How to Cook Couscous

Learn how to cook couscous! Toss this tiny pasta with herbs and lemon to make a simple side dish, or try one of the couscous recipes suggested below.

Couscous in a pot

If you open up my pantry, you’ll almost always find a box of couscous inside. I love keeping this quick-cooking starch on hand, as it’s an easy side dish that pairs well with all kinds of meals. Because I’m such a big couscous fan, I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to discussing what it is and how to cook it. And of course, I’ll share some of my favorite couscous recipes!

First, what is couscous?

Couscous might seem like grain, but it’s actually a type of pasta. First made by the Berber people of North Africa, it’s made from rolled, sifted, and steamed durum wheat semolina, and it’s a staple food in North African cuisine.

Today, you can find couscous in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny grains to larger pearls. Israeli couscous is also widely available in grocery stores. It looks a lot like traditional pearl couscous, but, according to this Food52 article, it’s not quite the same thing, as it was developed much later and is prepared slightly differently. However, because it’s so easy to find in grocery stores, I’m still including cooking instructions for it below.

Dry couscous in blue clay pot

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:

  • Traditional (white or whole wheat): As you can see in the picture above, this type of couscous is tiny – even smaller than quinoa! It would traditionally be steamed in a special pot called a couscoussier, but you can also quickly steam it in a regular lidded pot or saucepan. Measure a 1:1 ratio of couscous and water, and bring the water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta, 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.
  • Israeli: Instead of steaming Israeli couscous, I cook it like I do other kinds of pasta. I bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pearl-like balls, cooking for 7 to 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 balls don’t stick together.

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:

  • Add it to a salad. Try making this Mediterranean couscous salad with roasted tomatoes and chickpeas. You can also use it in place of quinoa, bulgur, or millet in a grain salad.
  • Serve it as a side dish. Below, you’ll find my favorite way to prepare this tiny pasta as a simple side dish. I toss it with herbs, lemon juice, pine nuts, and olive oil to make a bright, refreshing 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 & Lemons 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!


Lemon herb couscous recipe

More Basic Grains and Starches

Loved learning how to cook couscous? Try making one of these grains or starches next:

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Lemon Couscous Recipe

rate this recipe:
5 from 23 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
This easy lemon couscous recipe is one of our favorite side dishes. I toss the light and fluffy pasta with olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, pine nuts, and lemon juice. It's so simple and delicious!



  • In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, and ½ teaspoon of the 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, the remaining ¼ teaspoon sea salt, the 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.



5 from 23 votes (21 ratings without comment)

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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!

    • Byron

      I always look for olive oil from California. Sometimes it is blended with imported, but should be on the label. Always a better favor to me.

    • Donna Faggi

      Greek olive oil…. Its the best tasting and never blended.

  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.