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How to Cook Couscous

Created January 22, 2020
Worried about cooking couscous? Don’t be—it’s easy. If you’re new to couscous, we’ve got the tips on how to make perfect couscous every time.

What is Couscous?

First off, did you know couscous isn’t a grain? Many people think it is, but those little granules are actually a type of pasta, made from semolina flour. Couscous is a traditional staple of North and West Africa and the Middle East, but it is eaten in many other parts of the world, too. It’s a great companion to meat, stews and veggies of all kinds. Traditionally, couscous is steamed, but that takes some time. We're going to show you easy ways to get couscous ready to serve quickly—in ten minutes or less.

Types of Couscous

There are several different kinds of couscous:

  • What we think of as the standard couscous, made from semolina wheat.
  • Whole wheat couscous, which uses the whole grain.
  • Israeli couscous (also called Middle Eastern couscous or pearl couscous) which is larger and pearl shaped. Technically, Israeli couscous is closer to orzo pasta, but we'll be ignoring that little detail and learning how to cook it anyway.

How to Cook Couscous

The secret to making fluffy couscous every time is all in the couscous-to-water ratio. If you’re making traditional wheat or whole-wheat couscous the general rule is to use 1½ cup of water for every 1 cup of couscous (a 1.5 to 1 ratio). For cooking pearl couscous, also known as Israeli couscous, you want to reduce the water to 2/3 cup for every 1 cup of couscous. Keep in mind that 1 cup of dry couscous will turn into 4 servings after you cook it, so don’t overdo it!

How to Cook Wheat Couscous

Ingredients for making wheat or whole-wheat couscous:

  • Water
  • Couscous

Directions for cooking perfectly fluffy wheat couscous:

  1. Use a ratio of 1½ cups of water per 1 cup of couscous
  2. Bring the water to a boil either on the stove or in the microwave
  3. Pour the couscous into the boiling water, cover, and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. When the granules have absorbed all the liquid, fluff the cooked couscous with a fork and serve.

You can add flavoring to the water before boiling, if you’d like. Any of these works well:

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons butter

Or, instead of adding flavor to the water, substitute vegetable or chicken broth for the water instead!

What to serve with wheat couscous:

Couscous is a great side dish to serve with proteins such as:

  • Salmon or other fish
  • Stir-fried vegetables with tofu
  • Pork chops
  • Chicken
  • Beef steaks

To ramp up your couscous as a side or even a main dish, add ingredients such as:

  • Parmesan cheese
  • Cooked peas
  • Cracked pepper or lemon zest
  • Herbs like dill, rosemary, or thyme
  • Pine nuts, raisins or dried currants

How to Cook Pearl Couscous

Ingredients for making pearl couscous:

  • Water
  • Pearl Couscous (also known as Israeli couscous)

Directions for cooking Israeli couscous:

  • Fill a medium saucepan 2/3 full of water
  • Add some salt and a little olive oil and bring the water to a boil
  • Add 1 cup of couscous to the boiling water and let simmer for about 8 minutes, until the couscous is al dente
  • Drain the couscous before serving it or adding other ingredients

What to serve with pearl couscous:

Toss pearl couscous with some butter and Parmesan cheese for a cheesy side dish. Or use it like pasta, as a foundation to display a gorgeous red sauce or other toppings.

More Couscous Recipes