Enjoy this delicious super creamy couscous in well under half an hour. All that tasty risotto flavor without having to stand over the stovetop stirring endlessly!
Why you’ll love it
- It’s incredibly easy to make.
- It’s vegetarian.
- Make it your own by adding cooked veggies or fresh herbs.
- The recipe is easy to double (or triple) up.
- It’s truly delicious!
Did you know that Israeli couscous and pearl couscous are not the same thing? Israeli couscous is similar to toasted pasta pearls while pearl couscous is basically bigger Moroccan couscous. However, for the purposes of this recipe, they can be used interchangeably.
Ingredients and substitutions
Have a quick glance below to see the ingredients you’ll need to make your couscous, and scroll down to see if any substitutions can be made if you’re missing any ingredients.
Parmesan: If you don’t have parmesan you can use any other strong-tasting Italian cheese. Note that for vegetarians, in Europe parmesan and parmigiano reggiano are protected names and must be the authentic version made in Parma or Reggiano Emilia in Italy which are not vegetarian as they are made with rennet .
Instead you can use any Italian-style hard cheese which does not have animal rennet in it. In the USA, parmigiano reggiano is still protected (and therefore not vegetarian) but Parmesan is not and there are many vegetarian versions. Whichever cheese you use, it’s better to buy a wedge of it and finely grate it rather than buy prepackaged grated cheese which does not melt the same.
Garlic: I love garlic and use plenty of it but feel free to omit it here if you don’t like it.
White wine: The white wine is optional in this recipe so if you would prefer not to use it, then don’t. Use a dry white wine like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Don’t use wine you wouldn’t drink (but no need to break out the special-occasion-worthy wine either!).
Butter: You can use any type of butter, preferably full-fat and salted, but unsalted is fine too (you’ll just need to add a little more salt to season your couscous). If you don’t have good butter or don’t like it, use olive oil.
Onion: Any type of onion will do. Don’t omit it.
Salt: Like pasta, pearl couscous (and Israeli couscous too) need to be well-salted. Add half a teaspoon while cooking and then the remaining half a teaspoon to taste as it will depend on how salty your vegetable stock is.
Crème fraîche: Don’t use a low-fat version. You can substitute this with sour cream.
Israeli/pearl couscous: Either type of couscous is fine here, just don’t use fine Morroccan couscous or you’ll be left with a mushy paste.
Vegetable stock: Using stock instead of water allows the couscous to absorb a lot of flavor while it’s cooking but in a pinch you can use another type of stock you think would go well, or water. It’s fine to use a stock cube or bouillon granules to make up the stock you need.
How to make it
Creamy couscous is really easy to make and unlike with baking, there is a certain amount of leeway with quantities.
I’ve included some photos along with step-by-step instructions here in case you have any doubts or want to check how your recipe is progressing.
- Prepare the onion and garlic by peeling and chopping finely (if the onion is not chopped finely enough it won’t cook through in time. If you have a garlic press you can press the garlic instead of peeling and mincing it). Set a non-stick medium-size saucepan to heat at a medium-high temperature, and add the butter to the pan to melt.
- When the butter has melted, add the onion, garlic, and dry couscous. Toss to coat well with the butter and evenly distribute the garlic.
- Toast everything, stirring often to prevent burning, until the onions have softened and the couscous has lightly browned as in the third image, about five minutes. While the couscous is toasting, heat up the stock in a microwave for three to four minutes, depending on how powerful your microwave is, until piping hot.
- Add the white wine and quickly stir. Keep stirring until the wine has been absorbed or evaporated, which should just take one minute. If you decide not to add wine you can skip this step but it does add a very risotto-like taste.
- Next, add the hot stock and half a teaspoon of salt and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat up high. Check periodically. When the stock has just started to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover again.
- Cook for between 12-15 minutes until the couscous is tender and the stock has been all or mostly absorbed. Stir once or twice while cooking during the last few minutes to prevent the bottom layer of couscous sticking and burning.
