How to Cook Couscous

Welcome to couscous 101! Learn what it is, how to cook it, and how to serve it. Delicious and easy to make, it'll become a staple in your kitchen!

Couscous in a pot

Couscous! I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but you might be wondering, “What is it, exactly?” Though it might seem like one, couscous is not actually a grain, but a tiny North African pasta! It’s a fantastic staple to keep on hand in your kitchen – it cooks in under 10 minutes, and you can use it in anything from salads to bowls to simple side dishes.

How to Cook Couscous

How you cook couscous will depend on what type you buy. In grocery stores, you will most often find these two varieties:

  • Pearl or Israeli couscous: It’s easy to see how pearl couscous got its name, as it’s shaped into round, pearl-like balls. I cook it like I do other kinds of pasta. First, I bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and then, I add the couscous, cooking for 7-8 minutes, or until al dente. As soon as I drain it, I toss it with a large glug of olive oil so that the pearls don’t stick together.
  • Traditional couscous (white or whole wheat): As you can see in the picture below, this variety is even smaller than quinoa! Consequently, it cooks in a flash. To cook it, measure a 1:1 ratio of couscous and water, and bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the grains, cover the pot, and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for 5 minutes, covered, before you remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Though it’s not totally necessary, I also like to add a bit of olive oil and salt to the boiling water to add flavor and prevent clumping.


Couscous Recipes and Serving Ideas

Once you’ve cooked your couscous, you have all sorts of options for using it! Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Make a couscous salad. Try making this one with roasted tomatoes and chickpeas, or substitute whole wheat couscous for the grain in any grain salad. It’s an especially great substitute for millet or quinoa.
  • Serve it as a side dish. Below, you’ll find my favorite way to prepare it as a simple side dish. I dress it up with herbs, lemon juice, pine nuts, and olive oil to make a bright, healthy pilaf. It pairs nicely with any protein, vegetable main dish, or soup!
  • Top it with a stew. Traditional Moroccan couscous is often served with stewy seasonal vegetables, and I adore this preparation. Find my riff on North African tagine on page 207 of Love and Lemon Every Day!
  • Make it a meal on its own! Make the recipe below. Then, top it with roasted veggies like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or butternut squash, drizzles of tahini sauce, and your favorite protein to make an easy meal!


Couscous recipe

More Plant-Based Cooking Basics

If you love this recipe, try one of these plant-based cooking components next:

Lemon Couscous Recipe

rate this recipe:
5 from 11 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 5 mins
Total Time: 10 mins
Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup minced parsley
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • pinches of red pepper flakes, optional


  • In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and stir. Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.
  • Fluff the couscous with a fork, transfer it to a large bowl, and toss it with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, and pine nuts.
  • Transfer the mixture to a serving platter and garnish with additional pine nuts, parsley, and red pepper flakes, if desired.



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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. Norm Klingbile

    5 stars
    This has been a long time favorite! I would like to ask if you have a favorite (s) trusted olive oil as I’ve heard that we Americans are being duped with some brands that aren’t the ‘pure’ good stuff?

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Norm, I like California Olive Ranch!

  2. Courtney R

    5 stars
    This is delicious! I did use no chicken broth instead of water. That’s the only change. I was eating it by the spoonful haha

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.