Learn how to cook pearl couscous like a pro with my no-fail recipe! Pearled couscous comes together in only 15 minutes! Consider this the easy, tasty side dish of your dreams.

Toasted and cooked Israeli couscous in a patterned bowl with fresh herbs and lemon zest sprinkled on top.

Pearl couscous is a staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Depending upon where you are in the world, you might recognize this particular type of couscous as Maftoul, Ptitim, Israeli Couscous, or Pearl Couscous.

It’s larger in size (similar to a pearl) than the much smaller Moroccan couscous, nutty, and a bit chewy but just as versatile. Keep it simple as I do in this recipe with just a little lemon, olive oil, and parsley for a quick and easy weeknight side dish that everyone will love or go big and make it main.

Use up those end of season vegetables and load the couscous up with tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and spices to make a robust Mediterranean salad or as the weather cools enjoy it warm in this Herbed Couscous and Roasted Cauliflower recipe.

Think of pearled couscous as a jumping off point for whatever you have in the fridge. All you need is 15 minutes and a little creativity.

Table of Contents
  1. What is pearl couscous?
  2. Pearled couscous vs Moroccan couscous
  3. Is pearl couscous gluten free?
  4. Where to buy pearled couscous 
  5. Ingredients you’ll need to cook pearl couscous
  6. How to cook pearl couscous
  7. Ways to dress up pearl couscous
  8. Serving ideas
  9. How to store Pearl couscous
  10. Try these pearl couscous recipes
  11. How to Cook Pearl Couscous (Israeli Couscous) Recipe
Pearl couscous in a bowl with a bag of The Mediterranean Dish Pearl Couscous in the background.

What is pearl couscous?

Pearl couscous looks like a grain, but it’s actually a type of pasta! It is made of tiny spheres of toasted semolina flour (which is made from durum wheat). 

It cooks fast and can be served plain, simply seasoned with kosher salt, or you can dress it up in a variety of ways, which makes it a convenient side dish when you’re in a bind.

I like adding fresh flat-leaf parsley and lemon zest for some brightness, but you have loads of options when it comes to adding flavor! 

Pearled couscous vs Moroccan couscous

Pearled couscous is not considered a true couscous — unlike Moroccan couscous (also called instant couscous), which is tiny and irregular shaped, pearl couscous granules are larger spheres about the size of a pearl that are uniform in shape. While Moroccan couscous was traditionally made by hand, Pearl couscous has always been machine-made. 

Moroccan couscous tends to be fluffy and you can typically feel the texture of each grain as you chew. Pearl couscous is more similar to pasta in texture, becoming slightly chewy when cooked (sort of like orzo). 

You also prepare them differently. Pearl couscous needs to be boiled in water or broth on the stovetop for about 14 minutes, while instant couscous is added to boiling water then removed from the heat so the couscous absorbs the water. It's lighter and fluffier than Pearl couscous.

Is pearl couscous gluten free?

Pearl couscous is not gluten-free as it is made from wheat, and should therefore be avoided by those who follow a gluten-free diet. 

Quinoa makes an excellent gluten-free substitute for pearl couscous. But you can also use buckwheat groats (despite the name, buckwheat is a gluten-free grain), riced cauliflower, or short-grain rice instead of pearl couscous.  

Israeli couscous with fresh herbs and lemon zest in a bowl.

Where to buy pearled couscous 

You can find my favorite pearl couscous in our online shop. Our all-natural pearled couscous is so tasty and versatile – I love using it in salads, or to add bulk to soups and stews, like my chicken stew

You can also find pearl couscous at your local grocery store. Both Moroccan and pearled couscous are typically near the rice and beans, or in the international section. If you have no luck there, try a health food store.  

Ingredients you’ll need to cook pearl couscous

For a basic pearl couscous recipe, you don’t need anything fancy! Just olive oil, couscous, water, and some salt for flavor. 

  • Extra virgin olive oil: You need a few tablespoons of good olive oil to toast the couscous. I like a milder extra virgin olive oil, like our Private Reserve Greek EVOO, Arbequina California EVOO, or Nocellara Italian EVOO.  
  • Pearl couscous: You need 1 cup of uncooked pearl couscous, which will yield about 3 cups when cooked
  • Water: For a cup of uncooked couscous, you need 1 ½ cups water or other cooking liquid (such as broth).  
  • Kosher salt: If you use broth instead of water, you may not need any salt, depending on how salty the broth is. 

You can infuse the couscous with more flavor, if you like. Here’s a few things you can add to take your couscous up a notch:

  • Onion, shallot, or garlic: Thinly slice an onion or shallot, or mince a couple cloves of garlic, and add them to the saucepan with extra virgin olive oil. Saute for a short while before adding the pearl couscous to toast. 
  • Bay leaf: Toss a whole bay leaf in with the couscous while it toasts. 
  • Cinnamon: Like bay leaves, add a cinnamon stick to the saucepan with the untoasted couscous. 
  • Nutmeg or turmeric: Add just a pinch of nutmeg or turmeric to the couscous after it toasts. Toss so the couscous is well-coated in the spice before adding water or broth.

How to cook pearl couscous

Pearl couscous is very easy to prepare, especially if you need a last-minute filling side. I like to toast the couscous first for two reasons: Toasting really brings out the nutty flavor of the couscous, and also prevents it from becoming mushy while it cooks.

