Type and press ENTER
Hit ESC to close
Getty couscous tabbouleh insta
Getty Images

Pantry staples: couscous

Your ultimate guide to this versatile grain.


Have you got a few bags of couscous lying around in your press? Here, we give you all the info you need to know about it, as well as a couple of ways to use it.

In our pantry staples series, we take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their press – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. Today we’re looking at couscous, which is made from tiny balls of semolina and is very similar to pasta.

Couscous is a North African grain that has been consumed since around the 7th century. It is made from durum wheat, which is a sturdy form of wheat that is often used for semolina and pasta. Traditionally, couscous was made from the hard part of the durum that was sprinkled with water, rolled by hand and sprinkled with flour. This labour-intensive process has been replaced by mechanised production in modern times. Pre-steamed and dried couscous is extremely popular in the Western market, which has reduced the cooking time to about five minutes.

The most common type of couscous is Moroccan couscous, the smallest type, that cooks in minutes. Another popular form of couscous is pearl couscous, which is also known as Israeli couscous or ptitim. Created in the 1960s when Israel was still rationing food after World War II, this grain is made the same way as regular couscous, but the granules are rolled into larger balls. The grain is then toasted, rather than dried like other varieties, resulting in a nutty flavour and chewy texture. Lebanese couscous is the biggest type of couscous. Rolled into the size of small peas, this couscous takes a long time to cook. 

Getty Images.
Getty Images.
In terms of nutrition, couscous is a really good addition to your diet. It's a great source of selenium, an antioxidant that reduces inflammation, and plant-based protein. Unfortunately, couscous is quite low in fibre and potassium, so it should be paired with foods rich in these nutrients to form a balanced meal.

Cooking couscous depends on which type you're using: For Moroccan couscous, soak it for about 10 minutes using approximately a 1:1 ratio of couscous to hot water or stock, fluffing the rice with a fork occasionally. Israeli couscous needs to be simmered on a stovetop with around 1 1/2 cups of hot water or stock to each cup of water for about 10 minutes or until the grains are al dente and fluffy. To cook Lebanese couscous, the grain requires approximately four cups of water for each cup of couscous. Boil the couscous for 5-10 minutes, then simmer the grain until al dente. 

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Looking to use up the couscous in your press? Here are some of our favourite dishes:

  • Instead of using bulgur wheat for your tabbouleh, try couscous. Chop parsley, mint, tomatoes, spring onions and cucumber and mix together with cooked couscous, seasoning, lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Simmer some Lebanese couscous in coconut milk, vanilla and cinnamon, then serve with roasted fruits and berry compote for an alternative dessert.
  • Use the juices from roasted lamb or chicken to cook the couscous and add some extra flavour. 
  • Try this recipe for lamb rump and turmeric couscous from The Duck at Marlfield House, Gorey. The turmeric gives the grains an extra boost of flavour and colour.

Lamb rump with turmeric couscous. Photo: Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.
Lamb rump with turmeric couscous. Photo: Harry Weir and Brian Clarke.