Sometimes when I’m coming up with a recipe to share with you guys, I’m trying really hard to make it exactly as close to inspiration for the recipe as possible. Like, ahem, my love letter to Khao Soi a few days ago.
But sometimes I’m just trying to get some lunches prepped for the work week while still creating something flavorful with nods to a place I have fond memories of.
This Moroccan Couscous Salad is falls under the second sometimes category.
I have a lot of really distinct food memories tied to the two times I traveled to Morocco. It’s one of those places that pulls you in with its energy and vibrance. The Medinas or souks are the main marketplaces of cities in Morocco, and they have souls all their own.
The souks are a tangle of small, winding streets and alleyways bursting with life and color. Each section of the medinas loosely have their own theme – spices sold here, vegetables there, leather products down that alley, restaurants popping up any time the streets open widely enough to form a central square.
The second time I visited Morocco, my friend and I took a cooking class (because I just can’t help myself) where we went shopping for groceries in the Medina of Fes and then prepared our food in the kitchen of the owner’s lovely, ornate riad.
The dish we made that sticks out to me the very most was roasted chicken with couscous, which sounds fairly standard, but the very best part of it was these salty fried almonds that we stuffed inside of sticky dried apricots that roasted alongside the chicken.
The sweet, salty, crunchy combination of those almonds and apricots is something I have scrawled in a food journal I keep with the note “OMG” next to it. Not super descriptive, but you get the point 🙂
So this Moroccan Couscous Salad with almonds and apricots is a nod to that dish and to the winding and vibrant streets of Morocco. But it’s not at all fussy or complicated. You can throw it together in the time it takes you to cook pearl couscous (which is not long) and still bring a little bit of Morocco back to your own kitchen.
Moroccan Couscous Salad
A note on ingredients:
Excluding the finishing herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil, this Moroccan couscous salad has four main ingredients: apricots, almonds, chicken, and couscous. The chicken is fairly secondary, so you can use rotissserie chicken for ease. But the apricots, almonds, and couscous are important.
For the apricots, seek out dried Turkish apricots that are soft when you squeeze them gently. Depending on how the dried apricots are stored, they can get really tough and unpleasant. I pretty much exclusively buy my dried fruit from Trader Joe’s. Their price on these Turkish apricots is pretty hard to beat.
Next up are the almonds – it’s going to be really tempting to use regular almonds for this. But if you can, you should try to find salted Marcona almonds. Marcona almonds are softer and sweeter than California almonds, with a creamy texture that’s more similar to macadamia nuts than anything else.
Marcona almonds come from Spain and are the closest thing I can find to the almonds we used in Morocco (they are next door neighbors after all). Costco and Whole Foods both regularly have these, and they are worth it!
And finally, we have the couscous. I used Lebanese couscous for this recipe, and as the name implies, it’s not Moroccan couscous. I like the size of Lebanese or Israeli couscous better than small Moroccan couscous for a recipe like this. So I went with it.
Lebanese couscous is slightly bigger than even Israeli or pearl couscous, but really any of them would work here.
The keys to unlocking flavor:
There are two main ways I added extra flavor to this otherwise simple Moroccan couscous salad. The first is by cooking the couscous in chicken stock (psst, I got you covered with step by step instructions to homemade chicken stock here).
Cooking the couscous in chicken stock infuses everything with a rich, savory flavor. It’s one of my go to secrets when making dishes like this.
The second way I added extra flavor to this Moroccan Couscous Salad is by finishing it with lots of fresh herbs, namely parsley and mint. Mint is an herb that is also so connected to Morocco for me – give me Moroccan mint tea all day long, please.
The herbs, along with just a bit of acidity from squeezed lemon juice keep the salad bright and fresh.
If you’re making this Moroccan couscous salad in advance for lunches like I was, then I recommend saving a bit of the chicken stock couscous cooking liquid and adding it to your containers of salad. You know how pasta tends to dry out when let it sit in the refrigerator for a day or two? This helps to combat that.
Moroccan Couscous Salad
This Moroccan Couscous Salad is easy to prepare but still bright, fresh, and flavorful – marcona almonds and sweet dried apricots give the salad great amounts of texture and flavor!
- 1 cup dried Israeli or Lebanese couscous
- 4 cups chicken stock unsalted
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup sliced dried apricots
- ½ cup roughly chopped Marcona almonds
- 1 cup torn rotisserie chicken
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ⅛ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 ½ tbsp chopped mint
- 4 tbsp chopped parsley
Pour chicken stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil, once boiling add the salt and couscous and simmer until the couscous is tender (this will vary depending on the size of the couscous).
While the couscous cooks, chop Marcona almonds, apricots, and herbs and tear the rotisserie chicken.
Once the couscous is tender, drain it and reserve the cooking liquid
In a large bowl, combine the couscous with the apricots, almonds, chicken, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper, and herbs. Stir to combine
Taste the salad for flavor and add salt as needed. If the salad is dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid
Serve while still slightly warm or room temperature
If prepping this salad in advance, add some of the reserved cooking liquid to the container before refrigerating. After refrigerating, heat in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to reheat the salad to only slightly above room temperature.