- Take the pan off the heat and add the parmesan and half the créme fraîche. Gently stir through the couscous (you don’t want to mash up your couscous) until evenly distributed and the cheese has melted.
- Finally, if all your stock was absorbed, you may need to add a little water to loosen the texture so it’s more “risotto” like. Taste and add more salt if needed (I usually add one teaspoon total, half a teaspoon while cooking and half afterwards to taste).
Done! Serve immediately.
Dressing it up
This dish is delicious served as is, but you also “dress it up” a bit. For a pop of flavor and to make it look prettier, you can sprinkle over and mix in:
- Some chopped fresh herbs (basil or parsley would be great).
- Red chili pepper flakes.
- Extra finely-grated parmesan.
- Freshly ground cracked black pepper.
- A swirl of olive oil or melted butter (a flavored butter like truffle butter would elevate this dish even more).
Just like risotto, you can also add extra ingredients like vegetables, though I recommend you cook them separately. Try adding:
- Sliced mushrooms
- Baby spinach
- Petits pois (baby peas)
- Chopped sun-dried tomatoes (these can be added in with the stock unless they’re the kind stored in oil, then add at the end).
What you’ll need:
- A medium-sized non-stick saucepan.
- A sharp knife.
- A chopping board.
- Measuring cups and spoons.
- A microwave (or heat the stock up earlier in a separate saucepan).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to four days in a tightly covered container.
Like pasta, Israeli or pearl couscous will absorb a lot of sauce. To get it creamy again, you need to “loosen” the sauce. It’s easiest to do it in the microwave. Just reheat your leftovers for one minute, stir and add a tablespoon of water and reheat for one more minute, add more water if needed, and reheat until hot. The key is to stir once ever minute to prevent the sauce from seizing, and add in more moisture to get the sauce creamy again.
Cream-based pasta sauces don’t do well in the freezer so I don’t recommend freezing it.
Did you make this dish? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐and a comment below.
- 2 Tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup pearl or Israeli couscous (200g)
- ¼ cup dry white wine, optional
- 2½ cups vegetable stock (600ml)
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 cup finely grated parmesan (85g)
- ½ cup creme fraiche (120ml)
- Press or mince the garlic and finely chop the onion.
- Heat a medium-nonstick saucepan on medium-high heat and add the butter.
- When the butter has melted, add the garlic, onion, and couscous. Toss to coat with the butter.
- Toast/fry everything for up to five minutes, stirring often until the onion has softened and the couscous is golden brown. Heat up the vegetable stock in the microwave for three-four minutes until piping hot.
- Add the white wine if using, and quickly stir into the couscous. Cook for one-two minutes more until the wine has been absorbed. If you're not adding wine skip to step six.
- Add the hot vegetable stock and half a teaspoon of salt, cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat up high. When the mixture has begun to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and leave to cook for 12-15 minutes or until most or all of the stock has been absorbed and the couscous is tender. Stir the pot in the last few minutes to prevent the bottom layer of couscous from sticking.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the créme fraiche and grated parmesan and mix until the cheese has melted. Add a little water if necessary to thin the sauce until it's at your desired consistency. Add the remaining salt to taste.
- Done! Serve hot and enjoy.
Parmesan in Europe is not vegetarian - use "Italian hard cheese" (and parmigiano reggiano never is), but some packages labelled parmesan in the USA can be. Always check the packaging if unsure.
Sour cream can be substituted for the créme fraiche.
Leftovers can be stored tightly covered in the fridge for up to four days.
To reheat, microwave in one minute bursts (so the sauce doesn't seize) and stir in a tablespoon or two of water each time to loosen the sauce.
Serving Size1 plate
Amount Per Serving Calories 709Total Fat 51gSaturated Fat 31gTrans Fat 2gUnsaturated Fat 15gCholesterol 147mgSodium 2980mgCarbohydrates 37gFiber 2gSugar 5gProtein 21g