How to Cook Couscous

Couscous is a North African dish of small steamed granules of rolled durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. The couscous you'll find in the shops is generally ‘instant’, which makes it super easy and quick to cook. Ultimately, if you can boil a kettle, you can cook couscous. On its own, couscous makes a quick replacement for rice or other grains to serve as side dish, but it also can be mixed with an enormous range of other ingredients to turn it into salads, stuffing or more interesting sides.

Couscous is a versatile ingredient that’s great as a store-cupboard standby. Once cooked, it keeps well, making it a good lunchbox option. However, cooking couscous will all depend on the type of couscous you have bought. Usually, in your supermarket, you will find two varieties.

  1. Pearl or Israeli couscous.Shaped into round, pearl-like balls, this variety can be cooked similarly to other kinds of pasta. After bringing a large pot of water to the boil, simply add the couscous and allow it to cook for approximately 7- 8 minutes, or until al dente. As soon as it is drained, pour a decent-sized amount of olive oil over it, so as to not allow the pearls to clump together. It couldn’t be simpler!


  1. Traditional Couscous (Whole Wheat or White).This variety is considerably smaller than the pearl couscous and consequently cooks much quicker. To achieve a delicious dish, measure a 1:1 ratio of couscous and water, and bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the grains, cover the pot, and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for 5 minutes, covered, before you remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Alternatively, tip the couscous into a heatproof bowl and pour over boiling water or stock. Cover with cling film or a lid and leave for 5-10 mins until the couscous is soft. Fluff with a fork and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper if you desire.

Flavouring your Couscous

There are many ways of adding flavour to couscous, here are a few simple ideas:

  • Dried spices and herbs can be added to the raw couscous before adding the boiling water.
  • Once cooked, couscous pairs nicely with North African and Middle Eastern spices and ingredients. Fresh soft herbs like parsley, mint and coriander, tomatoes, spring onions, garlic, lemon, olives, chilli, pomegranate, and dried fruits are all delicious partners of couscous.
  • Another way to add lots of flavour to couscous is to cook it in the same tin as a chicken or piece of lamb has been roasted in, while the meat rests. Add the couscous to the sticky tin, pour over the hot water or stock and cover – the couscous takes on a gravy flavour, ideal for serving with the roasted meat.

Couscous Serving Ideas

There is a myriad of options once you have cooked your couscous. Here are just a few.

  • Make a couscous salad. Try making this with roasted tomatoes and chickpeas, or substitute whole wheat couscous for the grain in any grain salad.
  • Top it with a stew. Traditional Moroccan couscous is often served with stewed seasonal vegetables. Along with the vegetables, you could have roasted lamb or chicken.
  • Serve it as a side dish. You can dress up your cooked couscous with herbs, lemon juice, pine nuts, and olive oil to make a bright, healthy pilaf. It pairs nicely with any protein, vegetable main dish, or even soup.

Recipes abound with couscous as one of the main ingredients. Some of these include:

  1. Chicken & couscous one-pot

This flavoursome one-pot meal is perfect for fuss-free midweek entertaining.

  1. 10-minute couscous salad

This makes a great lunchbox filler for a day out and is equally good at home from the fridge.

  1. Moroccan tomato & chickpea soup with couscous

This filling soup is healthy and packed with the flavours of North Africa: harissa, ginger, lemon and coriander.

  1. Roast chicken with couscous & pine nut stuffing

Delicious hot or cold and perfect for a picnic, this stuffed chicken will be a real  favourite.

  1. Herby couscous with citrus & pomegranate dressing

This colourful side dish goes beautifully with lamb chops or Middle Eastern-style dishes.

Once cooked, couscous will keep at room temperature for a few hours, or in the fridge for three days. If the couscous has been mixed with other ingredients, they might shorten its fridge life. Cooked couscous can be reheated in the microwave if you want it hot, or use it cold straight from the fridge.

As previously mentioned, with the array of ideas and recipes, the versatility of couscous is quite simply, staggering. Hot or cold, with or without meat and vegetables, easy and quick to cook, couscous should be a permanent resident in your kitchen cupboard!