Learn how to make Israeli couscous using chicken stock, water or tomato sauce. Basic recipe for perfect pearl couscous side dishes and salads.
Israeli couscous, also known as pearl couscous, is a basic ingredient of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and it's used in many vegetarian and meat-based recipes.
In this article you will find 3 different ways to prepare perfect Israeli couscous.
All 3 basic recipes are made with simple ingredients and depending which you'll choose, you can use the couscous as a simple side dish or as a base for many healthy salads (warm or cold).
What is Israeli couscous?
Israeli couscous is a type of pasta made of semolina flour (or wheat flour) mixed with water. It has a round shape like small pearls and that’s why it is also called Pearl couscous.
In Israel it's called Ptitim and was very popular during the 1950’s when people needed a cheap substitute for rice.
Other names are giant couscous, gourmet couscous and Maftoul (Palestinian couscous).
The difference between Israeli couscous and regular couscous is the size.
Regular or Moroccan couscous is smaller, approximately the size of quinoa.
Sometimes couscous is confused with bulgur because they are very similar in appearance.
Bulgur also comes in different sizes (fine, medium grain and coarse grain), however it's not pasta, but a cereal food made from cracked wheat (usually durum wheat) .
Pearl couscous can be a delicious, simple side dish served next to meat dishes like pork chops, roasted chicken or this air fryer salmon.
It can also be mixed it with fresh ingredients like chopped vegetables, lemon juice and lemon zest, olive oil and feta cheese to create this delicious Israeli couscous salad.
For this easy Israeli couscous recipe you'll need the following simple ingredients:
- Israeli Couscous (also known as Pearl Couscous, gourmet couscous, giant couscous or Maftoul)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Liquid (water, chicken broth or a tomato-based sauce depending on the method you'll choose)
- Lemon juice (optional)
1st Method: Boil and drain
This Israeli couscous basic recipe will give you fluffy and never sticky couscous ideal as a tasty side dish or as a basic ingredient for many salads. Pearl couscous that's meant to be added to salads should have a chewy texture, so try to keep it al dente (a bit firm when you bite it).
Step 1: Transfer the couscous and the olive oil to a pot and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is golden brown. This will give it a nutty flavor.
Step 2: Add plenty of hot water (3 cups water per 1 cup of couscous) and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for 7-8 minutes or until al dente (taste the couscous to check for doneness. If it's very chewy let it boil for 1-2 minutes more).
Step 3: When the couscous is ready, remove the pot from the heat and drain. Optionally, you can also rinse it with water to cool it down and remove some extra starch (which makes it sticky). Transfer to a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and stir to combine.
Once ready, you can mix this couscous with chopped vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, chopped red onion or green onions, carrots), fresh herbs (fresh parsley, oregano, basil, chives, fresh mint, dill) and lemon juice (lemon zest will also add lemon flavor to your dish) .
Tip: Adding some fresh lemon juice to the boiling water will prevent the couscous pearls to stick together. This is because the acidity of the lemon juice reduces the release of starch during cooking.
2nd Method: Boil without draining
This method is best for Pearl Couscous meant to be served as a side. Instead of water you can also use chicken stock or vegetable broth for a deeper flavor.
Step 1: Transfer the couscous and the olive oil to a pot and sauté over medium heat until the pearls are golden brown and start to smell nutty.
Step 2: Add the hot water or chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Step 3: Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 8-9 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the pot from the heat, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and gently fluff up with a fork.
This is a basic Pearled couscous recipe that makes very tasty pearl couscous side dish in a pot without having to use ay other utensils. Because pearl couscous will absorb all of the water used, you have to measure the liquid to ensure that it will become chewy and not mushy.
Pearl couscous and water ratio: How much water for 1 cup of pearl couscous?
The general rule is that you'll need approximately 1 ¼ cups of water (or chicken stock) for 1 cup of pearl couscous.
This ratio is for couscous cooked in a pot covered with a lid. If you cook it uncovered you may need more liquid.
Tip: If you love garlic, you can add 1 minced garlic clove to the pot, 1 minute before adding the hot water.
Note: 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 water per 1 cup of couscous.
3rd Method: Cook in a tomato-based sauce
This is not a very common method to cook Israeli couscous but it gives you very tasty results. The method is similar to this Greek beef stew with orzo pasta (Youvetsi).
The only downside is that it requires a bit of intuition because depending on the 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 tomato sauce plus 1 cup water per 1 cup of couscous.
Step 1: Transfer the sauce and the amount of water needed to a pot and bring to a boil.
Step 2: Add the Israeli couscous, stir well and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
Step 3: Cover the pot with a lid and cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Taste and if the pearls are too hard add some extra hot water.
Step 4: Remove the pot from the heat and let the couscous rest in the covered pot for 2 minutes. This allows it to absorb some of the remaining sauce and finish cooking, becoming tender.
Step 5: Serve immediately, while the couscous is left with a thick, glossy sauce.
Israeli couscous can be eaten as is, but there are many simple ways you can dress it up to make it even more interesting.
Some tasty additions are:
- Fresh chopped vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, arugula.
- Fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, chives, green onions, dill, cilantro, basil, mint.
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest (from organic, unwaxed lemons).
- Crumbled feta cheese.
- Grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Cheddar.
- Spices such as cumin, black pepper, paprika, chili.
- Dried fruit such as golden raisins, currants and dried cranberries.
- Chopped nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios.
Storage - Reheating
If you don't plan to eat it right away, transfer the couscous to an airtight container and let it cool to room temperature. Store it in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 days.
I don't recommend reheating the couscous in a saucepan or pot because it will soften too much and become mushy.
The best way to reheat it is in the microwaves for a few minutes (make sure the container is microwave-safe).
When used in salads, pearl couscous can be eaten cold from the fridge or at room temperature.
Here are some main dishes that will pair perfectly with Israeli pearl couscous:
And one last thing: if you're wondering every day what to cook for tomorrow, check this monthly meal plan full of Mediterranean recipes!
3 ways to cook Israeli couscous (pearl couscous recipe)
- 1 pot
- 1 spatula
- 1 ½ cups (200 g) Israeli couscous
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (1 for sauteing and 1 for serving)
- 4 cups hot water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Sauté: Transfer the couscous and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until it starts to smell nutty and the pearls are golden brown.
- 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, cover with a lid and cook for 7-8 minutes. Taste the couscous and if it needs more time, cook for 2 more minutes.
- Drain: Remove the pot from the heat and drain through a sieve. Transfer to a large bowl, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and gently fluff up with a fork. You can also add ground black pepper, chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- Sauté the couscous according to step 1 and then add a pinch of salt and 1 ¾ cups of hot water (or stock).
- Cover the pot with the lid and let it simmer for 8-9 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.
- Remove the pot from the heat, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and gently fluff up with a fork.
- Add ¾ cups of 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. Remove the pot form the heat and let it rest for 2 minutes.
- Serve immediately, while the couscous is left with a thick, glossy sauce.
To prepare Israeli couscous, you'll need 1 ¼ cups of water for every 1 cup of dry couscous.
Transfer the couscous to a large pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and toast it over medium heat. stirring constantly, until golden brown.
Add hot water and simmer covered for 8-10 minutes.
Once the couscous has absorbed all of the water, gently fluff up the grains with a fork.
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.
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.
50 – 60 grams of couscous 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.
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