What Is Couscous? A Complete Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking

Read on to learn all about this powerhouse pearl-sized pasta.

Couscous may be small, but it packs a major punch. Couscous is a tiny form of pasta made from either durum wheat (semolina) or barley. Couscous can serve as a quick and nutritious base or side dish for a wide spectrum of meals. It becomes fluffy when cooked, but remains hearty with a chewy, firm texture. Because of its neutral flavor, it's a staple for both sweet and savory recipes. Here are some tips for making everyone go cuckoo for your couscous.

Types of Couscous

All couscous is a form of pasta, but there are several different types. It’s important to know which one you’re working with in order to prepare it properly.

Moroccan couscous is the smallest variety and cooks in just a few minutes. The flavor is mild with subtle nutty and sweet notes. It tastes best heated in a frying pan over medium heat with a small drizzle of olive oil before steaming. Serve Moroccan couscous with roasted vegetables, baked fish, or grilled chicken. It’s also wonderful as a side with chicken or lamb kebabs.

Israeli couscous is closest to pasta, and is traditionally boiled in salt water instead of steamed. It makes a wonderful addition to salads for texture and chew factor, soups for a full-bodied feel, as a base for your go-to grain bowl, or even used as a fun twist on classic cacio e pepe.

Lebanese couscous is the largest variety of couscous and takes the longest to cook. It's a wonderful addition to stews or other hearty comfort food recipes. It’s also coarser than Moroccan or Israeli couscous, which makes it ideal for incorporating into a comforting dish perfect for cold winter nights.

Herbed Garden Couscous
Karla Conrad

How to Cook Couscous

Always start by rinsing your couscous under cold water. With this small step you can remove excess starch and help it cook evenly to reach tender perfection.

For a hands-off approach, boil your couscous in water, broth, or chicken stock. Use an equal amount of couscous and liquid. Add salted butter, herbs, peppercorns, garlic cloves, a bay leaf, or some white wine to give your meal some extra flavor.

To enhance its rich, nutty flavor, try toasting your couscous first. Before adding it to the pot, toss it in a non-stick skillet with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes. Once it reaches golden brown, it's ready to add. This happens very quickly, so keep an eye on the pan.

Test Kitchen Tip: When cooking couscous, the most important step is to leave it alone. After you stir your couscous into the pot, immediately remove it from heat and cover it. Allow the couscous to sit, covered and undisturbed, for about 10 minutes.

Once your couscous is fully cooked and ready to eat, use a fork to fluff it up. Toss the couscous from bottom to top so it will be light and airy for serving.

How to Store Couscous

Leftover couscous should be refrigerated in a tightly sealed storage container. It can be kept in the fridge for up to three days or stored in the freezer for up to four months.

To reheat your couscous on the stovetop, transfer it to a saucepan and add a teaspoon of olive oil. Stir it occasionally over low to medium heat until your desired texture is reached.

To reheat your couscous in the microwave, add three tablespoons of water per cup of leftover couscous and cook on high for 2-3 minutes. If it's not warm enough, give it a stir and return it to the microwave in 30-second increments.

Couscous Recipes

Now that you know what couscous is and how to cook it, try using it in your favorite recipes. It's a great substitution for rice, quinoa, or pasta in a grain bowl or salad. You can also use larger couscous in place of heartier grains like faro and bulgur. Try one of our favorite couscous recipes for dinner tonight.

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