This Israeli pearl couscous recipe packs tons of fabulous flavor and is utterly addictive! This dish is ready in 30 minutes and made with simple ingredients in just one pot! It’s an easy, delicious dish you are sure to love!
This light and fresh, yet creamy and rich giant couscous pilaf is incredibly versatile and can be made in advance! Serve it alone as a hearty salad, delicious lunch or an easy side for weeknight dinners! Or, top it off with shrimp, chicken, fish or steak for a light, healthy dinner!
Updated: This post was originally published in August 2015. I’ve updated the post below to include more information about fluffy couscous. Plus, I added step-by-step photos to show you how easy this Mediterranean couscous recipe is to make!
Israeli Pearl Couscous Recipe
I may be biased, but this Israeli couscous is a total treat for the tastebuds! It’s creamy, dreamy, loaded with texture and bursting with fresh, fabulous flavors!
This dish is chock-full of dianty, tender pearls of couscous, chewy sun-dried tomatoes, plump chickpeas, peppery arugula, rich crumbled feta, delicate scallions, fragrant fresh herbs and crunchy toasted pine nuts. It’s generously drizzled and tossed with a zippy, tangy vinaigrette featuring bright flavors such as tart lemon, pungent garlic, bold dijon and sweet honey. Essentially, this couscous is a beautifully delicious symphony of stellar flavors and scrumptious textures! It’s light and fresh, yet savory and satisfying, and downright delicious to eat!
Plus, this Mediterranean couscous is is insanely versatile! It makes a hearty salad, light side or delicious vegetarian meal! Or, you can load it up with succulent shrimp, shredded chicken, sliced steak or flaked fish and serve it as a substantial main meal! Just don’t forget to save the leftovers for lunch the next day, because this dish packs up beautifully!
What is Israeli pearl couscous?
Israeli couscous – also called pearl couscous, Jerusalem couscous, Ptitim, or Giant couscous – is a variety of small toasted pasta made from semolina or wheat flour and water. Israeli couscous is often inaccurately thought of as a whole grain since it resembles a small rice grain.
Osem food company lays claim to developing pearl couscous in the 1950’s at the request of the then prime minister David Ben-Gurion. During this time, the Israeli government had imposed a period of rationing and rice was scarce. Osem was tasked with devising a starch that was more affordable than rice as a way to feed the influx of immigrants into Israel. Thus, the food company developed Ptitim – a simple wheat paste which was shaped into small granules, dried and then toasted.
What’s the difference between couscous and pearl couscous?
While both regular, or true couscous and pearl couscous are made from semolina flour and water, they are not the same thing.
- True couscous is hand shaped. It’s irregular in shape and smaller in size with a slightly coarse, yet tender texture.
- In contrast, pearl couscous is produced by a machine. The balls of dough are perfectly uniform in shape and much bigger in size. The tiny pearls of Israeli couscous have a soft and chewy texture.
Ingredients in pearl couscous recipe?
This pearl couscous recipe is bursting with flavor and relies on simple, fresh ingredients for the best taste.
Below are the ingredients I typically use. However, this dish is extremely flexible; so, be sure to scroll down to read about how to adapt this recipe to your taste!
Ingredients in couscous:
- Pearl Couscous: Chewy, nutty couscous is the star ingredient of the dish. For extra flavor, I prefer to start by toasting the dry couscous in lemon infused oil. However, you can also cook couscous using the pasta method. (Scroll down more information on cooking couscous.) For added nutritional benefits, try using whole grain couscous!
- Shallots: Finely diced shallots add a mellow, sweet onion flavor to the couscous.
- Lemon: Both fresh lemon juice and zest are used in this recipe. The zest gives the couscous a bright, zippy flavor; while the juice provides a punch of tangy flavor in the vinaigrette dressing.
- Sun-dried Tomatoes: Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes add an intense naturally sweet, luscious flavor and delicious chewy texture.
- Chickpeas: Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas provide a nutty and uniquely satisfying flavor. If you don’t like chickpeas, you can use white beans or kidney beans instead!
- Arugula: Fresh baby arugula offers an herbaceous, peppery flavor and slightly spicy taste. Baby arugula has a more delicate taste; however, you can use mature arugula instead. (For more leafy green options, see below.)
- Fresh Herbs: This dish relies on fresh herbs for a burst of bright, fresh flavor! Scallions add a touch of delicate onion flavor. In addition to the green onions, you need ½ cup of your favorite fresh herbs. I recommend dill, basil and chives for the most flavor; however, you can use just one herb if desired. Or, you can use a combination of your personal favorites. (For more options, see below.)
- Cheese: Crumbly feta cheese provides a rich, tangy, slightly buttery and salty flavor. You can use crumbled or diced feta in this recipe. (For more cheese options, see below.)
- Dressing: A pantry-friendly homemade lemon vinaigrette delivers the perfect zippy, slightly sweet finishing touch!
