Chicken Pesto & Couscous Salad

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I’m always on the lookout for fresh new salad ideas to expand my summer dinner repertoire. 

Recently, I decided to experiment by incorporating my homemade pesto into a main dish chicken salad.

I figured the basil, garlic and Parmesan would pair perfectly with some greens, veggies and couscous or rice. 

Well let me tell you, this salad exceeded my expectations!

Bursting with flavor and summertime freshness, this Chicken Pesto Couscous Salad will be making regular appearances on our dinner table all season long.

Why You’ll Love This Salad

  • Rich in protein & carbs – With chicken, couscous and veggies, this salad delivers a complete meal that leaves you feeling fueled rather than still hungry after salad.
  • Flavors galore – The basil pesto, briny olives, sweet tomatoes and savory chicken offer layers of contrasting flavors in each bite.
  • Quick – Whip up a batch of pesto ahead of time then simply toss the remaining ingredients together for an easy summer weeknight dinner.
  • Adaptable – Swap in different greens, grains, veggies and proteins to put your personal twist on this high-flavor base recipe.
  • Makes great leftovers – Toss in some pasta or rice to stretch leftovers into a tasty pesto grain bowl lunch.
  • Perfect for packing lunches -Transports well and tastes great chilled


  • For best flavor, I recommend seasoning and sautéing cubed chicken breasts rather than using plain cooked chicken.
  • The pesto is really the star of the show here, so use high quality pesto and a generous amount! Whirl up a double batch of pesto and freeze half to have on hand for more salads, pastas, veggie sides, etc.
  • Allow cooked chicken and couscous to cool before mixing to prevent overcooking.
  • Roast cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan before mixing in for amazing flavor concentration.
  • Stir in some white beans or chickpeas with the chicken to make this a vegetarian one-bowl meal.
  • Roast cherry tomatoes and squash ahead – they last a week refrigerated
  • Cook couscous in chicken broth for extra flavor



Pan searing is easy and produces moist, flavorful chicken pieces perfect for salads. Cubed chicken ensures quick, even cooking.


Tiny semolina pasta balls cook up light and fluffy in just minutes. It absorbs the pesto dressing beautifully.


The garlic, basil, Parmesan give incredible fresh flavor and creaminess to the salad without heavy mayo or sour cream.

Cherry Tomatoes

Sweet little bursts of juicy brightness contrast perfectly with the pesto, chicken and couscous.

Kalamata Olives

Briny, salty olives offer a nice savory, bitey punch against the rich pesto. Green olives are also delicious.

How to Make Chicken Pesto Couscous Salad

Cook Chicken and Veggies

In an oiled pan over medium heat, sauté cubed chicken and summer veggies like zucchini and squash for 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Spread on a plate and chill in the fridge to cool.

Prepare Couscous

Bring chicken broth to a boil then add dry couscous. Cover, remove from heat and let steam for 5 minutes.

Fluff with a fork and cool.

Make the Pesto

Purée basil, Parmesan, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and salt/pepper in a food processor into a textured sauce.

Toss the Salad

In a large bowl, mix together couscous, chicken-veggie mixture and pesto until coated evenly.

Gently fold in cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives.

Finish and Serve

For best flavor, chill overnight to blend then serve garnished with basil leaves and shaved Parmesan.

What to Serve with Chicken Pesto Couscous Salad

  • Bread – Crusty artisan bread or pita wedges are great for dunking in the flavorful pesto dressing.
  • Soup – A cold, summer soup like chilled cucumber or melon makes a light, cooling starter before this substantial main.
  • Anti-pasta platter – Marinated veggies, cheese, nuts, cured meats perfectly complement this Mediterranean-style salad.
  • Sangria or rosé – Fruity, floral wine or sangria does just the trick washing down this herby, robust chicken salad.

Recipe Tweaks & Subs

  • Veggies – Asparagus, green beans, bell peppers, roasted carrots
  • Herbs – Cilantro, dill or oregano pesto
  • Protein – Flaked salmon, shrimp, white beans, chickpeas
  • Grains – Bulgur, quinoa, pearl couscous, orzo
  • Cheese – Feta, goat cheese, Pecorino

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does this salad keep?

Store fully prepped salad in an airtight container for up to 5 days. The flavors will continue developing over time.

Can I use rotisserie chicken?

Absolutely! Shredded rotisserie chicken is an amazing shortcut.

What pesto recipe do you recommend?

I love my basic basil walnut pesto but cilantro or spinach pestos offer delicious flavor variations. Play around with herbs and nuts!

Can I prepare the components ahead of time?

Yes, cook chicken, make pesto and prepare couscous a day or two in advance. Store them separately then simply toss everything together before serving.

What do I do if my salad seems dry after mixing?

No worries, the pesto and chicken will release moisture and oils. Drizzle over a little extra olive oil and pesto then mix again if needed before serving.

What dressing pairs well with this salad?

A lemony vinaigrette allows the other fresh flavors to shine. Balsamic is also delicious. Add dressing just before serving to prevent sogginess.

Should couscous be rinsed after cooking?

Rinsing removes excess starch for a fluffier texture. I don’t mind the starchiness but rinse if you prefer. Drain extremely well before using.

Chicken Pesto & Couscous Salad

Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Salad
Keyword: chicken, couscous


  • Large saute pan
  • Small saucepan
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring cups & spoons
  • Knives and cutting boards


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 lb chicken breast cubed
  • 1 medium yellow squash sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 lb cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup pesto


Cook Chicken and Squash:

  • In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the cubed chicken and sliced squash. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the chicken is fully cooked and the squash is tender. Once done, remove from heat and allow to cool.

Prepare Couscous:

  • While the chicken cooks, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a small saucepan.
  • Add the couscous, stir, then cover and reduce the heat to low.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the stock is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Let it cool.

Assemble the Salad:

  • In a large bowl, combine the cooled chicken-squash mixture and couscous.
  • Add the tomatoes and pesto.
  • Stir everything until well combined.

Chill and Serve:

  • Refrigerate the salad until you're ready to serve.