This couscous kale salad is a celebration of fresh and vibrant flavors and textures. With Israeli couscous, chickpeas, fresh lemon, and an earthy tahini-harissa dressing, this hearty vegan kale salad makes a great side dish or light entree. It's oil-free and easily made gluten-free with one swap.
This Creamy Harissa Dressing has long been a favorite around here, and it's the inspiration for today's couscous kale salad recipe.
Though the dressing is a far cry from traditional harissa paste, harissa's Tunisian roots influenced the addition of couscous to kale salad. Except....
I ended up going with pearl, or Israeli, couscous because that's all I could find at the store. But in the end we really enjoyed the size and texture of the pearl couscous (which is essentially small pasta). It works really well with the kale, veggies, and chickpeas.
So feel free to use traditional fine couscous if you can find it, or switch things up with farro or quinoa. There are no rules here!
This hearty kale salad is simple to prepare and ABSOLUTELY delicious. So let's get to it!
- kale - look for a large bunch of curly green kale; you want one that weighs around ¾ to 1 pound with the stems. Otherwise, select two small bunches.
- couscous - though pearl couscous, often called Israeli couscous, technically isn't couscous at all, it was the only variety I could find at my local store. And as it turns out, its size is actually perfect in this dish!
Feel free to use smaller, traditional couscous, or substitute another grain such as farro, or use quinoa for a gluten-free option.
- harissa dressing - this quick and easy dressing recipe comes together in 1 bowl in a matter of minutes.
- lemons - the dressing already contains lemon juice, but with so many ingredients added to this salad, additional lemon really boosts the flavor. You'll need at least 1 lemon for the dressing and 1 for the salad.
- raw veggies - I opted for red onion, carrot, yellow pepper, orange pepper, and a variety of cherry and grape tomatoes. Use whatever you like or is in season.
- salt and pepper
See recipe card below for quantities and full recipe.
How to Make Kale Salad
Preparing this kale salad is fairly simple and only takes about 40 minutes, including making the dressing and cooking the couscous.
First things first.... head over to this post to make the harissa dressing.
TIP! You'll need about 1 ½ batches of dressing for the kale salad, so it's easiest to simply double the recipe. Use the leftover dressing on sandwiches, potatoes, and grains over the next few days.
Now, prepare the kale salad:
- Bring 1 ½ cups water to a boil, add ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, and 1 cup pearl couscous. Stir and return to a simmer. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and cook for about 13 minutes. Spread the couscous on a plate to cool.
- Wash the kale leaves and pat dry. Remove the thick stems, cut into bite-size pieces and place half of the kale in a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt, juice from half a lemon, and about ⅓ cup of dressing. Massage the kale until softened and reduced by about half. Transfer that kale to a different bowl, and do the same thing with the remaining kale.
- Wash and chop/slice the other vegetables. Toss them with the kale, chickpeas, and couscous. Add more dressing, to taste, about ⅓ to ½ cup. Season as desired with additional salt, lemon juice, and black pepper.
Cover and refrigerate the kale salad until ready to serve.
How to Massage Kale
Full disclosure, I didn't make kale salads for a LONG time because I thought massaging the kale sounded too fussy and tedious. But it's actually really easy!
Instead of "massaging" think of it more like "squeezing" and "squishing" the leaves with your hands. When you approach it this way it makes the process much easier and less intimidating.
So if you've never made kale salad before, don't be put off by this step. Just get in there with your hands, and you'll see it's super easy and only takes a few minutes!
Adding lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and plenty of dressing helps, too. Once the kale has reduced in volume by almost half, taste one or two pieces. If it chews easily and feels softened, you're all set.
Gluten-Free - replace the couscous with quinoa or any variety of bite-size gluten-free pasta.
Other dressings - if you're not a fan of harissa or tahini, peruse this list of tasty oil-free salad dressings for ideas.
Spicy - as written, the harissa dressing isn't very spicy, but you can add more heat with crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper.
Dried fruit - I chose to keep the kale salad 100% savory, but dried fruit adds a nice contrast to the earthy harissa dressing. Try cranberries, golden raisins, or chopped apricots. If the dried fruit is hard, soak in water for a few minutes to soften. Then drain and toss with the other ingredients.
If you love building creative salads, don't miss this list of the best salad toppings!
Kale salad is best enjoyed the day it's made, allowing a few hours for the flavors to mingle.
Serve kale salad cool but not ice cold. This actually comes in handy if you're preparing the salad in advance to carry to a party or backyard cookout.
A microplane zester is handy for grating the clove(s) of garlic for the dressing.
You'll also need a vegetable peeler and a good chef's knife to prepare and chop the vegetables. Other than that, no special equipment needed!
Store leftover kale salad in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. This dish is not freezer-friendly.
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Couscous Kale Salad With Chickpeas
- approx 1 ½ batches Creamy Harissa Dressing (tap for recipe) - See Step 1.
- 1 cup dry pearl (Israeli) couscous - Sub quinoa, farro, or traditional couscous if desired. Cook according to package instructions.
- 1 ½ cups water - for cooking the couscous
- 1 large bunch curly kale - approx. 12 ounces with stems.
- half of a large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 extra large carrot, peeled and chopped or cut into matchsticks
- 1 small yellow bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 small red or orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
- 8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 (15 oz) can cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 large lemon, cut in half
- salt and pepper
- First, head over to this post to make the harissa dressing.TIP: You'll need about 1 ½ batches of dressing for the kale salad, so it's best to simply double the recipe. Use the leftover dressing on sandwiches, potatoes, and grains over the next few days.
- Cook the couscous: refer to the instructions on the particular couscous (or other grain) you're using. The pearl couscous I used called for 1 ½ cups water and ½ teaspoon salt to 1 cup dry couscous.Bring 1 ½ cups water to a boil, add ½ teaspoon sea salt and 1 cup pearl couscous. Stir well and return to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, 13 to 15 minutes.
- Spread the cooked couscous on a plate to cool, and set aside.
- Wash the kale leaves and pat dry. Remove the thick stems, and cut kale into bite-size pieces. Place half of the kale in a large bowl (so you have room to work and get your hands in there). Add a pinch of salt, juice from half a lemon, and about ⅓ cup of dressing. Start to squish, squeeze, and massage the kale until softened and reduced by about half. Transfer that kale to a different bowl, and do the same thing with the remaining kale.
- To the kale add the vegetables, chickpeas, and cooled couscous. Toss to combine, and add more dressing, to taste, about ⅓ to ½ cup. Season as desired with additional salt, lemon, and black pepper.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.