A delicious easy instant pot couscous recipe (with stovetop instructions as well) that makes the perfect side dish in no time! Eat it as is, or add some of my suggestions for a complete one-pot meal.
Why you’ll love it:
- It’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
- It’s delicious and more-ish.
- It’s a very easy economical yet filling side dish to make.
- It’s a flexible recipe you can add other ingredients to.
- It’s tasty enough by itself that you don’t need to serve it with a dish that has sauce.
- You can easily use leftovers for making a yummy couscous salad.
- It’s a great dish for meal prep as it keeps well in the fridge.
If you love couscous you might also want to make my Mediterranean vegetable casserole with chickpeas, which I always serve with lots of fluffy couscous. Prefer a quick pasta dish? Try this 20-minute vegan creamy tomato pasta. In more of a rice mood? Try my Tajín rice!
Ingredients and substitutions
Check out the image below to see the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe, and I’ll discuss possible substitutions or add-ins below.
Salt: This dish needs to be very well salted as it’s so simple, and unsalted couscous is very bland. Use the stated amount, and substitute with a low-sodium salt if needed.
Vegetable stock: If you don’t have vegetable stock or broth to hand you can make it up with some bouillon or stock cubes, just follow the package directions for the stock cube/bouillon to water ratio. Don’t substitute this with water.
Bell peppers: These really give a ton of flavor and I don’t recommend making this recipe if you don’t have them. I used a red and a green one but you can also use a red and a yellow one, just don’t use two green peppers as they won’t be sweet enough.
Olive oil: You don’t need to break out your extra virgin olive oil for this recipe, although you can if you want (personally I’d save it for your salads). Any olive oil with a nice strong flavor will do. I don’t recommend substituting with any other oil as you’ll be changing the flavors, but if you must, use something mild like sunflower or canola, or non-vegans can use high-quality grass-fed butter.
Garlic: Preferably don’t substitute or omit this, and you can add more if you prefer. In a pinch, you can add a quarter teaspoon instead with the vegetable stock. If you really hate garlic, you can leave it out of use with two pinches of asafoetida (hing), again added with the stock.
Couscous: Use regular medium grain Morroccan couscous, NOT Israeli or pearl couscous. You can distinguish it from the other types of couscous by the size of the grain which should be really small and cook in minutes, see the ingredient photo above for clarification. It’s the “default” couscous you can buy in the shops (e.g. if it’s not labelled Israeli or peaerl, then it’s Morroccan couscous).
Lemon: Use fresh lemon juice.
Onion: Use any type you prefer.
Crushed red pepper: One teaspoon gives a little flavor but barely any heat, however if you are sensitive to spice you can leave it out without any issues. Like it hot? Then add more, I’d suggest up to two teaspoons.
Add-ins and variations
This is a really tasty side dish but just a few minor adjustments will make it a meal. For more protein, once the peppers and onions have cooked and you’ve added the liquids and couscous, you can add (on top, don’t mix), one cup of:
- Cubed smoked tofu
- Cooked chickpeas
- Cooked cannellini beans
- Cooked lentils
And once the couscous is cooked you can add some of the list below as well, and enjoy the dish either hot or cold (it makes a great base for a couscous salad). Try adding half a cup of:
- Crumbled feta or goat cheese (vegans can try my 1-hour vegan goat cheese, or use Violife feta)
- Chopped sundried tomatoes (the kind stored in oil)
- Chopped cherry tomatoes
- Sliced olives
Just mix through and enjoy. Lastly, try adding some chopped fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, chives, parsley, or a mix of all of them with some mint added for a more Middle-Eastern-style taste.
How to make it (Instant Pot)
Here I’ll go into a little more detail than in the recipe card to clear up any doubts, and have included some process step photos so you can check-in and see if what you’re doing more or less matches up.
First, add the olive oil to your Instant Pot and press the Saute button to heat it up (make sure it’s set to “More” mode, if not press “Saute” again and cycle it through Less, Normal, until it hits More).
While it’s heating up, finely chop the onions and peppers and then add them to the pot (see image one below). Make sure to chop finely, it’s important for distributing the flavors.
Sauté the peppers and onions for ten minutes until or until the onions are lightly browned and fully cooked. Add in the crushed red pepper flakes and crush the garlic into the pot (see image two above) and saute another minute. Cancel the sauté function.
