How to Cook Couscous: Two Tasty Recipes - Public Goods Blog

How to Cook Couscous: Two Tasty Recipes

Couscous. It’s the food so nice, they named it twice.

How to Cook Couscous: Two Tasty Recipes

Light and fluffy couscous can find its way into an assortment of dishes, from a summer pasta salad to a hearty winter stew. Once you learn how to cook couscous, you’ll find ways to add it into every dish. It’s versatile and easy to dress — as long as you’ve mastered the basic couscous recipe.

In this article you’ll learn how to cook couscous in both its forms: semolina wheat couscous and Israeli couscous. We’ll also suggest our favorite spices to accompany them. But first, let’s have a quick refresher on what couscous actually is.

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What is Couscous?

A popular side dish originating in North Africa and the Middle East, couscous (perhaps surprisingly) is a type of pasta. Though we eat and treat it like a grain, the couscous we know and love is a Western take on hand-rolled, coarse durum wheat (semolina wheat) mixed and bound with finely ground whole wheat flour until it forms small angular granules.

Semolina wheat couscous is one of two forms of this savory starch. Created in the 1950s to feed an influx of immigrants in Israel, the other form is called Israeli couscous. It’s quickly becoming another popular source of carbohydrates, protein and fiber in the West.

Israeli couscous is also called giant couscous and pearl couscous because, well, it’s larger than semolina couscous and looks like pearls on a plate. While the texture and mouthfeel are different from semolina couscous, it’s made in a very similar way. The biggest difference is that Israeli couscous is made without the coarse durum wheat.

You can cook either type of couscous on the stove or in the microwave. Couscous is a fool-proof dish as long as you get your ratios right. Let’s walk through the process.

bowl of couscous and vegetables
Photo by Daniela on Unsplash

How to Cook Couscous (Semolina Wheat)

Semolina wheat couscous is more common to find in the grocery store than Israeli couscous. If you’re not sure which type of couscous you have, it’s probably semolina wheat couscous.

Cooking couscous is fast and easy. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 ½ cups water or broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon of 2-3 of your favorite spices (don’t worry, we’ll give you suggestions below)
  • a medium saucepan
  • a wooden spoon
  • measuring cup and spoons

You can also find pre-seasoned couscous, such as our Organic Garlic and Olive Oil Couscous and Organic Lemon and Herb Couscous. To cook couscous from a box, follow the same directions above.

The Fluff Factor

The determining factor for whether you get light, fluffy couscous is the water to couscous ratio. You’ll notice that different packages of instant couscous suggest different ratios.

I like my couscous to be ultra light and fluffy with no crunch. The ratio I use is:

  • 1 cup of couscous to 1 ½ cups of water (or broth)

Too much water will weigh your couscous down. You may even be left with some liquid in the bottom of the saucepan. The only time this excess might work for you is if you’re using couscous to make a soup or stew.

Too little water makes it impossible for couscous to fully cook. It may be a little crunchy inside. Some chefs intentionally leave a little crunch for dishes that are heavy on sauces or dressings. Alternatively, you might leave it a little undercooked if you’re using your couscous in a casserole and it will be heated a second time.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with how to cook couscous, plain and simple.

How to Make Couscous in 4 Simple Steps

  1. First, place 1 ½ cups of water or broth in a medium saucepan. Add your butter, olive oil, and spices. Bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, turn your stove off and remove the saucepan from the heat. Add couscous and stir once.
  3. Replace the lid on your saucepan and let stand for 5 minutes. This process steams the couscous and helps it absorb the last of the liquid.
  4. Finally, uncover and fluff with a fork. Serves 4.

Suggested Spices, Veggies and Proteins

Couscous goes wonderfully with lighter proteins such as salmon, chicken, tofu, white fish and pork chops. It also goes well with veggies like diced peppers, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli florets and eggplant.

How to Cook Couscous: Two Tasty Recipes
Photo by LikeMeat on Unsplash

As a hot and savory side, try adding ½ teaspoon of minced garlic to your broth. I always add ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, a couple drops of fresh lemon juice and homegrown Mediteranean spices like thyme, rosemary and basil.

For a natural crunch, add pine nuts or crushed almonds. The earthy flavors pair well with the robust yet mild taste of couscous.

How to Cook Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous is essentially a larger, rounder version of semolina couscous. Personally, I prefer to use Israeli couscous to make delightful summer pasta salads. No matter how you use it, it’s equally as easy to cook as semolina couscous.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of dry Israeli couscous
  • 1 ½ cups of water or broth
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 teaspoons of your favorite spices
  • a medium saucepan
  • a wooden spoon
  • measuring cup and spoons
israeli couscous in a bowl
Israeli Couscous

Israeli couscous cooks more like pasta than its semolina counterpart. That means you don’t have to stress about achieving the perfect water-to-couscous ratio. If you put too much water in, simply drain it off with a small-hole colander when your couscous is al dente (or soft, if that’s what you prefer).

How to Cook Israeli Couscous in 4 Steps

  1. Pour 1 ½ cups broth or water into a medium saucepan. Add olive oil or butter to prevent the couscous from sticking together. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1 cup Israeli couscous. Simmer on low to medium heat with the lid on until couscous is cooked through and liquid is absorbed.
  3. If your couscous is cooked through, but there’s still liquid in the bottom, drain it off.
  4. Fluff with fork.
  5. Season to taste. Serves 4.

Suggested Seasonings

You might have noticed that in the above “How to Cook Semolina Couscous” section, we suggest adding spices in the water before boiling. With Israeli couscous, you want to season it after cooking so you don’t drain off the deliciousness.

We love making cold Israeli couscous salads, complete with lemon and garlic-infused olive oil or pesto. Halved cherry tomatoes and diced bell peppers make this dish irresistible in the summer.

In the fall and winter, Israeli couscous lends itself marvelously to soups and stews that normally use orzo or rice. Italian wedding soup or a light minestrone are both delicious options for this pasta.

Other Ways to Make and Serve Couscous

Couscous is a great base for a meal or side dish because it can be dressed up or down to your liking. It feels like an exotic delicacy yet you can make it in your microwave. Seriously.

How to Cook Couscous in the Microwave

What You’ll Need

  • 2 medium microwave-safe bowls
  • 1 ½ cups of water or broth
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 medium plate to use as a lid
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • spices
  • oven mitts

What To Do

1. Prepare dry couscous by placing it in a medium microwave-safe bowl with olive oil and spices.

2. Pour 1 ½ cups of water or broth into the other medium microwave-safe bowl; place a microwave-safe plate over it as a lid.

3. Microwave water or broth for 1 minute 30 seconds on high, or until boiling.

4. Carefully remove your boiling liquid from the microwave with oven mitts and pour over couscous mixture.

5. Stir once and cover with the microwave-safe plate.

6. Let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork. Serves 4.

Add A Toasty Flavor

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Take your couscous salad to the next level by toasting it. I like to toast my pine nuts and sliced almonds to add to couscous, too.

The toasting process happens before you boil your couscous, but start by getting that water or broth boiling at the same time.

In a separate medium frying pan, melt your butter or olive oil on medium heat. Slowly stir in the couscous until it turns golden brown. You’ll smell the nutty fragrance.

Pour the toasted couscous into the boiling water, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

During this time, I like to add a little more butter to the frying pan and toast some pine nuts or sliced almonds. They make a beautiful garnish for your couscous and add a satisfying crunch.

Now that you know how to make perfectly fluffy couscous every time, you’ll enjoy working spicing, toasting and buttering this savory starch. Go forth and get creative in the kitchen!

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