Learn all the ways you can cook Pearl Couscous (a.k.a. Israeli Couscous) using just water, chicken/vegetable stock or tomato sauce.
This recipe will give you fluffy and never sticky couscous ideal as a tasty side dish or as a basic ingredient for many salads.
What is Pearl Couscous?
Regular Couscous is tiny pasta made with semolina flour from durum wheat, mixed with water. Sometimes it’s easy to confuse it with bulgur which is a cereal food made from the cracked wheat (usually durum wheat) because they are very similar in appearance.
What is the difference between Pearl (Israeli) couscous and regular couscous?
Israeli couscous is bigger than regular couscous (which is approximately the size of quinoa) and has a rounder shape like pearls. That’s why it is also called Pearl couscous. It is also known as ptitim, giant couscous or gourmet couscous.
Once you cook Israeli couscous you can mix it with fresh chopped vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil and feta cheese and create a delicious Israeli couscous salad. If you love the bright taste of lemons then this lemon Israeli couscous from Leites Culinaria is a nice recipe to try, but you can also use it instead of bulgur in this bulgur and lentil salad.
The ingredients you'll need are:
- Pearl Couscous (also known as Israeli Couscous, gourmet couscous, giant couscous or ptitim)
- Olive oil
- Liquid (water, stock or tomato sauce depending on the method you'll choose)
- Lemon juice (optional)
1st method - Boil in plenty of water and drain
This method is best for Israeli couscous that's meant as a simple side dish or to be used in salads. Keep the couscous al dente, since it will absorb some of the liquids from the salad. Steps:
- Sauté the couscous with olive oil. This will give extra flavor.
- Add plenty of water (3-4 cups water per cup of couscous) and bring to a boil. Cook for 7-8 minutes.
- Taste the couscous after 7 minutes to check for doneness. If it's very chewy let it boil for 1-2 minutes more. Taste again and when it's done, remove from the heat and drain.
- Rinse (optional).
- Mix with chopped vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, onions, carrots etc.
If you skip the first step (sauteing) you'll need to first boil the water and then add the couscous and cook it until done.
Tip: Adding some fresh lemon juice to the water will prevent the couscous pearls to stick together. This is because the acidity of the lemon reduces the release of starch during cooking.
2nd method - Cook in stock without draining
This method is best for Pearl Couscous meant to be served as a side. Though you can use water, chicken stock or vegetable broth will add more flavor. Steps:
- Sauté the couscous with olive oil.
- Add the chicken stock (or vegetable broth or water) and bring to a boil.
- Cover and cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 8 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let it rest covered for 2 minutes.
- Add a drizzle of olive oil and fluff up with a fork.
The ratio for al dente couscous is 1 cup liquid per 1 cup couscous, as long as you cook the couscous in a pot covered with a lid (so that the liquid that evaporates returns to the pot).
Most packaging directions use a higher proportion of liquid but I find it produces mushy couscous. For softer couscous pearls you can increase the liquid to 1 ½ cups per 1 cup of couscous. Remember that if you cook it uncovered you'll probably need more liquid. Also, wider pots let more steam to escape, so additional liquid may be needed.
3rd method - Cook it with tomato sauce
This is not a very common method to cook Israeli couscous but it gives you very tasty results. The procedure is similar to this Greek beef stew with orzo pasta (Youvetsi).
The only downside is that it requires your intuition because depending on the quantity and the thickness of the sauce you may have to adjust how much water you‘ll need. In most cases you’ll need half a cup of sauce and 1 cup water per cup of couscous.
- Transfer the sauce and the amount of water needed to a pot and bring to a boil.
- Add the Pearl Couscous and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
- Cook covered until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Taste and if the pearls are too firm add some extra hot water.
- Let it rest in the pot for 2 minutes to absorb some of the remaining sauce and finish cooking.
- Serve immediately, while the couscous is left with a thick, glossy sauce.
How much water do I need for 1 cup of pearl couscous? The general rule is that you'll need about 1 to 1 ¼ cups of water (or vegetable broth) for every 1 cup of Pearl Couscous.
This ratio is for couscous cooked in a pot covered with a lid. If you cook it uncovered you’ll probably need more liquid.
