If you want to switch up your usual side of rice or potatoes, look into couscous! Couscous is easy to cook in either the microwave or on the stovetop. The tiny granules absorb hot water quickly, turning into a light and fluffy meal. Below, we'll show you how to cook couscous, as well as the different types available to you.
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 does look and act like a grain, it's made from semolina flour, made by crushing durum wheat. Therefore, it's actually 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.
Basic Tips for How To Cook Couscous
There are some variations of how to cook couscous depending on the type you have, but these basic tips will steer you true across the board.
Follow a 1:1 Ratio.
For every 1 cup 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 olive oil for a quick toast. You'll want to stir the tiny granules around until they're a golden brown. Don't over-brown them! You can toast them using butter instead of olive oil for a variety of 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 of the liquid has been 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 herbs and flavor!
Cooking the 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, sometimes known as pearl couscous, is the most common type of stovetop couscous. This is the basic couscous recipe.
- Put broth, or water, in a saucepan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Bring it up to a boil.
- While your liquid is heating up, toast your couscous in a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet until golden brown.
- Stir the toasted couscous into the boiling water. Cover the pan and immediately remove from heat.
- Let the couscous sit undisturbed until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.
- Uncover and fluff with a fork.
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.
- Bring water and a pinch of kosher salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Use equal amounts of water and couscous.
- Add your couscous to the boiling cooking liquid and then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook the couscous until it reaches al dente texture, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Drain excess liquid away.
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.
Stovetop Moroccan Couscous
- In a pot, bring water, extra virgin olive oil, and salt to a boil on the stovetop.
- Turn off heat and stir in couscous.
- Cover and let sit until the water is completely absorbed, which takes about 5 minutes.
- Fluff the couscous with a fork.
Microwave Moroccan Couscous
- Heat water using a microwave in a microwave-safe bowl until boiling, usually 5 minutes.
- Add salt, olive oil, and couscous to the water, stir, and cover with aluminum foil or a plate.
- Let the couscous absorb the water, which takes about five minutes.
- Fluff couscous with a fork.
What Do I Add To My Cooked Couscous?
Now that your couscous is cooked, 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. Traditional couscous flavors are cumin, saffron, turmeric, and curry powder.
However, there's no need to stay traditional! A light herbal couscous recipe would include chopped fresh parsley, fresh dill, green onions, and minced garlic. Some lemon juice or red pepper flakes would be good additions. Many people also add diced vegetables to their dish, either raw or sautéed in olive oil.
The larger couscous types, such as Lebanese, can be treated like traditional pasta and paired with any number of sauces.