Culinary Arts

What Is Israeli Couscous? Learn How to Cook Israeli Couscous

Written by MasterClass

May 16, 2019 • 2 min read

Israeli couscous isn’t actually couscous—it’s a machine-made, perfectly round pasta with a delightful chewiness that’s ideal as a base for grain salads, pasta sauce, risotto, and more.

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What Is Israeli Couscous?

Israeli couscous—also called ptitim, giant couscous, and pearl couscous—is often thought of as a whole grain, but it’s actually a type of pasta made of semolina flour and water, developed in the 1950s by prime minister David Ben-Gurion as a way to feed the influx of immigrants to Israel.

Israeli couscous is served as a side dish and works equally well in a room temperature pasta salad or served warm, with pesto or tomato sauce. For a nuttier flavor, try whole-wheat couscous, made with whole-wheat flour.

What's the Difference Between Couscous and Israeli Couscous?

Israeli couscous and true couscous are both made with semolina flour and water, but true couscous is much smaller and irregularly shaped. First eaten by Berber people before the thirteenth century, true couscous is traditionally made at home by sprinkling water over hard-wheat flour and rolling the resultant dough into irregular 1 to 3 millimeter balls. This fresh pasta-like dough is then gently steamed and served with saucy meat and vegetable-based meals.

Israeli couscous, on the other hand, has always been produced by machine. Balls of Israeli couscous are bigger than regular couscous, with a soft, chewy texture. Designed for industrial production, Israeli couscous is perfectly spherical and often pre-toasted for flavor.

What’s the Best Couscous-to-Water Ratio?

The ideal Israeli couscous-to-water ratio is about 1 cup of dry couscous to 1½ cups of water, but you can also cook Israeli couscous like pasta, simply draining off any excess liquid once the couscous is al dente. For even more flavor, sub the same amount of water for chicken broth or vegetable broth.

How to Cook Fluffy Israeli Couscous

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add 1 cup couscous and stir to coat. Cook until lightly toasted and golden brown, about 2 minutes, then simmer couscous with 1½ cups water or broth until liquid is absorbed and the couscous is cooked through, about 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Although dried Israeli couscous is often already lightly pre-toasted, you can add even more flavor by browning your couscous in oil, or by adding aromatics such as sautéed garlic and onions, toasted spices, or hardy herbs such as rosemary or bay leaf.

How to Cook Couscous Like Pasta

Fill a large pot about two-thirds of the way with water, bring to a boil, and then add the couscous. Simmer until al dente, about 8 minutes.

8 Israeli Couscous Recipe Ideas

  1. Israeli couscous salad with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil, feta cheese, fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, black pepper, and fresh mint
  2. Roasted bell peppers stuffed with Israeli couscous
  3. Toasted Israeli couscous with fried eggs
  4. Israeli couscous risotto with mushrooms
  5. Israeli couscous salad with lentils, quinoa, dried fruits such as cranberries, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, green onions, and a vinaigrette
  6. Pink Israeli couscous with beets
  7. Israeli couscous with basil pesto
  8. Chicken and vegetable soup with Israeli couscous