The word couscous is derived from Arabic, but the dish is typically considered part of North African cuisine which includes Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Still, it also plays a large role in Middle Eastern dishes.
But what is couscous exactly? Is it a grain? Is it a type of pasta? The short answer is that it is pasta. Basically, it is little balls of semolina. Or in the case of Israeli couscous, it is comprised of slightly bigger balls of semolina. But it's not to be confused with pastina, which is the smallest type of pasta made with wheat flour and is typically used in soups. Most grocery stores stock couscous with the grains and rice instead of the pasta section, so that is where you'll most likely find it. It's often used in the ways you'd use rice or quinoa (or another grain) with stewed meats and vegetables, served as a side dish, or as a base for a salad. In some countries, such as Egypt, couscous is infused with sweet flavors. When couscous is cooked right, it's fluffy and soft.
Making couscous by hand, as has been done since ancient times, is seriously labor-intensive and not necessary in this day and age. The versions sold in Western stores are machine-made, pre-steamed, and dried to allow for very quick cooking. In fact, five minutes is about all it takes for the tiny grains to steam once your liquid has come to a boil. You can cook couscous in water, but using chicken or vegetable broth is the most common flavor enhancement.
Watch Now: Easy, Three-Ingredient Couscous Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups couscous
- 2 3/4 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (or less if using salty broth)
Gather the ingredients.
In a saucepan, bring water to a boil.
Add salt and stir. Add couscous and cover. Remove from heat and allow to sit for about 5 to 6 minutes.
Allow the couscous to absorb the water and then fluff with a fork. Couscous should be light and fluffy, not gummy.
Serve as the base for a stew or as a side dish. Enjoy!
What Can I Add to Couscous?
The possibilities are limitless as it pertains to couscous. It absorbs flavors well, but also has its own flavors and textures to bring to a dish. In North African cuisine, cooked couscous is usually the base for a stew with plenty of vegetables and some lamb or even chicken. But it also can be made into a dessert, common in Egyptian cooking, with cream, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins. Couscous makes a great side dish mixed with plenty of fresh parsley and some toasted pistachios for a satisfying crunch.
How to Store Couscous
You can keep couscous in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 to 5 days, depending on what else is cooked with it. Reheat with a few tablespoons of hot water or broth on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave until it's hot all the way through.
Couscous can also be frozen. Take room temperature couscous and spread it out on a baking sheet in an even layer—this will prevent clumping from occurring while it freezes. Slip the sheet into the freezer and once the couscous has frozen, transfer it to a zip-close freezer bag or another sealed container. You can then reheat it in the microwave if you like, or cook the frozen couscous in a hot skillet with a little bit of olive oil and water until it's hot and fluffed up again.