Learn all the ways to cook Israeli Couscous (a.k.a. pearl couscous) with chicken stock, vegetable broth or water. Always fluffy and never sticky, makes a tasty side and delicious salads!
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 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. However, 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 delicious salads. 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.
How to cook Israeli couscous
There are several ways you can cook Israeli couscous but the most appropriate will depend on the purpose you want it for.
Cook couscous in plenty of water and drain it
This method is best for Israeli couscous that’s meant to be added to salads. Keep the couscous al dente, since it will absorb some of the liquids from the salad. It is also delicious served plain, and it will give you the most consistent results. Steps:
- Sauté the couscous with olive oil.
- 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 cous cous and cook it for 9-10 minutes total.
Cook it with chicken stock or vegetable broth or water (No-drain method)
This method is best for couscous meant to be served plain, as a side. Steps:
- Sauté the couscous with olive oil
- Add broth (or water) and bring to a boil. 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. If you want it a little bit softer you can increase the liquid to 1 and a half cups per 1 cup couscous. Remember that if you cook the couscous uncovered you’ll probably need more liquid. Also, wider pots let more steam to escape, so additional liquid may be needed. This can also vary depending on the couscous brand.
- 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.
Cook it with a sauce (mostly tomato-based sauces)
This is not a very common method to cook couscous but it gives you very tasty results. It’s a lot similar with making 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 additional water you‘ll need. In most cases you’ll need half a cup of sauce and 1 cup water per cup of couscous.
For example, if you have 1 cup of tomato sauce (this homemade pizza sauce also works!) you transfer it to a pot and add 2 cups of water. You bring it to a boil and then add 1 1/2 cups of pearl couscous and a pinch of salt. Cook covered until almost all of the liquids are absorbed, but not all of it. You don’t want the couscous to absorb all of the sauce; you should leave it with some moisture. Taste and if it needs more cooking, add ¼ of a cup of boiling water and cook for additional 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
How much water do I need for 1 cup of pearl couscous?
To prepare Israeli or pearl couscous, you’ll need about 1 to 1 1/4 cups of water or vegetable broth for every 1 cup of dry grain. 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!).
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 1/3 of a cup. If you go by the 1:1 rule, for 1/3 of a cup pearl couscous, you will need 1/3 of a cup (80 ml) liquid.
- 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.
- If you use the no-drain method you will need 1 1/2 cups of stock (or water) and a pinch of salt. Cover the couscous with the lid and let it simmer for 8 minutes until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Then, 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.
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