Need an easy, tasty lunch salad or Fall harvest side dish?? Make this Roasted Pumpkin Couscous Salad! It is very easy to prepare, you can get all your ingredients ready while the pumpkin roasts. This salad has a wonderful light dressing made with lemon juice and maple syrup and has a few tasty add-ins for a touch of sweetness and crunch in every bite.
As usual, I give you more ideas for ingredients to add to this salad, so you can use whatever you have on hand!
Pumpkin harvest couscous salad
I love using seasonal ingredients in my salads! Since we have a few pie pumpkins to use up, I roasted a bunch of cubed pumpkins and I am adding them to all my favorite savory pumpkin recipes. Last week I posted a recipe for pumpkin frittata, and this week I am sharing this pumpkin couscous salad!
Pumpkin becomes sweet and tender when roasted, and it makes a perfect addition to salads! The salad itself is SO EASY. Couscous doesn't require any cooking, it just needs to be soaked in boiling water to become soft, fluffy, and delicious.
While your cubed pumpkin is roasting, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients: toast the pepita seeds, grab your dried cranberries, chop your cilantro leaves, make the super simple lemon-maple dressing. Mix everything together, and voila!—lunch is ready.
Related recipe: Golden Turmeric Couscous Tabbouleh
Roasted pumpkin salad
For this recipe, I tested two ways of cooking pumpkin for salad: roasting it in the oven and air frying it. Both work equally well! Air frying is about twice as fast as roasting pumpkin, but the downside is that the air frying basket or tray is likely much smaller than a roasting pan, so you might have to air fry pumpkin in two batches.
I recommend roasting the pumpkin for this salad because you can roast some extra pumpkin and use it for other recipes and meals later in the week! You can use the roasted pumpkin as a substitute for butternut squash in this baked butternut squash and chickpeas dish, or toss pumpkin with Cajun spice and add some on top of this creamy vegetarian grits recipe!
Along with the pumpkin, I roast thinly sliced red onion for this salad because I like the roasted onion flavor and the soft onions.
Make sure to read the section below called "Pumpkin couscous salad add-ins" to get some more ideas of other veggies that would be great to roast and add to this salad!
How to peel and cube pumpkin
There are a few different ways to cube pumpkin, but here's how I do it:
- Chop the pumpkin into fourths to make the pieces more manageable.
- Scoop out the seeds using a metal spoon. Make sure to scoop out most of the stringy bits.
- Slice the pumpkin quarters into ½-inch wide strips.
- Use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel the skin off (or lay the pieces down on a cutting board and use a knife to chop the skin off).
- Chop into ½-inch pieces. You can make bigger pieces for other recipes, but for a couscous salad I recommend small pieces of pumpkin.
Related recipe: Roasted Winter Vegetable Spinach Salad
Hearty lunch salad
This salad has couscous as a base, which is a type of tiny pasta. Because of this, it makes a great filling lunch salad on its own. The addition of pumpkin, pepitas, dried cranberries makes this salad more filling thanks to the fiber in those ingredients.
This salad can be served warm, chilled, or room temperature. I prefer room temperature! Because of this, it makes a great packed lunch salad that does not need to be reheated. It also keeps well in a lunch bag because it doesn't have any dairy or other ingredients that will be of questionable quality by lunch time.
Of course, this salad makes a great side dish if served in smaller portions. We are able to get 4 lunch portions or 6 side dish servings from this couscous salad recipe.
Related recipe: Shrimp and Vegetable Couscous Salad
- 2 cups peeled diced pumpkin (diced to about ½-inch thick, about 8oz)
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
- salt and pepper for roasting pumpkin
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for roasting pumpkin
- 1 cup uncooked couscous (the small kind, you can use plain or flavored couscous, see ingredient notes below)
- ½ teaspoon salt (use salt, garlic powder, onion powder if not using salted broth instead of water or flavored couscous)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1⅓ cup boiling water (or vegetable broth, see ingredient notes above)
- ¼ - ⅓ cup dried cranberries, to taste
- ¼ - ⅓ cup pepitas, (pumpkin seeds) to taste
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided (or more to taste)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
Related recipe: Mediterranean Couscous Tuna Bowls
Ingredient notes and tips
→ Pumpkin: you can use any kind of pumpkin, such as a sugar pumpkin, kabocha squash, or butternut squash. You can absolutely use diced pumpkin from the grocery store to save time! Roast the pumpkin until it is easily pierced with a fork. The exact roasting time needed will depend on the size of your cubed pumpkin, your oven temperature fluctuations, and what the roasting pan is made from.
→ Couscous: make sure to use the small couscous (not Israeli couscous, which is larger and needs to be boiled for ~10 minutes). If you use PLAIN unflavored couscous, you'll need to add flavor to it, either by using a flavorful salted broth, OR by using water + salt + garlic powder + onion powder. Or you can buy flavored couscous at the store. It's your choice!
→ Red onion: I love the subtle oniony flavor of roasted onion, but you can definitely use raw red onion instead. Just dice it finely, and maybe reduce the amount because it has a sharper flavor than roasted onion. Not into red onion? Use a sweet Vidalia onion, or some diced scallions instead.
→ Dried cranberries: I love the sweet + tart flavor of dried cranberries in this salad. You can definitely skip them, or add some sliced grapes or raisins instead, but I highly recommend the cranberries. (Also try my brown rice salad with nuts and dry fruit!)
→ Pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas): I love pepitas, but you can substitute for slivered or sliced almonds, or for sunflower seeds. Don't forget to toast them for extra crunch and flavor!