Here’s how you make it: 

  • Toast the couscous. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 cup pearl couscous and toss it around until the couscous is a nice golden brown. This will only take a minute or two. 

    Isreali couscous toasting in a non-stick skillet.
  • Cook the pearl couscous. In a separate saucepan or a kettle, boil 1 ½ cups water and add it to the saucepan with the toasted pearled couscous. Season with kosher salt to taste. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for about 14 minutes, or until the couscous is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat. At this stage, you can serve the pearl couscous as is. 

    Cooked pearl couscous in a skillet.
  • (Optional) Add more flavor. I like to add some fresh chopped parsley and lemon zest to brighten up my couscous, but because it has a fairly neutral flavor, you can season it any way you like (get some ideas above)! 

    Pearl couscous in a patterned bowl with fresh herbs and lemon zest.

Ways to dress up pearl couscous

Plain pearl couscous is a no-fuss, no-frills side dish, which is what I love about it. I can switch up this recipe based on how busy my day is. If I have a little time, I can add a little oomph to cooked couscous, if I don't then I keep it simple.

Here are some ideas for when you want to add add a little extra:

  • Swap out the water for broth of your choice. Try to choose a low-sodium option so it’s not too salty.
  • Use herbs. Using fresh flat-leaf parsley (as I did in this recipe), cilantro, dill, mint, or chives is an easy way to change up the flavor of your pearl couscous. 
  • Use spices. Like Moroccan couscous, pearl couscous has a mild flavor that takes on stronger ones very well. Once it’s cooked, you can season it up with garlic powder, paprika, or cumin
  • Add lemon zest. I like zesting an entire lemon and tossing it gently with cooked couscous to add some bright citrus flavor. You can do the same with lime zest, if you like.
  • Throw in some dried fruit. Raisins, figs, dates, apricots, or prunes would work well (chop up larger dried fruits into smaller pieces). 
  • Add nuts. Toast up some of your favorite nuts in a small saucepan and add them to the cooked pearled couscous for some crunch. Walnuts, chopped pecans, pine nuts, and slivered almonds would all make interesting additions to couscous.  

Serving ideas

Pearled couscous is one of my favorite quick side dishes – and it’s so versatile! Here are some ideas for how to use it:

How to store Pearl couscous

Store couscous in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To reheat, move the pearl couscous to a saucepan on the stovetop with a little water and reheat until warmed through.  

To freeze, allow it to come to room temperature before transferring it to a freezer-safe container. It will freeze for 3 to 4 months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight before use. 

Try these pearl couscous recipes

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5 from 2 votes

How to Cook Pearl Couscous (Israeli Couscous)

Suzy Karadsheh
Toasted and cooked Israeli couscous in a patterned bowl with fresh herbs and lemon zest sprinkled on top.
Tender, chewy, and slightly nutty, pearl couscous (Israeli couscous) is an irresistible side dish that comes together in just a few minutes, with very little effort. Simply toast it in some good extra virgin olive oil and boil it in water or broth on the stove until tender. It’s as easy as that! You can enjoy pearled couscous at room temperature in a salad, or hot, tossed with some pesto or other sauces of your choice.
Prep – 2 mins
Cook – 14 mins
Cuisine:
Israeli
Serves – 6 servings
Course:
Side Dish

Ingredients
  

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, optional
  • Zest of 1 lemon, optional

Instructions
 

  • Toast the couscous: In a medium saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium-high until just shimmering. Add the pearl couscous and toss around to toast (the couscous pearls should turn a nice golden brown).
  • Boil the couscous: Boil 1 ½ cups of water and add it to the toasted pearl couscous. Season with kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Cover and cook for about 14 minutes or until the pearl couscous is tender. Remove from the heat.
  • Season and enjoy! Taste and adjust salt to your liking. To finish, add the parsley and lemon zest (optional), toss and serve.

Video

Notes

  • Is pearled couscous gluten-free? No, pearl couscous is not gluten-free and should be avoided by those who do not eat gluten-containing foods. 
  • Serving ideas: Try it in a Mediterranean couscous salad, toss it with pesto, and add it to soups to add bulk. Or, make delicious dinner bowls using pearled couscous as a base. I like these easy roasted cauliflower bowls.
  • How to store it: Store cooked couscous in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat, move the pearl couscous to a saucepan on the stovetop with a little water. To freeze, allow it to come to room temperature before transferring it to a freezer-safe container. It will freeze well for 3 to 4 months. Thaw it in the fridge overnight before use. 
  • Visit our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including grains and couscous, extra virgin olive oils, organic spices, and more.

Nutrition

Calories: 108.1kcalCarbohydrates: 22.2gProtein: 3.7gFat: 0.2gSaturated Fat: 0.04gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.03gSodium: 7.2mgPotassium: 61.2mgFiber: 1.5gSugar: 0.02gVitamin A: 210.6IUVitamin C: 3.3mgCalcium: 12.1mgIron: 0.5mg
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I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Oh, my!! I bought Israeli couscous without having any idea how to cook it. Typical..but once discovering this recipe it’s all I want to eat! So many opportunities to change it up and get creative. Thank you for giving me the basics and challenging me to find my joy!

  2. 5 stars
    Thank you for all the ideas never new how to add flavor without losing the base flavor. I am enjoying your cookbook now but I want to try the ideas in here first. You and your ideas are so enjoyable.