Couscous is one of the fastest and easiest side dishes to prepare. A staple in Morocco and other North African countries, it is traditionally served under stews and braises to soak up the flavorful sauce. But because it often plays sidekick, the grain is too often left bland and unexciting. We knew it had the potential to be a quick and tasty dish, and we were determined to develop a classic version for saucy dishes as well as a handful of flavor-packed variations that would make convenient stand-alone sides. We found that toasting the couscous grains in olive oil before adding liquid deepened their flavor and helped them cook up light and separate. And to bump up the flavor even further, we replaced half of the cooking water with broth. After just 7 minutes of steeping, the couscous was fluffy, tender, and flavorful enough to stand on its own while also ready to accompany any sauce with which it was paired. For our dressed-up variations, dried fruit, nuts, and citrus juice added textural interest and sweet, bright notes.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups couscous
1 cup of water
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in water, broth, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover, remove the saucepan from heat and let sit until couscous is tender about 7 minutes. Gently fluff couscous with fork and season with pepper to taste. Serve.
Simple Couscous with Dates and Pistachios FAST VEG
Increase oil to 3 tablespoons. Add ½ cup chopped pitted dates, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and ½ teaspoon ground cardamom to the saucepan with couscous. Increase water to 1¼ cups. Before serving, stir in ¾ cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios, 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice.
Simple Couscous with Carrots, Raisins, and Pine Nuts FAST VEG
Increase oil to 3 tablespoons. Before adding couscous to the saucepan, add 2 peeled and grated carrots and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup raisins to the saucepan with couscous and increase water to 1¼ cups. Before serving, stir in ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts, 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, ½ teaspoon grated orange zest, and 1 tablespoon orange juice.
To achieve perfectly tender, nicely browned cauliflower, we cut the florets small and start them cooking in a cold skille
Spiced Vegetable Couscous
This easy vegetable couscous dish is inspired by aromatic North African flavors. For our vegetables, we chose a colorful combination of cauliflower, zucchini, and red bell pepper. To encourage deep caramelization on our cauliflower, we cut it into small, even pieces. We started the cauliflower in a cold pan, which ensured that it cooked through before developing a golden exterior. We then quickly sautéed zucchini and bell pepper with garlic, lemon zest, and ras el hanout—a flavorful North African spice blend. Marjoram, added at the end, gave a hit of minty freshness. We prefer to use our homemade Ras el Hanout, but you can substitute store-bought ras el hanout if you wish, though flavor and spiciness can vary greatly by brand.
1 head cauliflower (2 pounds), cored and cut into 1-inch florets
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
Salt and pepper
1½ cups couscous
1 zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ras el hanout
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving
1¾ cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram
- Toss cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until florets start to brown and edges just start to become translucent (do not lift the lid), about 5 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue to cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until florets turn golden brown in several spots, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl and wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in now-empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to separate bowl and wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in an again-empty skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add zucchini, bell pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, ras el hanout, and lemon zest and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and bring to simmer.
- Stir in couscous. Cover, remove skillet from heat and let sit until couscous is tender about 7 minutes. Add cauliflower and marjoram to couscous and gently fluff with a fork to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with extra oil. Serve with lemon wedges.