How to cook couscous

Lynn Wright / 08 March 2015

Use couscous as a side dish instead of rice or pasta, or in a multitude dishes from salads and soups to stuffing and tagines.



Despite its appearance, couscous is a type of pasta, not a grain. It’s made from moistened semolina flour that’s rolled into tiny pellets and then steamed for hours until light and fluffy in texture. A beloved staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, couscous is traditionally served with meat and vegetable stews.

Most couscous sold in supermarkets or grocery stores has been already pre-steamed, so all you need to do is give it a quick soak in hot water.

How to cook couscous

All you need to prepare couscous is boiling water, but it’s important to use the correct water to couscous ratio. For most types of instant couscous, use a ratio of 1:1 1/2, so for example 1 cup of couscous to 1 1/2 cups of water.

Allow around 60g of couscous per serving. You can add a splash of olive oil, lemon juice or a small knob of butter to the couscous while it soaks – it’s not essential but helps to add flavour.

1. Measure your couscous and place it in a heatproof bowl.

2. Pour the correct amount of boiling water over the couscous. It should cover the couscous by roughly 1cm/½in.

3. Cover your bowl with clingfilm and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

4. When ready, remove the clingfilm and using a fork, fluff the grains of couscous to help separate them.

5. Season with salt and pepper and then serve. If using extra ingredients, stir these in before serving.

Try couscous with this lamb tagine recipe

Spice up your couscous

Seasoned and served plain, couscous is great with anything piled on top of it – from roasted vegetables and tasty stews to chops and salmon steaks.

But jazzing up your couscous with additional flavours makes it a knockout side dish or simple delicious on its own. Try adding finely chopped herbs such as coriander and parsley; lemon juice and grated lemon rind; chopped olives, sundried tomatoes or dried fruit such as apricots or sultanas. Or go totally Arabian nights with pistachios, slivered almonds and pomegranate seeds.

With the addition of some extra ingredients, couscous becomes a meal in itself. There’s really no limit to what you can pair with couscous. Try chopped vegetables such as peppers, courgettes and tomatoes; pulses such as chickpeas; diced meat or feta cheese.

Served hot or cold, couscous is a winner for any occasion. It’s also a great addition in many recipes.

Try couscous with this easy chicken tagine

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