Whisk the salt, stock, and lemon juice together and add to the pot. Sprinkle the couscous on top (don’t stir it) and seal the instant pot. Set to zero minutes at high pressure.
The reason for not stirring it is that when the stock starts to heat, the couscous will absorb it fast and form a layer across the bottom of the pan, triggering the burn warning. Keeping the peppers and onions at the bottom instead allows for better circulation and less chance of triggering a warning.
When it has finished cooking, do a natural pressure release for five minutes and then a quick release. Fluff your couscous with a fork and mix with the bottom layer of peppers and onions. It should look like image four above.
If you do get a burn warning, don’t panic, and do NOT open the pot. Simply unplug your instant pot and allow it to naturally release for five minutes, and then quick release as above and your couscous should still be perfectly done.
You can eat your couscous hot out of the Instant Pot, or allow it to cool to room temperature. Enjoy!
How to make it (stovetop)
Like the look of this recipe but don’t own an Instant Pot? No problem. You can just grab a medium-sized non-stick saucepan or pot, and follow the instructions to fry the peppers and onions and garlic and red pepper flakes.
Then you can either:
- Add in the stock, lemon juice, and salt. Wait for the mixture to boil and then add in the couscous, mix well (and quickly), take off the heat, and cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid so no steam escapes. Leave for five minutes and then fluff up.
- Or, mix the stock, lemon juice, and salt in a large mug or small jug, microwave for three minutes on high or until boiling. Then take the pot off the heat, add the couscous and hot stock mixture, cover tightly, and leave aside for five minutes. Fluff and serve.
I prefer the second option using a microwave as you can lose quite a bit of liquid in the first before the water has properly boiled. It also means you can also boil the stock while the peppers and onions are cooking and speed up making this dish even more.
Once cooled to room temperature, in a tightly covered container in the fridge for three days or in the freezer for up to three months.
If the container your couscous is in is not airtight, sometimes it can dry out a little and harden in the fridge. Simply add a tablespoon of water and microwave on high heat for three minutes and leave aside for five minutes without opening, and it should be soft again.
In the microwave is best, for two-three minutes until hot. You also don’t actually need to reheat this to eat it and can have it cold with other additions such as a salad.
Yes. Follow the recipe and cook the peppers, onions, garlic, red pepper flakes. Then add the salt, lemon juice, and vegetable stock. When it begins to boil, add the couscous, seal the pot (with the weight on) and turn off the heat. Leave for five minutes then do a quick pressure release (in case ny has built up), open, fluff and mix.
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, review, and/or comment below.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2½ cups vegetable stock
- 4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups couscous (Morrocan, grains are small, the size of semolina)
- Add the oil to the Instant Pot (see notes if you don't have an Instant Pot)and press Saute until it's at "More". While the oil is heating up, finely chop the onions and peppers, and then add to the pot and adjust the timer to 10 minutes. Stir every now and then. Make sure the onions are fully cooked and lightly browned when the ten minutes are up.
- Crush the garlic and measure the crushed red pepper flakes. Add to the pot and set the timer for one minute more, stirring to prevent sticking.
- Now stir together the salt, lemon juice, and vegetable stock and add to the pot on top of the layer of peppers and onions - do not stir.
- Sprinkle the couscous on top (do NOT stir or mix in), put the lid on the Instant Pot and seal it, and set it to Pressure Cook on high for 0 minutes.
- Once the Instant Pot has beeped when finished cooking, allow to naturally release for five minutes, then quick release, and fluff up and mix your couscous with a fork.
- Taste and adjust seasonings (salt, lemon juice etc.) to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!
Couscous can easily stick to the bottom of the Instant Pot liner and cause a burn notice which is why I advise you not to stir the layers together until after it's cooked. If you do get a burn notice don't worry, just plug out the Instant Pot and set a timer for five minutes, then do a quick release and fluff up and mix your couscous.
If you don't have an Instant Pot you can make this recipe in a saucepan. Fry the peppers and onions as per the recipe, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, then mix the stock and lemon juice and salt and microwave until bubbling (3 minutes on high), add to the pan with the couscous, cover tightly, and leave aside for five minutes.
Amount Per Serving Calories 196Total Fat 5gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 0mgSodium 638mgCarbohydrates 33gFiber 2gSugar 3gProtein 5g