Couscous recipe variations:
I encourage you to make this dish your own! Get creative and add your favorite ingredients! Or, simply use up whatever seasonal vegetables you have hanging out in your pantry or fridge!
- Leafy Greens: Arugula not your thing? Try using mixed greens, watercress, baby spinach or a spring mix instead!
- Avocado: Creamy, rich avocado is my all-time favorite addition to this salad! If you are looking to add an incredibly delicious, buttery flavor – try avocado!
- Garden Fresh Vegetables: Want to boost the nutritional value and add texture? Try throwing in fresh corn, diced red peppers, grated zucchini, chopped cucumber or halved cherry tomatoes!
- Marinated Vegetables: Flavorful marinated vegetables are a wonderful way to add rich, luxurious flavor! Add in artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, or my personal favorite – marinated mushrooms!
- Dried Fruit: Chewy dried fruits are a fantastic way to add more texture! Dried cranberries, apricots, cherries or raisins are all great options!
- Herbs: While fresh dill, basil and chives are my favorite trio, fresh mint, parsley or cilantro are delicious too!
- Nuts: I personally love toasted pine nuts in this dish. However, pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds work as well!
- Cheese: Not into feta? Freshly grated parmesan, mozzarella pearls or grated aged gouda can also be used!
- Protein: Looking to turn this dish into a main meal? Try adding in poached shrimp, rotisserie chicken, flaked tuna, seared salmon or tofu!
Where to buy dry pearl couscous?
Dry Israeli couscous is easy to find at major grocery stores. It’s typically located in the pasta or rice aisle; however, it may be found in the International food aisle.
Do I need to rinse it before cooking?
No. Unlike grains, such as rice, quinoa or barley, couscous does not need to be rinsed with water before cooking. Rinsing is used to remove excess starches from grains; however, couscous is a type of pasta and doesn’t contain many free starches.
How to cook Israeli pearl couscous?
There are two different ways to cook Israeli couscous. It can be cooked as a pasta, or it can be cooked similar to a grain, such as rice and barley. While the former is a wonderful, easy method, I prefer the latter for more flavor!
- Pasta method: Cook 1 cup of dry couscous in a large pot filled with boiling water or broth. Cook until the couscous is al dente. Drain the couscous well and use as desired.
- Grain method: This method produces the most flavorful, fluffy couscous! Toast 1 cup of dry couscous in oil or butter in a pot on the stove top. Once the couscous is toasted add 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of water or broth. Cover the pot and simmer until the couscous is perfectly tender and the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the couscous and use as desired.
How long to cook giant couscous?
The precise length of time Israeli couscous takes to cook will depend upon your method of preparation. Boiled couscous takes approximately 8 minutes to cook until al dente, while the grain method of cooking takes approximately 12 minutes.
How to make pearl couscous recipe?
Couscous is incredibly fast to prepare and simple to make! This dish can be prepped, ready and on the table in 30 minutes or less!
(Don’t forget to scroll down for the detailed instructions in the complete printable recipe at the bottom of the page.)
- Prepare the dressing: Combine the oil, garlic, Dijon, honey, lemon juice and zest in a small bowl or a mason jar. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Whisk or shake until well combined.
Infuse oil: Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and zest. Let the flavors infuse for 2-3 minutes.
Toast and cook couscous: Stir in the couscous. Toast, stirring, until the couscous is lightly toasted and fragrant. Add in the stock and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Bring contents to a rapid simmer, then immediately reduce heat to a low. Cover the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the couscous is tender. Remove from heat.
Stir in tomato oil & cover: Remove cover from couscous. Add the sun-dried tomato oil and stir to combine. Replace cover and set aside, for about 3-5 minutes. Season couscous to taste with salt and pepper; fluff with a fork. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl.
Add dressing: Add half the dressing to the couscous and toss well to combine. Set aside to cool completely.
Toss couscous: Once the couscous is cooled, add the chickpeas, arugula, green onions, herbs and feta. Toss to combine. Add the remaining dressing. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, or sprinkle with pine nuts and enjoy at room temperature!
How to cook couscous step by step photos:
Can you make fluffy couscous in advance?
You can make this couscous recipe ahead of time! It’s the perfect make ahead dish since it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator. It’s a wonderful option for meal preps, easy lunches, picnics, potlucks and outdoor parties!
While you can enjoy this couscous right away at room temperature, I personally think it tastes better as the flavors have had a chance to develop and marry.
To make ahead: Store the couscous in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If the couscous seems dry after storage, stir in a little bit of lemon juice or olive oil. Add more fresh herbs to brighten up the flavors.
How to serve couscous?
This pearl couscous recipe can be served at room temperature or cold straight from the refrigerator.
This flavorful dish is incredibly versatile as well! It can be enjoyed as a hearty salad, easy side dish, or you can add a protein and serve it as a light main meal!
What to serve with it?
You can eat anything you like with couscous! While it’s traditionally paired with Mediterranean or Greek dishes, it really does taste great with just about anything!
