellent additions.
This recipe will store in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to five days.
More pesto recipes to try:
Arugula pesto: This recipe is another quick and easy pesto that can be tossed with couscous that offers a fresh, peppery flavor.
Zucchini pesto pizza — Pesto and white pizza combine for an indulgent skillet meal with a crave-worthy crispy crust.
Trapanese pesto pasta: This pesto is made with tomato and almonds and offers a tasty alternative to traditional basil pesto.
Quick & Easy Pesto Couscous
- 5 cups packed baby spinach
- 1/2 cup packed fresh basil
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups plain couscous, or 10 ounce box
- 2 cups broth or water
- Combine the spinach, basil, parmesan, pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper in a food process and process until finely chopped.
- With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until smooth.
- Bring the broth or water to a boil in a medium sauce pot.
- Once boiling, add the couscous, stir, cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Fluff the couscous with a fork, add the pesto and stir until well combined.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.