Baked Pearl Couscous & Butternut Squash with Basil Tahini

Created by Laura Wright
5 from 21 votes

A hearty and tasty vegan supper that comes together in a 9x13 pan in the oven, this baked pearl couscous and butternut squash with basil tahini is flavourful and simple to make. Finished with lemon, chopped spinach, toasted pine nuts for crunch, and a creamy basil tahini sauce.

An overhead shot shows a baking dish filled with baked pearl couscous and butternut squash. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce. A wooden serving spoon is sticking out of the dish.

Butternut squash and basil together is such a tasty combination—truly a match made in flavour heaven! This recipe for baked pearl couscous and butternut squash with basil tahini is a cozy but still vibrant vegan dinner that’s mostly done in one 9×13 baking dish in the oven. Squash roasts with shallots, garlic, and spices until tender before pearl couscous, chickpeas, and hot vegetable stock are added. The dish bubbles away in the oven while you quickly blend up a creamy basil tahini sauce for drizzling. Stir in some spinach to wilt at the end, add a touch of zingy lemon, and dinner is served!

An up close show shows baked pearl couscous and butternut squash. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce. A wooden serving spoon is sticking out of the dish.
An overhead shot shows ingredients used in a vegan dinner recipe, featuring butternut squash, pearl couscous, pine nuts, chickpeas, spinach, pickled red onions, vegetable stock, shallot, garlic, lemon, basil, olive oil, spices, and green onions.

This warm baked pearl couscous recipe is kind of fun to make! It all happens in one baking dish for the most part, which I always appreciate. I love the combination of slightly sweet squash with peppery basil. It’s perfect for when the transition over to Fall. We really go in with the seasoning and complimentary flavours here: shallots, garlic, smoked paprika, za’atar, and some lemon at the end. I also add chickpeas for some plant-based protein.

What is pearl couscous made of?

  • Pearl couscous is made out of toasted semolina flour and water.
  • Lebanese mograbieh is slightly larger than pearl couscous and translates to “from North Africa,” which points to the origin and inspiration of the tiny semolina balls that are traditionally served with tagine in Morocco. There is also Palestinian maftoul, which is more irregularly shaped and typically hand rolled for special occasions. There is a great essay about couscous in general in Jerusalem, A Cookbook if you’d like to read more.
  • Pearl couscous was popularized after it was produced in an effort to feed an influx of people in Israel in the 1950’s.
  • Pearl couscous is not a grain and it does contain gluten. 
  • I would describe it as a grain-like relative of pasta that’s shaped into tiny spheres. The toasting of the semolina gives it a slightly nutty flavour that is delicious in salads, soups, and bakes like this.

To make our recipe, you start by roasting the squash with shallots, garlic, and spices. Once the squash is tender (about 25 minutes), we add the pearl couscous, chickpeas, and boiled vegetable stock into the same dish. I cover that tightly with foil and put it back into the oven. Once the baked pearl couscous is tender (about 20 minutes), you’re good to go. During the second bake, we whizz up the basil tahini sauce in the blender. 

To finish, I stir in baby spinach, lemon zest, and lemon juice until the spinach is slightly wilted. Serve it all together with drizzles of sauce and some extra chopped basil if you like! This bake makes excellent next-day lunches as well–just keep the bake and sauce separate, and reheat the bake with a splash of water or more vegetable stock. I love serving this with pickled red onions for a little extra punch. There are tons of recipes for them online!

Fans of this may also like my creamy vegan orzo risotto with butternut squash and brussels sprouts or these butternut coconut noodles with greens and herbs.

An overhead shot shows a hand using a wooden utensil to stir together some baked butternut squash, pearl couscous, chickpeas, and chopped spinach.
A 3/4 angle shot shows a creamy green basil tahini being drizzled from a spoon on top of baked pearl couscous with butternut squash, spinach, and chickpeas.
An overhead shot shows a baking dish filled with baked pearl couscous and butternut squash. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce. A wooden serving spoon is sticking out of the dish.
An overhead shot shows an individual serving of baked pearl couscous and butternut squash in a bowl. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce.

Baked Pearl Couscous & Butternut Squash with Basil Tahini

A hearty and tasty vegan supper that comes together in a 9×13 pan in the oven, this baked pearl couscous and butternut squash with basil tahini is flavourful and simple to make. Finished with lemon, chopped spinach, toasted pine nuts for crunch, and a creamy basil tahini sauce.
5 from 21 votes
An overhead shot shows a baking dish filled with baked pearl couscous and butternut squash. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce. A wooden serving spoon is sticking out of the dish.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings 4 -6

Ingredients

Baked Pearl Couscous & Squash:

  • 1 large large shallot, sliced
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces (about 5 cups chopped squash)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ cups pearl couscous
  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups baby spinach, chopped

Basil Tahini

  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 2 green onions, rough chopped
  • cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup water

To serve

  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • pickled red onions, optional

Equipment

Notes

  • Squash is mellow and pearl couscous loves to soak up seasoning. Don’t be shy with the salt and pepper in both the squash roasting stage and the vegetable stock adding phase.
  • I’ve tried versions of this without boiling the stock separately and it just doesn’t cook up quite right. Sorry for the extra step/dishes!
  • If there’s a vegan feta that you love, it would be absolutely delicious crumbled on top of the finished bake.
  • Any toasted nut/seed that you like would be delicious on top of this recipe.

