This vegan couscous salad with sweet orange dressing is packed with bright fall and citrus flavors.
“I never met a salad I didn’t like.” -somebody else who isn’t me
I’ve never said that though because I have met plenty of bad salads. You know the kind. Bland, boring, just lettuce and tomato. Maybe an olive or two or some cucumber if you’re lucky.
Perfect Salad Formula
I have a formula I follow when it comes to creating salads that are both rich in flavor and in texture. Some of your ingredients can count for more than one category, but you want to make sure that every category is accounted for so that your salad is balanced and delicious. For example, the pomegranate seeds in this couscous salad with sweet orange dressing counts as both something sweet and your crunch factor.
Leafy Green Base: Your greens are full of antioxidants and vitamins. Remember that, generally speaking, the darker the green, the healthier the choice, but feel free to mix and match a variety of greens for more flavor and nutrients. My favorite green currently is arugula.
Grain: I didn’t always know you could put grains on salads. I thought that the unspoken rule of salads was veggies + dressing = salad. No variations. No more and no less. Now I know better and I add grains aplenty. In this salad I added couscous, but I frequently will choose whatever cooked grain we meal prepped earlier in the week and toss it in. This might be rice, farro, barley, or quinoa.
Protein: Yeah, you can get protein in your salad. I’ve already mentioned quinoa, so you can count that as both your grain and protein, or you can add another protein altogether. In this salad, I used chickpeas. Other options are tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, seitan, or nuts.
More Veggies (cooked or raw): There isn’t a limit on the number of vegetables you can add to your salad. Because the salad already has a starch in the form of grains, I try to stick with non-starchy veggies most of the time. I do love a good sweet potato in there though! Veggies are a good source of nutrients and also your chance to add lots of color.
Something Sweet (optional): Like some people are staunchly against pineapple on pizza, some are also fervently against sweets in their salads. That’s an opinion, although not one I personally hold. I love the surprising sweetness that fruits can add to a salad. You can go with either fresh or dried here, but my preference is always fresh as it’s easy to overdo it with the dried. My very favorite something sweet to add is pitted cherries, but apples, grapes, berries, and oranges all work too.
Crunch: If you have made it to this point in your salad equation and you haven’t added something crunchy, do it now. Seeds, nuts, crushed up tortilla chips, green onions, or crispy chickpea bacon bits all fit this category and make sure your salad has texture instead of being one mushy, squishy blob.
Fatten it Up: Healthy fats are good for keeping you feeling full and satisfied, so make sure not to skip this category. We’ve covered nuts and seeds already, so if you already have that, that’s great. Other options would be avocado, coconut meat (hey, a fruit!), dressing, or olives.
Dress & Season: This step here exists to enhance the flavor of your salad, but it should not be where all of the flavor comes from. When I used to think of salads as nothing but lettuce, tomato, and dressing, I thought I had to drown the salad in ranch. No wonder I didn’t like that or feel satisfied when I was done. Use your seasonings, spices, and dressings wisely. Add some dressing, spices (smoked paprika, garlic powder, pepper, cumin, ginger), citrus zest, and/or fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) to bring your flavor up a notch.
This formula may not be as simple as 2 + 2 = 4, but it’s no calculus either. It’s just a guide I try to be mindful of when I’m fixing myself a salad so that I have something that checks off all of the boxes of nutritious, delicious, colorful, and satisfying.
Here’s a toast to delicious, not-boring salads. Let me know if you use this formula to create a yummy salad of your own!
And while you’re formulating your own salads, here’s one of my fall favorites to inspire you and get you started.
Couscous Salad with Sweet Orange Dressing
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp sage
- 1/2 tsp rosemary
- 1 cup couscous uncooked
- 1 15oz can of chickpeas drained and rinsed
- seeds from one medium pomegranate
- green onion optional for garnish and crunch
Sweet Orange Dressing
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened nondairy milk I used almond
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tsp white miso paste
- zest of half an orange
- In a medium saucepan, bring water, butter, sage, and rosemary to a boil.
- Once boiling, add couscous and stir quickly, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for 4 minutes and fluff once cooked.
- While the couscous cooks, put together your dressing. You can either whisk all of the ingredients from orange juice to orange zest together in a bowl or do as I do and add them to a mason jar and shake what your mama gave ya*.
- Assemble your salad with arugula, the fluffed couscous, 1/4 of the chickpeas, 1/4 of the pomegranate seeds, and dressing to taste. Top with green onions if desired.
- If making ahead of time or for meal prep, I keep the pomegranate seeds and dressing separate from the couscous and chickpeas in case I want to heat the latter up in the microwave real fast.