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Instant couscous (Recipe: sweet couscous for a crowd) {vegetarian}

Originally published in August 2006, this updated ingredient post features new photos and links. The recipe -- so simple, I feel funny calling it a recipe -- is something I've been making for decades. It's a perfect accompaniment to spicy chicken or vegetable stews.

Sweet couscous with raisins and pine nuts (The Perfect Pantry).

Last winter, I treated my kitchen to a couscoussier, a double-decker pot used to create traditional Moroccan stews and couscous. The stew goes in the bottom, and rising steam infuses and plumps the couscous resting in the perforated top compartment.

It's a beautiful thing, but I have yet to use it.

I tried. I really did. My cooking group made a menu called Preserving the Lemon, which included three dishes inspired by Moroccan cuisine. We used our tagines, but when it came time to set up the couscoussier — and start the slow process of rinsing, drying, steaming and steaming again — we looked at each other and, in unison, said, "Instant couscous!"

Can you blame us? After all, what could be easier? You bring liquid to a boil with some olive oil or butter, add the couscous, slap the cover on, and turn off the heat. The couscous cooks itself in 5 minutes, and all you have to do is fluff it.


Couscous is both a pasta (yes, really), and the name given to stews that often are served with it. Made from ground semolina, couscous originated in the cultures of North Africa and features in those cuisines much the way rice is a fundamental of Asian cooking. You can dress it up or dress it down, go sweet or savory, and mix it with any leftovers in your fridge (roast chicken, shrimp, bell pepper, grilled veggies, herbs).

By the way, couscous does not come in small, medium and large sizes. Real couscous — the small "grains" — dates to 13th Century Berber civilization. The larger Israeli couscous is an extruded and toasted pasta product, which dates to the 1950s, when it was created by an Israeli marketing firm.

One of these days, I'll take that couscous pot down from the shelf, dust it off, and make couscous the traditional way, steamed atop a spicy Moroccan chicken stew. But now I have to get dinner on the table, so it's off to the pantry for a box of the instant!

Couscous with raisins, pine nuts and cinnamon (The Perfect Pantry).

Sweet couscous for a crowd

From the pantry, you'll need: butter, couscous, pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, lemon.

Serves 4; can be multiplied many times.


1-1/2 cups water
1 tsp butter
1 cup instant couscous
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup raisins, a mix of brown and golden
Large pinch of cinnamon, to taste
Tiny pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
Fresh black pepper, to taste


In a small pan, bring water and butter to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes.

In the meantime, toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until just golden in color, 2-3 minutes.

Mix all ingredients with the couscous and serve at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More side dishes you can make with couscous:
Hot roasted vegetables with couscous
Couscous with orange and dried fruit
Couscous for a summer night
Sweet couscous with pistachios
Couscous salad with herbs

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Couscous with chickpeas, fennel, and citrus, from The Kitchn
Mediterranean couscous salad, from Two Peas & Their Pod
Curried apple couscous, from 101 Cookbooks
Toasted pecan and blueberry couscous salad, from Joy the Baker
Couscous and feta stuffed peppers, from Smitten Kitchen

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Take the pot down now. Prepare the couscous as directed on the package - then place the "instant" already prepared couscous in the upper part of the pot - the couscous will be enriched with the flavors and spices from below and the couscous it self will be fluffier.

Terry, good idea! Infusing the couscous with flavors from whatever you're cooking always makes it taste better.

Delish. So many of my friends have gone gluten-free, I seldom cook couscous for anyone else any more. However, I have discovered that most of my couscous flavorings work with quinoa too and my GF friends eat those up! This would be a win-win-winner made with quinoa.

Janis, absolutely, and an easy substitution. Same flavors, and just as easy to make. Thanks for the idea!

I'm a huge fan of whole wheat couscous and this sounds delicious! And I'm totally with you on the instant couscous. I can't really imagine that all that fuss will make it much better than the results from the box of couscous!

Kalyn, I love the whole wheat couscous, and I use it interchangeably with the regular, depending on what I have in the pantry. This is one of those recipes that takes just minutes to make, and it's great for parties.

You know, I used to fix couscous all the time (quickly, from the box). I need to get back to that.

Kirsten, couscous comes and goes in my repertoire, too. I need to make it more often.

Plenty of helpful tips & tidbits packed into a concise post! Why has it been so long since I've made it? Thanks.

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