How To Cook Couscous Perfectly Every Time 

 Last Update September 19, 2023

By Jenny Zhang

If you want to add variety to your typical rice or potato side, consider trying couscous! Couscous is a convenient option that can be easily prepared using either the microwave or stovetop. Its small granules can rapidly absorb hot water, resulting in a delightful, fluffy dish.

In a culinary landscape filled with endless possibilities, couscous stands as a shining star—a versatile grain that has captured the hearts and palates of food lovers across the globe. With its humble origins rooted in North African cuisine, this magical grain has transcended borders and found its way onto plates, bringing joy, flavor, and a touch of exoticism to kitchens far and wide.

If you are ready to try this new grain, we're here to guide you through the process of cooking couscous. Below, we'll provide all the information you need to get started.

What Is Couscous?

Couscous is the staple pantry ingredient for many North African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean diets. It's the convenient base for any number of great side dishes. But what is it? Is it a regional grain, like bulgur, rice, or farro? Or is it pasta?

Although couscous looks and acts like a grain, it's made from semolina flour by crushing durum wheat; therefore, it's more like pasta. However, for most types of couscous, the cooking method is similar to rice. It is used for a hot side dish, cold salads, or added to soups and stews as a main dish.

How To Cook Couscous On Stovetop


  • 1 cup of dry couscous

  • 1 ½ cups of water (vegetable broth or chicken broth works too)

  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

  • ½ teaspoon of salt (adjust to taste)

  • Optional: herbs, spices, vegetables, or your favorite protein


  • Medium saucepan or pot with a lid

  • Fork

  • Serving dish


1. In a medium pot or saucepan, bring the water or vegetable broth with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt to a boil.

2. Place the uncooked couscous into the boiling water and stir it gently. Gently incorporate the couscous into the boiling liquid, stirring it to ensure even distribution throughout. If you're using larger grains or whole wheat couscous, you may want to let it simmer for a minute or two.

3. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let the couscous sit undisturbed for about 5 to 10 minutes, allowing it to absorb the hot liquid and become tender. It's important to refer to the package instructions for guidance, as the specific cooking time will vary based on the type of couscous you are using.

4. Once the resting time has passed, uncover the couscous and use a fork to fluff the grains, separating them gently. This helps separate the grains, prevent clumping, and transfer them to a serving platter.

5. Taste the cooked couscous and adjust the seasoning with salt or any other desired herbs and spices.

6. At this point, your couscous is prepared to be enjoyed as a delightful side dish, incorporated into refreshing salads, or utilized as a versatile base for a wide range of recipes. The choice is yours!

How To Cook Couscous in Microwave

1. Measure the desired amount of couscous and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. The general ratio is 1 cup of couscous to 1 1/2 cups of water or broth, but adjust the amount according to your needs.

2. Add the appropriate amount of water or broth to the bowl. You can also season the liquid with salt or other spices if desired.

3. Cover the bowl with a microwave-safe lid or microwave-safe wrap, leaving a small vent for steam to escape.

4. Put the bowl in the microwave and set it to cook on high power for a duration of 2 minutes.

5. Carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and give it a quick stir with a fork to break up any clumps. At this point, the couscous is par-cooked, giving it a partially cooked texture, so don't worry if it's not fluffy yet.

6. Place the bowl back in the microwave and continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes on high power.

7. Remove the bowl from the microwave and allow the cooked couscous to rest, keeping it covered for 5 minutes. This allows the couscous to absorb any remaining liquid and become tender.

8. Once the resting time has elapsed, uncover the bowl and use a fork to gently fluff the couscous, ensuring that the grains are separated. Then transfer to a large bowl and adjust the seasoning with salt or any other desired dried or fresh herbs and spices.

How To Cook Couscous In Oven

  1. Preheat your oven to around 350°F (180°C).

  2. Combine the desired amount of couscous with water or broth in a baking dish or oven-safe casserole dish.

  3. Enhance the couscous mixture by adding your preferred seasonings, including salt, pepper, herbs, or spices, to suit your taste. For added flavor and texture, consider incorporating chopped vegetables or dried fruits as well.

  4. Thoroughly stir the couscous mixture to ensure that all the grains are evenly coated and well-distributed throughout.

  5. Securely cover the baking dish with either foil or an oven-safe lid, ensuring a tight seal to trap the steam and moisture inside.

