Whether you're making regular or pearl couscous, this recipe explains everything you need to know about Instant Pot couscous and cooking couscous on the stovetop.
You can, of course, make plain Instant pot couscous with this recipe. Or, you can try a new, easy couscous side dish that's lightly seasoned with onion and garlic plus a pinch of smoked paprika and cinnamon.
This side dish is so easy and will bring new flavors to your dinner table! I love this pearl couscous served with chicken, especially Mediterranean grilled chicken with cucumber yogurt sauce.
Couscous originates from Middle Eastern and North African cuisines. Like grains or pasta, it can be served as a side dish that complements a main course or it can be turned into a dish all of its own.
Couscous soaks up sauces and stews really well. It can turn roasted vegetables into a full meal. It can also be added to soup or turned into a salad.
Looking for a cold couscous salad recipe? Try couscous vegan salad with sweet potato.
Types of Couscous
There are two main types of couscous that are commonly sold in American grocery stores: Instant couscous and pearl (or Israeli) couscous.
The easiest way to tell the two apart is size, which is good because the labeling on couscous packages can be vague. Instant couscous is very tiny, like sand. Pearl couscous is larger and rounder, like a small pearl.
Couscous: Instant, or pre-cooked couscous is usually labeled simply as couscous. Sometimes it's called Moroccan couscous. This type has been steamed and dried and just needs to be reconstituted with hot water.
The size is tiny, like grains of sand. The flavor is mild and nutty with a fluffy, slightly dry texture.
Pearl couscous: This variety is sometimes called Israeli couscous (and is called ptitim in Israel). I've also seen this variety labeled as "toasted couscous."
This type of couscous is larger and rounder and more closely resembles pasta. I often think of it as round orzo, because the flavor and texture is so similar. It's also similar to the Sardininian pasta called fregula.
It has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and a chewy texture similar to pasta.
Another type of couscous, which can be harder to find, is called Lebanese couscous or “Mograbieh”. This is the largest sized couscous, with balls about the size of a pea. Similar varieties include Moroccan mhamsa or Palestinian maftoul. Because of the round-ish shape, this variety is also sometimes called pearl couscous.
Instant Couscous Water Ratio & Cooking Method
For regular (instant) couscous, the water ratio is 1:1. For every 1 cup of couscous, use 1 cup of boiling water.
Regular couscous has already been steamed and dried and does not need to be cooked or boiled. It just needs to be reconstituted with water.
- Bring 1 cup of water to a boil (add ¼ teaspoon salt for more flavor)
- Adding a tablespoon of butter or oil to the water is optional.
- Turn off the heat and add 1 cup of couscous to the hot water.
- Stir with a fork, then put a lid on the pot.
- Let it set for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.
Regular couscous should not be cooked in a pressure cooker. This type of couscous will stick to the bottom of an Instant Pot, even if it's cooked for "0" minutes.
The only way to cook couscous in an Instant Pot is to add it as a top layer to meat or vegetables that are already mostly cooked. These recipes work because the couscous is not touching the bottom of the pot.
You can then put the lid back on the Instant Pot and cook for "0" minutes on high pressure, using an Instant release. Fluff the couscous with a fork, then mix it into the rest of the ingredients.
Pearl Couscous Water Ratio
Stovetop water ratio
On the stove, pearl couscous can be cooked like pasta in a big pot of water. Just drain it when it's tender. This is the easiest method, with the added bonus of not having to worry about the couscous sticking to the pot.
If you want to be more precise, then use at least 1 ½ cups water for every 1 cup of pearl couscous. For this method, simmer the water gently, so that the pearl couscous absorbs most of the water without sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Instant Pot water ratio
In the Instant Pot, I find that 1 ¼ cups water works best for every 1 cup of pearl couscous. If there is any water remaining after cooking, let the pearl couscous sit for a few minutes to absorb it.
Instant Pot Pearl Couscous
A pressure cooker is a quick and easy way to cook pearl couscous. Instant Pot pearl couscous absorbs all of the liquid that it's cooked it, giving the pearl couscous a slightly starchier, creamier texture.
