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Oct 2, 2008 02:53 PM

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:

      6 Replies
      1. re: todao

        I find Israeli couscous in my local Publix grocery store.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          as well as medium-grain couscous. It's pricey, though -- better prices can be had if you can find a bulk-bin seller (natural foods stores, usually) or a Middle Eastern grocery.

          1. re: sunshine842

            I recently got a big bag at Costco for a good price. Much cheaper then the grocery store.

            1. re: scubadoo97

              I was appalled to return to the US and find couscous priced like a luxury item. I was truly spoiled to have it priced as cheap as pasta in Europe.

              (yes, it's pasta. I know. That's why it's absurd that it should be priced like gold.)

                1. re: sunshine842

                  Here in Qu├ębec, it is easy to find couscous at pasta prices, as we have large Maghrebi communities.

                  I believe Israeli couscous is a specific type: much larger beads than small or medium-grain couscous. It is similar to Lebanese mograbieh, but the wiki article explains the differences. I don't know to what extent it was "invented" though, as it is similar to wheat preparations used in both the Middle East and the Maghreb. Developed? Improved?


                  Only use Israeli couscous or Mograbieh for recipes that call for those. The couscous used by Jewish Maghrebis is exactly the same as that used by Muslim Maghrebis - and French colonists.

                  I always steam it, but I have friends who've had luck steaming it in the microwave. Claudia Roden's method sounds brilliant, though in some countries the fuel for ovens is expensive. I think the microwave method is rather similar. Important to rub it to remove lumps and prevent it from becoming a nasty mass. During the last rubbing, butter or olive oil is worked in.

                  There is whole grain couscous, but it is like wholewheat pasta, not like an integral whole grain. Barley couscous is also interesting. It is tasty and very nutritious, though it can be a bit challenging.

        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!!

          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).

                9 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. ;-)

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              "clear as mud?".. wow happy camper are we; never seen a clear mud BTW.

                              1. re: Purpleshmurple

                                "Clear as mud" is a very, very old and very, very common English-language idiom to indicate that no, it's really not clear at all -- rather like mud.

                                We could point out that nobody here is camping, so there's no way they could be a camper, happy or not BTW.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Thank you, sunshine. I am definitely not camping. But I am pretty happy.