By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

Couscous is a great alternative to pasta and rice in many recipes, using less water and cooking fuel AND ready in just 5 minutes.

I love couscous anywhere, but it’s particularly great on a boat, backpacking or camping.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a North African wheat-based product, slightly smaller than rice grains.  Traditionally, it is served with a stew over it, but it works well almost anywhere that you would use rice or small pasta.  I use it in salads as well as a base for what I call “serve over” dishes.

While it can be harder to find than rice or pasta, instant couscous cooks in just 5 minutes — and all you do is bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it sit until the water is absorbed.  It’s fast, uses little propane, doesn’t heat up the boat and doesn’t waste water (that is, all the water you use is absorbed into it, unlike pasta).

In the US and Canada, couscous is most often sold as instant couscous (in fact, I thought that “instant” was just what couscous was until I began researching for The Boat Galley Cookbook), usually in small boxes like that at right.

In most grocery stores, these boxes of couscous are sold right next to the rice.  Further, they come in several different flavors, such as curry or garlic.  I prefer to buy plain and then add my own spices depending on what I’m making — that way, I don’t have to keep several different flavors on hand.

To be sure that you’re getting instant couscous, just check the cooking instructions.  You should just have to bring the water to a boil, add the couscous, cover, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.  I’ve never seen it actually labeled as “instant.”

Couscous is a great alternative to pasta and rice in many recipes, using less water and cooking fuel AND ready in just 5 minutes.Outside the US and Canada, couscous can be hard to find — although I did occasionally find it in La Paz, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez and in San Salvador, El Salvador.  When I’d make trips back to the US, I’d take a few jars like that at right back to the boat with me — the little boxes have a lot of air in them and aren’t space-efficient, but the plastic jars don’t contain much air and they double as good storage containers on the boat.

I ordered jars of couscous online rather than try to find them near whatever relatives we were visiting — a technique I used for almost everything we’d buy on trips back to the US.  Additionally, I could find whole wheat couscous (more fiber, healthier) online, which I never saw in local stores (admittedly, I live in a small town).  Below is a link for buying couscous at Amazon, where I bought it.  There are several different types and brands — just be sure to get instant:

If you live in a larger city with a Trader Joe’s, friends have also told me they’ve bought whole wheat couscous in jars there.

One note:  plain couscous doesn’t have a lot of flavor.  It’s great in salads or as a replacement for rice or pasta in many dishes, but you’re probably not going to want to eat a dish of it plain without at least some spices and butter or olive oil.

If you have never tried couscous, it’s a great addition to your galley provisions!

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  1. Cook couscous with chicken broth or vegetable broth from bouillon for more flavor.

  2. Claudia Davis Reshetiloff on Facebook says:

    Quinoa is another fabulous and super healthy option.

  3. We had quinoa many times when traveling in South America (land trip) — funny you mention it, as last week I saw in the grocery store as a “new product”!

  4. the way I do quick couscous (as opposed to a full-on couscousière meal, and that’s someting y’all can look up) is to use bouillon and quick-frozen veggies. Put frozen veggies in the serving bowl. Nuke ’em in the microwave to defrost. Meanwhile, boil water. When veggies are warm, sprinkle some bouillon over the veggies. Pour in the raw couscous. When water is boiling, then pour it over the couscous and veggies, stir and cover. Wait a bit, and the couscous will swell and absorb the water and you’ll have a good meal all in one fell swoop

  5. Bill and I have found we like Israeli Couscous much better than regular couscous…. give it a try, too!

  6. Never seen it — where do you get it?

  7. well certainly trader joe’s, but safeway carries it as do some of the better supermarket chains here in the zona…

  8. Ann Snider on Facebook says:

    Yep – it’s one of our staple side dishes on the boat!

  9. It’s on the menu for dinner tonight! Great minds! 🙂

  10. Wish skipper liked it. Can’t comvince him that it is just like pasta. You can make some great salads too with chickpeas, capsicum, lemon, and coriander.

  11. I love couscous, so easy and quick goes with anything saucy!

  12. You can find in bulk in many stores now too!

  13. Bulghur is a whole grain wheat product which uses the same brief cooking technique but has a bit more texture and probably nutrition, so I never use couscous any more. Try it!

  14. for gluten free folks, quinoa is great as a change (though it does not cook as quickly as couscous) – using saved broth of any kind is good

  15. I stopped cooking couscous; I fix it without cooking. Now I just add the liquid and let it sit there for Half an hour. It takes a little more liquid (and time) than the box or jar calls for, but avoids putting cooking heat into the boat. Handy when you’re close to running out of cooking fuel, too.

    Just splash the requisite liquid (and maybe 10 percent or so more) into the couscous in a bowl. Stir; cover; ignore.

    In 20 mins, check to see if it’s tender. If it’s tender, it’s done. If it’s still a little crunchy but all the liquid is gone, stir in some more liquid and let sit for another 10 mins. If it’s still a little crunchy and there’s still free liquid left in the bottom of the bowl, just cover it and let it sit a few more minutes.

    You can use just about any liquid, including liquids that might not do so well being boiled. Besides broth, try lemon or lime juice, smushed up fresh tomatoes, salsa, coconut milk cut with water, or any combo of the above.

    Caution: this doesn’t work with Israeli (pearl) couscous because the pellet-sized grains are too big to absorb the liquid through to their centers in a reasonable amount of time.

  16. If you ever get to a trader joe’s, (also available via Amazon) their 10 minute faro and 10 minute barley are both great. If you soak the grains in the water and then heat it up later, you do not need a full 10 minutes of simmering. More chew to them than couscous. Also try Israeli couscous, same cooking method but bouncier, bigger pieces. I find that at Fairway in the same square plastic containers you show…not sure if you can find that away from NYC though.

  17. I always have a huge Tupperware of couscous onboard. For me, it is the perfect underway “meal”. I boil water, add a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon in a mug, 2 heaping tablespoons of couscous, and stir. Simple, light, salty…..and fast.

  18. Personal taste weighs in here. I like couscous. I like grits. I like Cream of Wheat. Quinoa and oatmeal don’t appeal to me at all. Stepping back from my own taste I find the various tastes that people have interesting.

  19. KARON Conkling says:

    I am so happy to hear that couscous works well on a boat. I just saw a recipe (on create tv/cooks country) and am dying to try.

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