Couscous Pilaf

Couscous is a kind of pasta made from semolina, the hard wheat flour used to make spaghetti, rotini, linguine, vermicelli, penne, cannelloni and all the other varieties of pasta invented by talented Italian mothers, grandmothers and chefs. According to food historians, couscous was invented by the Berbers in North Africa more than eight hundred years ago. It’s made by rolling semolina flour which has been moistened with water into small pellets. The pellets are then dried and stored until needed when they are cooked by steaming.

Today, most of the couscous in our supermarkets is “instant” couscous which has already been steamed and dried so all you need do is add hot water or broth to create a tasty side dish in just a few minutes. However, there are at least two other varieties of couscous which require longer cooking. Israeli couscous, made with pellets the size of peppercorns, and Lebanese couscous with pellets about the size of early green peas are cooked like pasta to al dente in water or broth.

You can often find these larger varieties of couscous in the specialty food department of your local supermarket or an organic food store, and of course they are also available from online merchants.

The couscous salad that we enjoy so much in the summer is made with “instant” couscous. This couscous pilaf is made with Israeli couscous. It goes very well with Savory Pork Chops With Fennel.


1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 small onion (about 1 1/2 or 2 inch diameter)
3/4 tsp. cumin
Dash or two of cayenne pepper
2/3 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 T chopped parsley


Peel and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Wash and coarsely chop the parsley.

Put 2 1/2 cups of cold water in a medium saucepan. While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large covered saucepan. Add the chopped onion and cook it slowly for six to eight minutes until it is a soft gold color.

Stir in the cumin and cayenne pepper and cook for another minute to blend the flavors. Stir in the couscous, salt, pepper and boiling water. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low and simmer the couscous for about ten minutes, stirring once or twice. Simmer a little longer if the water is not all absorbed. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Stir in the parsley just before serving.

One thought on “Couscous Pilaf”

  1. I have fond memories of meals in Fez, Algiers, Katama around Morrocco…Cous cous, tagine, mint tea….and the whole social experience of communal meals…Thanks for a grand rememberance and a new way to bring cous cous back to my table!


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