Learn how to cook Israeli, or pearl, and instant couscous on the stovetop in less than 20 minutes. These tiny, pasta-like balls of semolina wheat flour are so quick and easy to make! For this method, you simply need 1½-to-1 ratio of water to couscous. Once cooked to perfection, couscous adds a wonderful texture to salads and is a great side dish to serve with hearty stews.

Instant couscous in a grey bowl with parsley sprinkled on top.

What is Couscous?

There’s a popular misconception that couscous is a grain (like quinoa). It is actually a type of pasta made from coarsely ground durum wheat, or semolina flour. It’s found in many types of Mediterranean, Arabic, and North African cuisine.

The best way to cook these tiny pasta balls is in a pot with either water or broth until they become soft, fluffy, and tender.

The ratio of couscous to water is important. For every 1 cup of couscous, you need 1½ cups liquid.

Its texture makes it a wonderful accompaniment to a hearty stew. It can also stand alone as the main ingredient in a salad. (Like this Mediterranean Couscous Salad.)

Since it is made from gluten-filled grains, couscous is not gluten-free and should be avoided by those with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

Two types of couscous in glass bowls with measuring cups next to them.

Types of Couscous

The most popular types of couscous, and those most often found in your local grocery store, are Israeli (Pearl) Couscous, Mediterranean Couscous, and Instant Couscous.

Israeli (Pearl) Couscous is a slightly larger ball and has a chewy texture once cooked. Due to its size it takes a bit longer to cook versus the instant variety.

Mediterranean Couscous, though a little harder to find, is the smallest type available. It is typically ready in a few minutes.

Instant Couscous is a much smaller ball and can be ready to eat in under 10 minutes. Since it’s quite a bit smaller, it also fluffs up more similarly to quinoa.

Oil, butter, salt, water, and broth as the ingredients needed to cook couscous on the stovetop.

Ingredients

There are only a few simple ingredients that you will need to have on hand for this basic couscous recipe:

  • Couscous. Most often you can find it in either the pasta aisle or in the Mediterranean food aisle at your grocery store.
  • Liquid. Water or vegetable broth can be used for the cooking liquid. Broth will impart significant flavor, while water will create a more basic profile. If using broth, make sure you adjust the amount of salt you add.
  • Fat. A bit of extra virgin olive oil or butter is optional, but it will make your finished dish even tastier.
  • Salt. The amount here is also optional. You’ll want more if you are serving it as a side dish.

How to Cook Couscous

Whatever variety you choose, there are a few simple steps to follow to make the perfect couscous:

Add Ingredients to a Pan

To make either variety, you will want to use a medium-sized pot or saucepan with a lid.

While a stainless steel one is preferred, a non-stick pot may also be used.

Add water or broth to whichever pot you choose. 

To Cook Israeli Couscous

Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.

Stir the Israeli couscous, salt, and butter into the boiling water. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes, or until it reaches your desired tenderness.

To Cook Instant Couscous

After your liquid comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat and stir in instant couscous, butter or oil, and salt to the hot liquid.

Cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff up couscous with a fork.

Meal Prep and Storage

  • How to prep ahead of time: If you’re making a bowl with couscous, you can easily make it a few days before you need it.
  • How to store: Cooked couscous will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
  • How to freeze: Couscous freezes very similarly to cooked pasta or grains. To freeze couscous add it to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag or container once cooled. It will keep in the freezer for up to 4-6 months.
  • How to reheat: For the best results, warm the couscous back up in a skillet over medium heat or in the microwave.

What is the ratio of water to couscous?

To make any variety of couscous, you will need 1½ cups of water to each cup of couscous. However, be aware the different types of couscous have different cooking methods and times.

Is Israeli couscous the same as pearl?

Yes! Israeli couscous, named for the country it’s from, is often called pear couscous because it is one of the largest types. It got this nickname because many of the pieces resemble pearls.

Instant couscous in a grey bowl with parsley sprinkled on top.

How long does couscous take to cook?

Couscous usually only takes 10 minutes to cook. However, instant couscous can take even less—usually around 5 minutes.

How do you make couscous tasty?

To make couscous tasty, add some salt and butter when you’re cooking it. This extra step adds a richer flavor.

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Be specific. As a general rule, the cook time varies depending on the type of couscous, so pay attention to what you get.
  • Top it off. Couscous is the perfect base for a grain salad or saucy dishes.
  • Change it up. Water works well, but so does chicken broth or another liquid.
  • Keep it simple. Simply top couscous with fresh herbs, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and black pepper for an easy side dish.
A spoon scooping out a bite of fluffy Instant couscous.

Delicious Couscous Recipes

Once you make this delicious pasta, you can mix it in or serve it with these recipes.

Mediterranean Couscous Salad is a delicious dish full of fresh flavors.

Or, serve it alongside Lamb Kofta or Greek Turkey Meatballs.

You can also sprinkle it on Italian Dressing Pasta Salad or Pesto Pasta Salad.

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5 from 1 vote

How to Cook Couscous – Israeli (Pearl) or Instant

Learn How to Cook Israeli, or pearl, and Instant Couscous on the stovetop in less than 20 minutes. These tiny, pasta-like balls of semolina wheat flour are so quick and easy to make, you simply need 1 ½ cups of water to each cup of couscous. 
Instant couscous in a grey bowl with parsley sprinkled on top.
Yield 6 servings
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 20 minutes

Ingredients 

Pearl (Israeli) Couscous

  • 1 ½ cups water or broth
  • 1 cup pearl couscous or Israeli couscous
  • Butter or oil optional
  • Salt to taste

Instant Couscous

  • 1 ¾ cup water or broth
  • 1 ½ cups instant couscous
  • Butter or oil optional
  • Salt to taste

Instructions 

Israeli (Pearl) Couscous:

  • Add water or broth to a medium-sized pot. Bring liquid to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Stir in Israeli couscous, salt and butter. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes, or until it reaches your desired tenderness.

Instant Couscous:

  • Add water or broth to a medium-sized pot and bring liquid to a boil.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in instant couscous, butter or oil, and salt.
  • Cover and let steam for 5 minutes.
  • Remove lid and fluff up couscous with a fork.

Tap stars to rate!

5 from 1 vote

Notes

Meal Prep and Storage

  • How to prep ahead of time: If you’re making a bowl with couscous, you can easily make it a few days before you need it.
  • How to store: Cooked couscous will last in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
  • How to freeze: Couscous freezes very similarly to cooked pasta or grains. To freeze couscous add it to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag or container once cooled. It will keep in the freezer for up to 4-6 months.
  • How to reheat: For the best results, warm the couscous back up in a skillet over medium heat or in the microwave.

Nutrition

Calories: 107kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 1g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 6mg, Potassium: 47mg, Fiber: 1g, Calcium: 9mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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