Vegan Cooking Tips

Quick and Easy Couscous Dishes

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Are you in a hurry? You may think it's just too much work to cook grains, but this is not necessarily true. Some grains are quick-cooking, generally requiring less than 30 minutes to prepare, including brown rice, couscous, quinoa, buckwheat groats (kasha), and bulgur.

Traditional couscous, which is fine grained, or Mediterranean couscous (also called Israeli or pearl couscous) is actually pasta, but cooks like grains. Selecting the whole grain version offers lots of nutrition, including B vitamins, potassium, protein and fiber, with no sodium, fat or cholesterol.

Traditional, fine-grained, whole wheat couscous is definitely a 'last minute, I'm really hungry' dish. Boil some water or broth, pour over couscous, cover, allow to steam for about 10 minutes, fluff, and it's ready to eat!

Mediterranean pearl-shaped couscous requires a bit more attention and time...but not much! Mediterranean couscous is usually prepared as a pilaf, but can be done just like pasta — add to boiling water, allow to cook until tender, drain, and serve hot.

If you have the time to prepare a pilaf (remember to make extra, as the leftovers taste great), here are the steps:

  1. Sauté the Mediterranean couscous in a small amount of vegetable oil or vegan margarine just to coat the pearls.
  2. Cover and simmer in just enough liquid to allow the grain to become tender.

That's it! You can add fresh or dried herbs, minced garlic or vegetables, saffron threads, or your favorite seasoning mix. To serve about 5 people, you'll need 1 cup of Mediterranean couscous and about 2 cups of water (or vegetable stock). Spray some vegetable oil in a pot, add couscous and sauté it for about 2 minutes or until most of the oil is absorbed. Heat your selected liquid, pour over the couscous, and allow it to simmer until it is soft. Some people like to sauté onions or garlic in the oil before adding the couscous. Others like to cook the couscous on the stove until it is just soup and then bake it, covered, until it is dry.

In addition to savory dishes, whole wheat couscous, traditional or Mediterranean, can be used as the base for warm or cold sweet dessert salads. Toss warm couscous with a small amount of melted vegan margarine or olive oil, rice syrup, fresh blueberries, and chopped fresh mint and serve warm or chilled. Another option is to toss couscous with sweetened vegan yogurt, lemon zest, chopped dates, and dried apricots and nuts. Then bake until golden brown for a hot dessert salad.

Pearl couscous can be cooked on the stove, in the oven, as described above, or even in a rice cooker! Pearl couscous cooks quickly and can be used as an entrée, with lentils or beans, as a side dish, added to soup, or cooled and made into a salad.