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Couscous - Is there an instant and "regular" or long cooking kind?

I am making couscous for the first time and the instructions do not say whether there is a long-cooking or "instant" variety. I need to know if I should look for something specific when I go to the store. I will be spicing it up with almonds, raisins, saffron, onions and cinnamon.


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  1. The main thing that lead me to asking is that I know you can get couscous in a box or in bulk and I don't really know if there's a difference between the 2. I know the stuff in a box can already have spices with it, which I don't want.

    1. In my experience, any "instant" couscous is labeled as such and I wouldn't recommend using it at all. I have purchased in in packages, when I can find it without a bunch of stuff added to it, but I typically buy it in bulk. Couscous can be boiled, but I don't recommend using that method of cooking. Steaming produces a better end result and allows better control of the cooking process. In this country couscous is easy to find but the best variety (Pearl or Israeli couscous) can be difficult to locate unless you're willing to pay the price of shipping from an Internet source.
      Here's a link that I believe might be helpful:

      1 Reply
      1. re: todao

        I find Israeli couscous in my local Publix grocery store.

      2. as far as I know the fine couscous is fast cooking. Typically you add boiling water and let it sit covered for 5 min then fluff. Sounds instant to me. The Israeli couscous which is a large size cooks like rice with 1.5 : 1 couscous to water and takes 15-20 min to cook.

        2 Replies
        1. re: scubadoo97

          I noticed in the store last night a container of couscous, nothing added, and it was the type mentioned where you add boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes but the label said nothing about instant. I will wait and buy it in bulk. Thanks!!

          1. re: sandih

            Why wait for bulk?

        2. Couscous is couscous, I believe. It comes in various grades of fine-ness, but otherwise I don't think there is anything that would be called "instant". Having said that, you can prepare couscous in several different way. Traditionally, couscous is put into a sort of strainer contraption and steamed over a simmering stew. You're supposed to remove it from the strainer several times during the process, break up the lumps and put it back in to continue steaming. According to purists, this method gives couscous the best flavour and texture.

          On the other hand, you can simply put the dry couscous into a saucepan, add boiling water or broth, and cover. After about 5 minutes, all the liquid should be absorbed and the couscous will be ready to eat. (I use a 1:1 proportion of couscous and liquid when I do this.) I've also prepared couscous by first sauteeing some onion and/or diced vegetables in a bit of olive oil, add the couscous and stir around a bit, then add the boiling liquid and some chopped herbs. This gives you a more flavourful couscous.

          The couscous you find in a box should be basically the same thing that you can buy in bulk. I would never buy the kind with additional flavouring added.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Nyleve

            Yes, Nyleve, you are absolutely correct. I wondered for years how instant couscous differed from traditional and came to the conclusion that they are the same - it just depends on how you prepare it. I've tried the traditional steaming and it was great, but more often I use the "instant" 5 minute method which is foolproof and so easy.

            1. re: Nyleve

              If I'm making couscous to eat with a stew, rather than in a salad, I use Claudia Roden's method, which is to add boiling water and, once the water has been absorbed, a little olive oil. You rub it to break up any lumps and then cover with foil and "steam" in the oven.

            2. While we're discussing couscous -- once cooked, can they be frozen for later use (I live alone).

              6 Replies
              1. re: Muskrat

                1. instant (so-called) couscous may have been par-steamed to make it "fast" to cook.
                2. i would think freezing does a disservice to delicate couscous.

                nyleve's post is right on.....

                1. re: Muskrat

                  Couscous takes exactly 5 minutes to prepare. Just make enough for one meal - make more when you need it. But yes, it can be frozen if necessary. More like pasta than a whole grain, really.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Couscous is a pasta rather than a grain.

                    1. re: sarah galvin

                      maybe nyleve was thinking about bulgur wheat, which is just as easy to prepare.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Maybe I didn't express myself well. What I meant to say was that it IS a pasta, not a whole grain. I guess I was trying to say that it would freeze more like a pasta rather than a grain.

                        Clear as mud.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          i see what you are saying. often i write like that, too. it is how we speak, and often the inflection of a voice makes clear what words alone may not communicate. i often find myself going back to edit my initial fragments to add subjects or verbs, or connect two fragments so others (hopefully) understand.

                          certainly, your information is absolutely correct. ;-)