- Dips: Hummus, baba ganoush or whipped feta.
- Vegetables: Roasted eggplant, cauliflower, zucchini or squash.
- Roasted Potatoes: Crispy smashed potatoes, Greek fries or Crispy Baked Greek Potato Wedges.
- Chicken: Roasted chicken, chicken kebabs, chicken shawarma or Greek-seasoned grilled chicken.
- Fish: Any variety of fish from Chilean sea bass to tuna or salmon!
- Burgers: Having a barbecue? This couscous is the perfect side to all types of burgers!
- Steak: Greek marinated flank steak, grilled ribeye or beef kebabs.
- Lamb: Lamb Koftas, lamb chops or roasted lamb.
Is pearl couscous healthy?
Couscous is fat-free, sugar-free and a good source of fiber. It’s also rich in the powerful antioxidant selenium, which prevents damage to cell structures and promotes healthy immune functions. Calorie-wise, pearl couscous is a healthier option than rice. One cup of prepared pearl couscous has approximately 176 calories; while brown rice has 216.
However, pearl couscous is a pasta; therefore, it is higher in carbohydrates. Plus, it lacks the variety of nutrients found in whole grains.
Take away: Pearl couscous can absolutely be part of a healthy diet! However, it should not take the place of true grains. If you are looking for the best nutritional bang for your buck, select whole wheat pearl couscous, which has an added boost of extra fiber, nutrients and protein.
Looking for more Mediterranean recipes?
If you love this simple couscous, try one of these Greek recipes next:
How to make the best Israeli Couscous recipe👇
Israeli pearl couscous recipe
- Medium Saucepan
- Mixing bowls (2)
- 2 ½ TBS Olive Oil
- 2 medium shallots – finely diced (about 1/3 heaping cup)
- 2 large Lemons – zested & juiced (1/4 cup juice) (1 TBS & ½ tsp Zest - DIVIDED)
- 1 ½ Cups Israeli Pearl Couscous
- 1 ¾ Cups Stock or Water
- 1 (8 ounce) Jar Oil-Packed Julienne Sun-Dried Tomatoes – drained & 2 TBS Oil reserved
- 1 (14 ounce) can Chickpeas – drained & rinsed
- 3 ounces Baby Arugula – or more to taste
- 3 large Green Onions – thinly sliced
- 6 ounces Feta Cheese – crumbled
- ½ Cup Fresh Herbs – chopped (Dill, Basil, Parsley, Chives, Cilantro, Mint) (SEE NOTES)
- 3 TBS Toasted Pine Nuts (SEE NOTES)
- Kosher Salt & Ground Black Pepper
- ¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 small clove Garlic – minced
- 1 tsp EACH: Dijon Mustard & Honey
Serving: Lemon Wedges
- Prepare the dressing: Add the oil, garlic, Dijon and honey to a small bowl or a mason jar. Add in ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, a scant ½ teaspoon zest, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and generous pinch of pepper. Whisk until well combined. If using a mason jar, add the lid and seal. Shake the jar until well combined.
- Infuse oil: Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and 1 heaping tablespoon of lemon zest. Let the flavors infuse and sweat the vegetables, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
- Cook couscous: Stir in the couscous and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until the couscous is lightly toasted and fragrant. Add in the stock and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a rapid simmer, then immediately reduce heat to a low. Cover the pan tightly with a lid and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the couscous is tender, and liquid is almost all absorbed. Remove from heat.
- Stir in tomato oil & cover: Remove cover from couscous. Add the 2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato oil and stir to combine. Replace cover and set aside (off heat), for about 3-5 minutes, until liquid is completely evaporated. The couscous should be tender, and the mixture should be fluffy, not soupy. Season couscous to taste with salt and pepper; fluff with a fork. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl.
- Add dressing: Add half the dressing (about ¼ cup) to the slightly warm couscous and toss well to combine. Set aside to cool completely.
- Toss couscous: Once the couscous is cooled, add the chickpeas, arugula, green onions, herbs and half the feta. Toss to combine. Add the remaining dressing. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. (Optional: Cover and refrigerate.)
- Serve: Sprinkle couscous with remaining feta and toasted pine nuts. Garnish with lemon wedges if using. Enjoy!
- Fresh Herbs: Use your favorite combination of fresh herbs. I personally love dill, basil and chives in this.
- Couscous cooking liquid: For the most flavor, I highly recommend you use chicken stock, vegetable stock or good-quality chicken broth.
- Dressing: The dressing can be made at up 3 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- How to toast pine nuts: Heat a large (dry) skillet over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are lightly golden in color, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
- Make ahead: This salad is delicious when eaten straight away. However, you can also make the salad in advance! Cover it and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop and marry. Do not add the herbs, nuts or cheese until right before serving. The couscous will continue to absorb the dressing as it sits. Add more dressing, extra virgin olive oil, or lemon juice and stir well just before serving to bring it back to life and remove ‘clumps’
- Storage: Couscous will keep well stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
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