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 425°F. Set out a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  • To the baking dish, add the shallot, squash, olive oil, garlic, za’atar, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Toss everything to coat and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until squash is soft and caramelized a bit on the edges, stirring it up at the halfway point.
  • Near the end of the 30 minute roast, bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a small saucepan.
  • Once the 30 minutes are up, remove the baking dish from the oven. Add the boiling stock, pearl couscous, chickpeas, and a fat pinches of salt and pepper directly to the dish. Gently stir to combine. Cover the dish tightly with foil and return to the oven for another 20-25 minutes, or until the couscous is soft and the liquid is totally absorbed.
  • While the second bake is happening, make the basil tahini. In an upright blender, combine the tahini, green onions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and water. Blend on high until completely smooth. Set aside.
  • Remove the finished bake from the oven and take the foil off the top. Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, and baby spinach. Keep stirring until the spinach is slightly wilted.
  • Serve the baked couscous and squash hot with toasted pine nuts, pickled red onions, and drizzles of the basil tahini on top. Enjoy!
A 3/4 angle shot shows an individual serving of baked pearl couscous and butternut squash in a bowl. The bake features chickpeas and spinach, and is topped with pickled red onions and drizzles of a creamy green basil tahini sauce.
06/09/2023 (Last Updated 02/11/2023)
Posted in: autumn, chickpeas, creamy, main course, roasted, salty, sauce, side dish, smoky, summer, sweet, tahini, vegan, winter

23 comments

Recipe Rating




  • Niko

    5 stars
    SO GOOD.
    Made it for my husband and Mom, and rave reviews all around. 10/10 will make again.

  • Jill

    5 stars
    This is absolutely delicious. So balanced, perfectly seasoned, and approved by a toddler and someone with morning sickness. High praise! Will be making this continually until I can’t find butternut squash anymore.

  • Caroline

    5 stars
    I made this with koginut squash and it was incredible! Thank you for the amazing recipes!

  • Kerstin

    5 stars
    I made this dish yesterday because I saw it in your stories and had (nearly) all the ingridients at home.
    I used hokkaido squash (it’s quite common here in Germany, I don’t know, if you know it) which doesn’t need to be peeled, I added 2 tablespoons za’atar instead of 1 because I misread it and I omitted the spinach because I had none – and it was a fabulous dish! Oh, and I didn’t have pine nuts so I used pecans and I love the combination with pearl couscous and chickpeas and will try it with different veggies soon (thinking of sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots).
    And did I mention the sauce? Wow!! I LOVE basil and I LOVE tahini but I would’ve never thought of putting this two together. And it turned out so so good!! Next time I’ll double the recipe!
    Thank you so much for your recipes, Laura!

  • Leah

    5 stars
    I’ve made this dish twice now and can tell it will be a go-to Fall meal for us. Love love love the flavours and the basil tahini dressing & pickled onions & roasted pine nuts are the perfect touches to an already delicious meal.

  • m

    5 stars
    SO good and so inventive ! never had anything quite like this and we really enjoyed. such a good use of seasonal squash and the sauce is really everything.

  • Ashley

    5 stars
    This recipe is amazing! Eating some as I type. The leftovers will become work lunches – perfect food prep recipe.

  • lala

    5 stars
    so good — added fenugreek + cloves and a pinch of red pep to the squash. everyone loved. thanks laura!!!

  • Alisha

    5 stars
    YUM!! Serious 5 star recipe here. My bf and I are intentionally trying to make more yummy plant-based meals and this recipe made our intentions manifest in a highly motivating way. I was looking forward to eating the leftovers today and will absolutely be adding this to my short list for a go-to healthy and delicious dinner. As others have mentioned: double the recipe for the sauce and pour on everythiiing!

  • Claudia

    5 stars
    Absolutely delish & love the one pan concept. This is a clean plate club recipe & one that I will add to my Thanksgiving menu. Once again, Laura, your recipes are always packed with flavor and creativity!!! xoxo

  • Laura

    5 stars
    Made this last night for dinner and it was DELICIOUS! Will definitely be putting this in my repertoire of weekly dinners.

    • Laura Wright

      So glad that you liked it, Laura! Thanks for leaving a comment and review here.
      -L

  • Kat

    5 stars
    Considering shoveling down a second bowl of this, as I type this!

    This was so good, and I fill expect it to be in the meal rotation. I mean, I’ve never eaten Pearl couscous that I didn’t love, but this recipe layers on flavors beautifully.

    I made extra basil tahini bc that s* is gooood, and I knew it would be from the ingredient list alone.

    • Kat

      Oh! And I made this with sweet potatoes bc I couldn’t for the life of me find butternut squash, even though fall is just around the corner!

      • Laura Wright

        Great to know that the recipe worked with sweet potatoes, Kat. And I hope that you can find some squash soon :)
        -L

  • Marianne Di Croce

    5 stars
    This is so good!!
    The basilic-tahini sauce pairs so well with the flavours of the baked pearl couscous and squash.
    This recipe is definitely going on my regular list of meals to cook when working.

  • Christina Koe

    5 stars
    Amazing recipe! Perfect for our cold front that just rolled in. I had to stop my 3year old from drinking all the basil sauce. Wouldn’t change a thing so great all around.

  • Tesneem

    Hi Laura! Huge fan of your blog and cookbook! Question about this recipe: Is there an alternative grain you’d recommend subbing in for the pearl couscous? Thanks!

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Tesneem,
      The only 1-for-1 substitution that I feel confident recommending is orzo pasta, which is available in whole wheat and gluten-free varieties.
      -L

  • Korrin

    5 stars
    Laura’s recipes are always perfect exactly as written and flexible enough to work with what you have on hand. This one is no exception. It was delicious and I am looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. (My nine year old daughter walked into the kitchen and said it smelled like Christmas while it was baking)

    • Laura Wright

      Korrin,
      Thank you for this kind comment and review! I’m so glad that you enjoyed this recipe! It really does make nice lunch leftovers too.
      -L

    • Laura Wright

      I love this, Korrin! Thank you so much for the kind review :)
      -L

  • Ellen

    5 stars
    My mouth is watering for this healthy beautiful to look at dish.