Instant Pot pearl couscous is very similar to the texture of pasta and is wonderful with any type of pasta sauce. Or, it can be served with beef stew or vegetable stew spooned on top.
You can also add grated cheese or butter. Then consider mixing in roasted vegetables or greens like spinach that wilt into the warm couscous.
For Instant Pot pearl couscous cooking instructions, see the recipe card at the end of the blog post.
Stovetop Pearl Couscous
Stovetop pearl couscous can be cooked liked pasta and then drained (rinsing is optional). This cooking method gives it a less starchy texture than Instant Pot couscous.
For this reason, I prefer to boil pearl couscous on the stove when I'm using it to make a cold salad.
If using the pearl couscous for a cold salad, you can also rinse it briefly in cold water after boiling to remove more of the starch.
For stovetop pearl couscous cooking instructions, see the recipe card at the end of the blog post.
Pro Tip: To give pearl couscous a nuttier flavor, toast it in a dry pot or skillet for several minutes at the start of the recipe. When the color has darkened slightly, it is fully toasted.
Instant Pot Pearl Couscous Recipe Ingredients
- Saute onion and garlic in olive oil
- Add water, pearl couscous, salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon
- Cook on high pressure for 5 minutes, quick release
Questions & Answers About Couscous
Couscous doesn't fall neatly into one category, although it's more closely related to pasta. It's usually made from semolina, which is coarsely ground durum wheat. In this way, it is more like pasta.
Personally, I think that instant couscous looks and tastes more like a grain and pearl couscous looks and tastes more like pasta.
No, couscous is made from wheat and is not gluten-free.
One cup of regular couscous makes about 3 cups of cooked couscous. One cup of pearl couscous makes about 2 cups of cooked pearl couscous.
Bulgur is also a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. It is made from wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. It has a tender, slightly chewy texture. The flavor is mild and slightly nutty.
Couscous is made from semolina wheat flour that is mixed with water and rolled into tiny balls. In this way, it is different from bulgur which comes from a whole kernel of wheat, not wheat that has been ground into flour.
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Instant Pot Couscous
This recipe is for Instant Pot pearl couscous. Pearl couscous is slightly smaller than a pea, and has a chewy texture similar to pasta.
I've added additional ingredients to give the couscous as much flavor as possible. But if you'd like to make plain pearl couscous, just add the water, salt and couscous and follow the instructions for timing and release.
If you'd like to make regular (instant) couscous, I don't recommend cooking it in a pressure cooker. Regular couscous, which is tiny like grains of sand, has already been steamed and dried and does not need to be cooked or boiled. It just needs to be reconstituted with water. See the section "Instant Couscous Water Ratio & Cooking Instructions" in the blog post above for regular couscous cooking instructions.
Total Instant Pot Cooking Time: 8 minutes to reach pressure + 5 minute cooking time + quick release
- Prep Time: 13
- Cook Time: 5
- Total Time: 18 minutes
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: side dishes
- Method: Instant Pot
- Cuisine: Middle Easter and North African
- Diet: Vegan
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- ⅓ cup finely chopped onion or shallot
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 ½ cups water
- 2 cups pearl couscous
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- Press the saute button and add the oil or butter.
- Add the onion. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is soft.
- Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds more.
- Add the water, pearl couscous, salt, smoked paprika and cinnamon.
- Secure the lid and cook for 5 minutes on high pressure. When the cooking time is complete, do a quick release of the pressure.
- Stir the couscous then put the lid back on the pot for 5 minutes so that couscous completely absorbs any remaining liquid.
- Serve warm. You can add fresh herbs like dill and parsley, if desired.
Stovetop Instructions for Plain Pearl Couscous: Cook the pearl couscous like pasta in a big pot of boiling water. Gently boil for about 10 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain off remaining water. If using for a cold salad, give the pearl couscous a quick rinse under cold water to remove excess starch.
Leftover pearl couscous can be eaten cold or warmed briefly in the microwave
This recipe was tested in a 6-quart Instant Pot
Keywords: instant pot couscous, pearl couscous