Okay, get ready for the easiest, best way to cook couscous that turns out fluffy, tender and perfect every time. It takes just 5 minutes and you don't need the stove or even a pot!
There are a few varieties of couscous, but the one I have in the pantry most often is Moroccan couscous which is the smallest, fastest cooking variety. Ready in just minutes it makes an excellent base for all kinds of recipes.
Today, I'm heading back to basics to share just how simple it is to cook couscous. And of course, I’ll share some of my favorite couscous recipes too!
First of All, What is Couscous?
Although couscous (sometimes called 'the flavor eraser') is often mistaken for a grain, it's actually a pasta (starch, carbohydrate) made from semolina flour. There are many varieties from the tiniest grain (aka Moroccan couscous) to pearl shaped couscous (known as Israeli couscous) and slightly larger pea sized or Lebanese couscous.
For the base recipe, you'll need couscous, salt, and water. Keep reading for seasoning variations and options.
How to Cook Couscous
Couscous is a versatile pantry staple that makes a great alternative to rice or quinoa. It's readily available in most grocery stores in the pasta or International aisle, is inexpensive, and simple to cook.
- Moroccan Couscous (white or whole wheat): The easiest method for cooking this small couscous is to measure it into a large jar then pour in an equal amount of boiling hot water (or broth). Cover and let set. After ~5 minutes, the water is all absorbed and the couscous is plump and tender.
- Then just fluff the cooked couscous with a fork and it's ready to enjoy. This is a great way to cook couscous for beginners - it's so simple!
- Israeli or Lebanese Couscous (pearl shape): The larger sizes of couscous naturally takes longer to cook. I cook it like any other pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (~7-8 minutes) then drain, and enjoy. These larger varieties of couscous are sturdier and hold up well tossed in a pesto or tomato sauce. Cooked version in photo above.
Important Note: Couscous pasta is not gluten free.
Couscous Pro Tips
- Stovetop Method: I use the stovetop method for cooking Israeli couscous. See the step by step instructions in the recipe card below.
- Jar Method: One of the best things about the jar method for cooking couscous is you can leave the leftover couscous in the jar and store in the fridge. No fussing, no extra dishes, and it stays fresh all week! These Weck jars are my favorite. But use any jar or glass container you have on hand just make sure it's big enough to hold the cooked couscous (yield is ~ 2 ½ times dry measure).
- So convenient: Making couscous using the jar method is great for college students with limited kitchen appliances, when camping or anytime you don't have a stove!
- Stretch a meal: Adding couscous to a meal is an affordable way to stretch a meal while making it more filling as well.
- How to fluff couscous: If you underestimate the size of jar you need and the couscous swells to the rim, just empty the cooked couscous into a large mixing bowl, fluff then return it to the jar. This ensures the couscous at the bottom of the jar gets fluffed up too!
- How to season couscous: Couscous like most pasta doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own. Moroccan couscous is very light so you don't want to overpower it. I like to add salt and a few pinches of seasoning to couscous before adding the hot water. Sub hot water with vegetable broth to deepen the flavor. Additionally you can add fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, etc after cooking for extra layers of flavor.
- How much couscous per person?: This will vary depending on what you are serving it with, but ⅓ - ½ cup cooked couscous is a good serving size per person.
Ways to Serve Couscous
Once you have a jar of cooked couscous in the fridge, you'll find many uses for it. Here's a few of our favorite couscous recipes:
- Side dish: Couscous can be served alongside any vegetable or protein dish. Toss with a light lemon vinaigrette. Alternatively, just add a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice and a tablespoon of olive oil, add a sprinkle of fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil or mint and some chopped olives, sun dried tomatoes or capers. Garnish with a few toasted pistachios, pine nuts or almonds and pomegranate seeds or dry cranberries for extra crunch and flavor. Throw in a handful of chickpeas for an extra boost of plant protein if you like.
- As a base: Start with a scoop of couscous. Top that with vegan chili or lentil bolognese and serve with creamy coleslaw or a garden salad.
- Salads and bowls: Any salad or Buddha bowl that calls for a grain, rice or quinoa can be subbed with couscous. It's perfect in Mason Jars Salads (and every other dinner salad), Quinoa Chickpea Salad and any grain bowls.
- Vegetable soup: Stir in a handful or two of dry couscous to a simmering pot of vegetable bean soup in place of quinoa.
Best Vegan Pasta Recipes
Here's some more easy vegan pasta recipes to try next:
- Creamiest Mushroom Pasta
- Easy Vegan Lasagna Roll Ups
- Vegan Lentil Bolognese
- Easy Tofu Pasta (Italian herb crusted tofu)
- Lemon Fennel Orzo
- Homemade Pasta Noodles (pasta dough)
Perfectly Cooked Couscous Recipe + Tips
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- 1 cup dry couscous, Moroccan (white or whole wheat)
- 1 cup boiling water or broth
- ½ teaspoon sea salt (more or less to taste)
- pinch paprika, cumin or seasoning of choice
- parsley, cilantro, basil or mint (chopped)
- Boil the water in a kettle or the microwave.
- While the water is heating, add 1 cup of couscous, salt, and seasonings of choice to a large jar or container (with a lid). Pour 1 cup of boiling hot water over the couscous, stir, and cover so the couscous soaks up the seasoned liquid. Pro Tip: for a softer texture, add an additional 2 tablespoons water.
- In ~5 minutes, the water will all be absorbed and the couscous will be plump and hydrated. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Alternatively, dump the couscous into a large bowl, fluff with a fork, add extra spices and fresh herbs (if using) then return to the jar.
- Leftover couscous can be stored in the jar in the fridge for up to a week. You can freeze extra couscous for several months.
- Be sure your jar or container is large enough: 1 cup dry couscous = 2 - 2 ½ cups cooked couscous
- How much couscous per person?: Depending what else you are serving it with, ⅓ - ½ cup cooked couscous is a good serving size per person.
- In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of couscous and ¼ - ½ teaspoon sea salt (to taste). Cover and turn off the heat. Let the couscous steam for ~5 minutes. For softer couscous, use an extra ¼ cup water.
- Remove the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl or platter and toss with any additional spices or fresh herbs to taste.
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