How to Cook Couscous

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Learn how to cook couscous on the stovetop in under 20 minutes. These tiny semolina granules absorb hot water and quickly transform into a light and tender texture, perfect for sprucing up any dish.

Learn how to cook couscous.

Recipe Science

  • Couscous cooks by absorption, where each granule swells as it soaks up boiling water or broth, becoming tender without needing prolonged cooking.
  • The steaming process is crucial. It gently cooks the grains through indirect heat, preventing them from becoming mushy and allowing them to separate easily.
  • Fluffing after cooking introduces air between the grains, helping separate them and enhancing the light, fluffy texture characteristic of well-prepared couscous.

Couscous is a versatile crushed durum wheat semolina ingredient that can add elegance to any dish. It is a pasta-like product found in various Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African cuisines. What you might not know is that there are three common types of couscous, ranging in size and texture.

It can be served as a simple side dish to soak up the flavor from soups and stews, mixed with exotic spices, or combined warm or chilled for a couscous salad. Learn how to prepare Moroccan, Israeli, and Lebanese couscous with ease using stovetop or microwave methods.

How to Cook Couscous

Cooking instant couscous is similar to preparing pasta in that it uses the boiling method. However, the water is only briefly heated and then turned off to allow the water to absorb into the wheat. Israeli pearl and Lebanese (Moghrabieh) simmer until tender. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions in case any of the liquid ratios are different.

Moroccan Couscous on the Stovetop:

Instant Moroccan Couscous cooking on the stovetop.

Bring water, olive oil (if using), and salt to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in couscous.

Stovetop Instant Moroccan Couscous.

Cover the pot and allow it to completely absorb the water, for about 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork.

Moroccan Couscous in the Microwave:

Instant Moroccan Couscous inside a glass measuring cup.

Heat water in a microwave-safe cup or bowl until boiling, 5 minutes. Add salt, olive oil, and the couscous to the water. Stir and cover with foil or a plate.

Microwave Instant Moroccan Couscous.

Allow the couscous to absorb the water for about 5 minutes, then fluff the pieces with a fork.

Israeli Couscous on the Stovetop:

Israeli Couscous cooking on the stovetop.

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add couscous, cover and turn down to simmer. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stovetop Israeli (Pearl) Couscous.

Turn off the heat and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes then mix with a fork to separate. Israeli couscous pairs well with tomatoes and olives.

Lebanese Couscous on the Stovetop:

Lebanese Couscous cooking on the stovetop.

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add couscous, reduce heat to a simmer.

Stovetop Lebanese (Moghrabieh) Couscous.

Cook until al dente, about 10 to 15 minutes, then drain the water.

How do you make couscous more flavorful?

Now that you have the basic couscous recipe, you can add stocks, broths, garlic, onions, tomatoes, or other seasonings like cumin, saffron, turmeric, or curry powder to make it even tastier. The couscous can also be toasted in butter or oil before adding water for a nuttier flavor. I like to make pearl or Lebanese couscous and then toss it with marinara sauce or pesto.

Serve Couscous With

How to Cook Couscous

Learn how to cook couscous on the stovetop and microwave. These tiny semolina granules absorb hot water and quickly transform into light and tender pasta.
4.86 from 14 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Servings 5 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Mediterranean

Ingredients 
 

Moroccan Couscous (Stovetop & Microwave)

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup couscous, instant

Israeli Couscous

  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup Israeli pearl couscous

Lebanese Couscous

  • 4 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup Lebanese couscous

Instructions 

Moroccan Couscous on the Stovetop

  • Bring water, salt, and olive oil to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add couscous and quickly stir. Turn off the heat and cover. Let couscous stand until water is absorbed and tender, 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork before serving.

Moroccan Couscous in the Microwave

  • Microwave the water in a large 2-quart glass cup or large bowl until boiling, 5 minutes. Add the salt, olive oil, and couscous, and stir to combine. Tightly cover the cup or bowl with foil or a plate. Let it sit and absorb the water until tender, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Israeli Couscous on the Stovetop

  • Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add couscous and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the water is absorbed, 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the couscous sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Lebanese Couscous on the Stovetop

  • Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add Lebanese couscous and reduce to medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and use as needed.

Notes

  • Moroccan Couscous: 1 cup dried yields 2 ½ cup cooked.
  • Israeli Couscous: 1 cup dried yields 2 cups cooked.
  • Lebanese Couscous: 1 cup dried yields 2 ½ cups cooked.
  • Serving Size: ½ cup

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 5 servings
Calories 179kcal (9%)Carbohydrates 26g (9%)Protein 4g (8%)Fat 5g (8%)Sodium 238mg (10%)Potassium 57mg (2%)Fiber 1g (4%)Calcium 8mg (1%)Iron 0.4mg (2%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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