→ Lemon + maple syrup dressing: Adjust this to your preferences by using more lemon juice for tartness or more maple syrup for sweetness. Another option is to use red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice.
→ Don't like cilantro? Use any other fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, or a little sage.
- Air fryer *or* large baking sheet for oven roasting
- Optional: parchment paper (it helps with cleanup, use only if roasting the pumpkin, not air frying it)
- Oil sprayer (makes it so easy to spray the roasting pan and pumpkin with a light coating of oil!)
- Lemon juicer (fresh-squeezed lemon juice is the best!)
The instructions here are for roasting the cubed pumpkin and onion in the oven. If you want to use the air fryer, check out the "How to air fry cubed pumpkin" section below.
Step 1: Preheat oven to 400F. Brush or spray a large baking sheet with olive oil, *or* line the baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper.
Step 2: Place the cubed pumpkin and sliced onion on the baking sheet. Try to arrange the onion slices so the tips are not pointing up too much, since the tips pointing up can get burned. Spray with olive oil and season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Step 3: Roast the pumpkin and onion for 15-18 minutes, or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. While the pumpkin is roasting, work on the next steps.
Step 4: In a large bowl, combine the couscous with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and boiling water (or use salted broth instead of the seasonings and water). Stir and let sit for 5 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Stir or fluff with a fork. Taste your couscous and add salt if needed.
Step 5: In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 tablespoons maple syrup and mix well. Stir this into the cooked couscous.
Step 6: Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until you hear them start to pop and crackle or start turning golden brown. Remove from heat and add to the couscous.
Step 7: Add the rest of the salad ingredients to the couscous in the bowl: roasted pumpkin, roasted onion, dried cranberries, chopped cilantro leaves. Stir and adjust the flavor with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if needed. I like to add another tablespoon of lemon juice to give it some tang. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.
How to air fry cubed pumpkin
If you have and air fryer, you can save a little time by air frying your cubed pumpkin and red onion. Simply arrange the pumpkin and onion on the air fryer tray/basket so they're not too crowded and spray with a bit of olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper. Air fry at 375F (preheat if your air fryer model requires preheating) for 7-8 minutes, or until the pumpkin is fork-tender. No need to turn the pumpkin halfway through cooking, unless it's starting to burn. If it's starting to burn but it is not cooked through, turn the temperature down to 325F.
Always check the air fryer before the cooking time is up because every model and type cooks a little differently!
The only downside to air frying pumpkin is that you might not have as much space in an air fryer as on a large baking sheet, so you might need to air fry your pumpkin in 2 batches.
Pumpkin couscous salad add-ins
This recipe is pretty good on its own, but here are some other tasty ingredients you can add:
- Diced cooked chicken
- Cooked chickpeas
- Diced apples
- Roasted bell peppers, diced into ½ - ⅓ inch pieces and roasted with the pumpkin and onion
- Roasted cubed eggplant - this might need to be roasted just a little longer than the pumpkin
- Roasted diced carrots
- Roasted sweet potatoes (or try adding these air fryer sweet potato home fries)
- Other fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, chives, or scallions
- Crumbled feta cheese
- Marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- Roasted red peppers (from a jar), chopped
- Diced pickles (yes, weird, but good! Also try my pickle grilled cheese sandwich)
- A teaspoon or two of mustard to add to the lemon & maple syrup dressing
If you enjoyed this recipe, let me know with a comment and a star rating below. And don't forget to share it on Facebook and save it on Pinterest for later!
Pumpkin Couscous Salad
- 2 cups diced uncooked pumpkin - (about 8 oz, diced to about ½-inch thick)
- 1 small red onion - thinly sliced into half moons
- salt and pepper - for roasting pumpkin
- 1 tablespoon olive oil - plus extra for roasting pumpkin
- 1 cup uncooked couscous - (the small kind. see ingredient notes below if you have flavored couscous)
- ½ teaspoon salt - (omit salt, garlic powder, and onion powder if you have flavored couscous)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1⅓ cup boiling water - (or salted vegetable broth, skip salt, onion, and garlic powder if using broth)
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice - divided (or more to taste)
- ¼ - ⅓ cup dried cranberries - to taste
- ¼ - ⅓ cup pepitas - (pumpkin seeds) to taste
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves - roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 400F. Brush or spray a large baking sheet with olive oil, *or* line the baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the parchment paper.
- Place the cubed pumpkin and sliced onion on the baking sheet. Try to arrange the onion slices so the tips are not pointing up too much, since the tips pointing up can get burned. Spray with olive oil and season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.2 cups diced uncooked pumpkin, 1 small red onion, salt and pepper
- Roast the pumpkin and onion for 15-18 minutes, or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. While the pumpkin is roasting, work on the next steps.
- In a large bowl, combine the couscous with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and boiling water (or use salted broth instead of the seasonings and water). Stir and let sit for 5 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Stir or fluff with a fork.1 cup uncooked couscous, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ½ teaspoon onion powder, 1⅓ cup boiling water
- In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 tablespoons maple syrup and mix well. Stir this into the cooked couscous.2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, or until you hear them start to pop and crackle or start turning golden brown. Remove from heat and add to the couscous.¼ - ⅓ cup pepitas
- Add the rest of the salad ingredients to the couscous in the bowl: roasted pumpkin, roasted onion, dried cranberries, chopped cilantro leaves. Stir and adjust the flavor with additional salt, pepper, or lemon juice, if needed. I like to add another tablespoon of lemon juice to give it some tang. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.¼ - ⅓ cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup cilantro leaves
The nutritional information displayed is an estimate and not to be used as dietary or nutritional advice. Consult a nutritionist or dietician for nutritional info based on the exact ingredients you use.