How do you make couscous pearls not sticky?
- Toasting the pearls with olive oil before adding the water helps to make couscous not sticky (and also intensifies the taste!).
- Adding 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to the pot will help to make the pearls less sticky because the acidity of the lemon reduces the release of starch from the pearls.
- Cook with plenty of water and drain using a colander. If you’re going to add it to salads you can also rinse it with water. If you rinse it, some of the starchy flavor will be lost but the flavors of the salad will make up for that loss.
- Mix it with a tablespoon of olive oil. Olive oil coats the surface of the pearls and prevents them from sticking together.
What does pearl couscous taste like?
Pearl couscous is a type of pasta made from semolina so it tastes like tiny pasta pearls. If you take the extra step and sauté it with a bit of oil before boiling it, it will develop a sweet, almost nutty flavor that pairs perfectly with stews, braises, and grilled or roasted vegetables.
How much pearl couscous per person?
50 – 60 grams per person should be enough if it's meant to be served as a side. 50 grams of Israeli (pearl) couscous is about ⅓ of a cup.
If you go by the 1:1 rule, for ⅓ of a cup pearl couscous, you will need ⅓ of a cup (80 ml) liquid.
And one last thing: if you're struggling with figuring out what to cook every day, make sure to check this monthly meal plan full of Mediterranean recipes!
How to cook Pearl Couscous (Israeli Couscous)
- 1 ½ cups (200 grams) Israeli couscous
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Saute: Add the couscous and the olive oil in a pot over medium/high heat and saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until it starts to smell nutty and the pearls start to brown in certain parts.
- Boil: Add the water and the salt and bring to a boil. Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 7-8 minutes. Taste the couscous and if it needs more time cook for additional 2 minutes.
- Drain: Remove from the heat and drain through a sieve. Transfer to a bowl, add 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil (optional), fluff up with a fork and serve. You can also add ground black pepper, chopped parsley and lemon juice.
- For the no-drain method: Saute the couscous according to step 1 and add 1 ½ cups of stock (or water) and a pinch of salt. Cover the pot with the lid and let it simmer for 8 minutes until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 2 minutes, then fluff up with a fork.
- Keep some additional stock on the side because depending on the couscous, the amount of heat and the size of the pot, you may need to add more liquid during cooking.
- For the cooking in a tomato sauce method: Add ¾ cups tomato sauce and 1 ½ cups water to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and a pinch of salt, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook covered until almost all of the sauce is absorbed. Taste and if the pearls are too hard add some boiling water.
- Let it rest for 2 minutes and serve immediately, while it's left with a thick, glossy sauce.
- This type of couscous is used to make this Israeli couscous salad.
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Very simple and delicious!
I use it in practically every salad I make
Very happy you liked it Maria 🙂
Where did you find the pearl Couscous? Your help is much appreciated!!!
Hi Barbara, I live in Greece and we have it at big super markets. From what I know you can find it online (Amazon has it) or in the ethnic food aisle
It’s not Israeli and it’s not couscous: in North Africa we call it Berkoukess, in Sardinia it’s known as fregola and in Jerusalem it’s called meftoul. There hope to have fixed it for you…quick question: where was this “Israeli” couscous before 1948? The rest of the Mediterranean world should be told.
Hi Babass, I'm publishing this comment because I believe that everyone should be able to speak their mind and have their opinion heard.
However, please be more polite in the future. You didn't fix anything and no one asked you to.
How Rude you are! Love 💕 Israel and Israel couscous!!
Hi Makos, used the “no drain” method and only used 1-1/4c chicken broth, after roasting the couscous with a little EVOO. After cooking, I let it rest for a couple minutes, and added Kalamata olives, good feta, red onion, cilantro, salt, black pepper, with a squeeze of lemon. It totally transformed the dish for us! And tomorrow we’ll eat it for lunch with some roasted chicken and a splash or two of good garlicky salad dressing and a more lemon to brighten it. Thank you so much!
Hi Lea, that's awesome! Suddenly I got hungry! Wish you a great day:)
I made the drain method because I wanted to make a salad with it but I ended up eating half of it. Even plain it is delicious!