  6. Place the dish in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous becomes tender. Keep an eye on it, as the exact cooking time may vary based on the type and size of couscous you're using.

  7. Once cooked, remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes, still covered, to allow the couscous to fluff up and absorb any remaining moisture.

  8. Uncover the dish and fluff with a fork to separate the couscous grains. Take a moment to taste the couscous and make any necessary adjustments to the seasoning according to your preference.

  9. Your oven-cooked couscous is now ready to be served as a side dish or used as a base for other recipes.

How to Cook Couscous Pilaf Method

  1. Heat a small amount of oil or butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

  2. Add the couscous to the saucepan and stir it gently for a couple of minutes until it becomes lightly toasted and golden brown. This step elevates the couscous's flavor profile, enhancing its overall taste and enjoyment.

  3. Pour in water or broth, using a ratio of approximately 1 1/2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of couscous. You can adjust the quantity based on your preference.

  4. After bringing the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to low and cover the saucepan with a lid to trap the steam. Allow the couscous to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. To ensure it reaches your preferred tenderness, you can refer to the package instructions or taste a few grains of couscous. Adjust the cooking time if needed.

  5. Once all the liquid has been absorbed, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for a few minutes. This resting period is important as it allows the couscous to fluff up and attain a light and fluffy texture.

  6. Lastly, uncover the saucepan and gently fluff the couscous using a fork to separate the grains to avoid clumping and ensure a uniform texture throughout.

  7. Taste the couscous and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, or any other desired herbs and spices.

  8. Your couscous cooked using the Pilaf method is now ready to be served as a delicious side dish or as a base for various recipes.

Basic Tips for Cooking Couscous

There are variations in how to cook couscous depending on the couscous type, but these basic tips will steer you true across the board.

Follow a 1:1 Ratio.

For every 1 cup of couscous, you'll need 1 cup of boiling broth or water. However, double-check your package as some require a different ratio, but 1:1 is the standard. If you use too much liquid, your couscous will be sticky. If you use too little liquid, your couscous will be dry.

Use Broth Instead Of Water.

If you cook using broth instead of water, you'll infuse flavor from the get-go. Vegetable stock and chicken broth work well and pair well with whatever spices you might want to use later.

Toast Before Cooking.

While optional, toasting your couscous beforehand will add a depth of flavor and a slight nuttiness. Before adding the couscous to your liquid, toss it in a skillet with a little olive oil for a quick toast. You'll want to stir the tiny granules around until they're golden brown. Don't over-brown them! You can toast them using butter instead of extra virgin olive oil for various flavors.

Don't Disturb The Couscous Until The Liquid Is Fully Absorbed.

Stir your couscous into your boiling water or broth, remove from heat immediately, and quickly cover the saucepan with its lid. Leave it undisturbed for at least 10 minutes until all the liquid is completely absorbed.

Fluff It Up.

Once the liquid is absorbed, use a fork to fluff up until you get fluffy couscous. Then it's time to play with spices and fresh herbs and flavor!

Different Types of Couscous

The three main types of couscous are Moroccan, Israeli (or pearl), and Lebanese. Each requires slightly different cooking methods.

Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous, sometimes known as pearl couscous, is the most common type of stovetop couscous. This is the basic couscous recipe.

Lebanese (Moghrabieh) Couscous

Lebanese couscous is the largest of the three main couscous varieties and cooks up much more like pasta than the other two. Instead of waiting for the water to absorb fully, you'll drain excess water once the couscous is cooked. This couscous recipe will cook your couscous perfectly, ready for a light sauce to top it.

Moroccan Couscous (or Instant Couscous)

Moroccan couscous is the smallest couscous and takes very little time to cook. If you see packages of "instant couscous" or "instant Moroccan couscous," this is the type of couscous it will be. Remember to use a 1:1 cooking liquid to couscous ratio unless stated otherwise on your packaging.

What Do I Add To My Cooked Couscous?

Now that you have cooked couscous to perfection, what do you add? Couscous tastes delicious on its own, especially if cooked in salted broth, but it's also a great way to experiment with flavors. Common flavors to add to couscous include ground cumin, saffron, turmeric, garlic, and curry powder.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.