Skip to Content

Recipes from the Road: Spicy Couscous Bowls in European Hostels

My husband hates salad. He hates that as a vegetarian, people think that salad is valid meal option. He also hates lettuce, which is included in salad, but his hatred extends to lettuce on sandwiches, tacos, burgers, etc.

I have managed to trick my husband into eating salad for a few years now by calling it a Spicy Quinoa Bowl. This was fresh off of a long streak of eating taco bowls, so he thought the dinner “bowl” was a thing. I started with this recipe as my baseline, but made a few changes. I always used Near East Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa cooked as directed, skipped the artichokes and olives (Kenny also doesn’t like olives), and very rarely actually looked up the sauce recipe and kinda made it up each time.

Because I’ve never strictly followed a recipe for this meal, the recipe adapted well to hostel living abroad. It’s kind of a close-enough dish that lets you use what you can find and it will usually end up good. One of our hostels was right next door to a an Aldi (or Hofer as they are called in Austria), which was even better because we were able to buy everything we needed for less than 10 Euro and made more than four dinners and four lunches for two people (that’s 16 meals, divided by 10 Euro, so about .62 Euro or about 75 cents USD a meal).

There’s two changes I want to point out specifically in my recipe below compared to my “normal” recipe, to account for the whole cooking-in-a-hostel-in-Europe part (that’s what my what Recipes from the Road series is all about).

First, I substituted Quinoa for Couscous. I did this because the store in Prague didn’t have quinoa. Now, couscous is closer to paste so it is higher in carbs and lower in protein. We were approaching carb-loading time for an upcoming marathon, so we were okay with the higher levels of carbs.

Also, this particular brand of couscous was instant and that plays a huge part in why this meal is so great for hostel cooking. Instant couscous was available readily available in European grocery stores and it looks like Trader Joe’s sells a version in the US, so I’m sure you can find it anywhere. Directions vary by brand, but to make this kind, all you had to do was mix equal parts boiling water and couscous, let it sit covered for five minutes in a bowl, fluff with a fork and serve. A small box will last you many, many meals, so you can just make what you need and then keep the rest in a Ziploc bag.

The other adaptation has to do with one of my biggest tips for cooking on the road and that’s figuring out how to cook with fewer, cheaply priced, smaller packaged spices. Ideally, this sauce should be made spicy with Sriracha sauce and seasoned with dill, garlic and lemon. I can’t carry around Sriracha sauce on a plane and I don’t want to have to rebuy it everywhere and be wasteful. So to flavor the sauce in the hostel setting, I used cayenne pepper instead. I was able to find cayenne and dill in small, resealable packets for cheap. I can also easily throw these in my backpack and remake the sauce in other hostels another time. Great idea, right!? I thought so.

Here’s my recipe for Spicy Couscous Bowls adapted to cooking in hostels in Europe.


P.S. Kenny figured out this was salad. We were eating it for dinner the other day and I forgot to add the couscous and he realized it was actually just salad. We’ll see if I can keep getting him to eat it.

Spicy Couscous Bowls

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 container plain yogurt (Greek preferred, but either works)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dill
  • 1 clove garlic, minced and/or 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes (or 4 Roma tomatoes or 1 container of cherry tomatoes)
  • 4 cups arugula or leafy greens
  • 2 cups prepared couscous (typically about 1 cup dry but may vary)
  • 8 ounces feta cheese (or other crumbly white cheese)

Cut the cucumber into thirds. Set aside two of the thirds for later. With the remaining third, cut off the skin and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Mince the cucumber as small as possible. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, diced cucumber, cayenne pepper, dill, onion and/or garlic, and salt and pepper.

Slice the remaining cucumber and cut each slice into quarters. Dice the tomatoes.

For each serving, in a soup bowl, layer 1 cup arugula, 1/2 cup couscous, 2 ounces crumbled feta, 1/4 of the sliced cucumbers, and 1/4 of the tomatoes. Top with with 1/4 of the sauce.

Yields about 4 servings