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Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous) is a fast and easy side dish! Toss this tiny pasta with lemon and olive oil to serve, or mix with vegetables to make a simple salad.

Israeli Couscous
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Here’s an easy side dish that’s as tasty as it is versatile: Israeli couscous, aka pearl couscous! These tiny balls of pasta have a delightfully chewy texture and take just 10 minutes to cook. Toss the couscous with olive oil and lemon, and it’s a quick side that pairs with just about anything. Or, use it in a grain bowl or toss with vegetables as a fresh Israeli couscous salad. It’s always a hit in our house. Here’s how to cook it!

What is Israeli couscous?

Israeli couscous, aka pearl couscous or Ptitim, are pea-shaped balls of pasta made with semolina flour. Despite the name, it’s technically not considered true couscous because the grains are large and shaped exactly the same. Israeli couscous was invented in Israel in the 1950’s as a substitute for rice when the government needed to feed masses of immigrants. In Israel it is called Ptitim. Today it is a staple food in Jerusalem and is enjoyed around the world.

Traditional Moroccan couscous has very small grains that are irregularly shaped. This North African pasta originated sometime between the 11th and 13th century with the Berbers of Algeria and Morocco. It’s a cultural dish of the Maghrebi cuisines in the countries of Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, and Libya.

We’re not Israeli in heritage, but we’ve taken inspiration from this rich cultural food tradition to make a side dish flavored with lemon, herbs and olive oil.

Is Israeli couscous gluten free?

No. Couscous is a pasta made with wheat, so it contains gluten. People with gluten free diets should avoid it or look for special gluten-free couscous.

Israeli Couscous
Israeli couscous, aka pearl couscous (right) is larger than traditional Moroccan couscous (left)

How to cook Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous)

Israeli couscous is simple to cook: it takes just 10 minutes to boil! It’s different from traditional pasta in that you’ll cook it until the water is absorbed, much like you would rice. Different brands of pearl couscous perform slightly differently, but here’s the general idea of how to cook Israeli couscous:

  • Use a ratio of 1 cup Israeli couscous to 1 ½ cups liquid. Or use chicken broth or vegetable broth, which brings in extra savory flavor notes.
  • Bring the water to a boil, then simmer the couscous covered for 8 to 10 minutes. Season the grains with ½ teaspoon salt and keep at a low simmer. Cook until the couscous is tender and the water is absorbed (no need to drain).
  • Pour into a bowl and wait 2 to 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork. This helps it to cool off a bit before serving. Then swirl with seasonings and serve!
Pearl couscous

How to season and serve it

Now for the fun part: how to season and serve Israeli couscous! This Israeli couscous recipe is designed as a quick and easy side dish, flavored with lemon and olive oil. You can also make it into a salad or use it in bowl meals. Here’s how we like to season it:

Variation: couscous salad

Israeli couscous is ideal for a salad, and the chewy spheres provide a nice texture contrast to fresh veggies! This Israeli couscous salad recipe pairs it with cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, fresh dill and mint, garlic, lemon, and salty feta cheese. Take a bite and it’s irresistibly fresh and savory! This deli-style salad works for lunch or picnics, or as a colorful side for fish, chicken or the grill.

You can use other vegetables as you like! Some other ideas for vegetables in a couscous salad are cucumbers, bell peppers, chickpeas, olives, spinach, red onion, artichoke hearts, and sundried tomatoes.

Couscous Salad

More couscous recipes

This Israeli couscous recipe is a quick way to eat this tasty pea-sized pasta, and comes together in about 15 minutes! It’s ideal as an easy side dish and in Israeli cooking it’s treated similarly to rice. Here are a few more recipes where couscous is the star:

This Israeli couscous recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free.

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Israeli Couscous

Israeli Couscous (Pearl Couscous)


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous) is a fast and easy side dish! Toss this tiny pasta with lemon and olive oil to serve, or mix with vegetables to make a simple salad.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous or pearl couscous
  • 1 ½ cups water (or broth)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. 
  2. Add the Israeli couscous, garlic powder and ½ teaspoon of the kosher salt and reduce to a simmer. Cover with lid and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until the couscous is tender and the water is absorbed.
  3. Remove the couscous to a bowl, mix it with the olive oil, and allow to stand for 2 to 3 minutes. 
  4. Fluff with a fork to break up the pieces. Mix in the chopped parsley, lemon zest, and remaining ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt. Serve immediately. Leftovers store up to 1 week; refresh the flavors with an additional pinch of salt and/or drizzle of olive oil. 
  • Category: Side dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Middle Eastern
  • Diet: Vegan

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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2 Comments

  1. Lauri Delgado says:

    These couscous were simple to make with lots of flavor. My husband enjoyed them as much as I did.

  2. Sonja Overhiser says:

    Let us know if you have any questions!