Say bye-bye to boring couscous and hello to flavorful couscous full of warming spices. This Instant Pot couscous with turmeric, feta, and fresh parsley is ready in just 15 minutes and makes a lovely side dish or salad topper.
Reasons to love Instant Pot couscous
If you need to spice up your side dish game, this Instant Pot couscous recipe is for you. Couscous is a grain-based food, similar to pasta, which makes it comforting and easy to prepare. Adding a few key ingredients (especially warming spices like turmeric) will take your basic pearl couscous to the next level.
The Instant Pot makes the cooking process super easy – just saute, simmer, and you’ll be ready to serve your couscous in 15 minutes.
Fun facts about this recipe
Curious about couscous? I covered some cultural and nutritional notes in my Couscous salad recipe post.
Let’s talk about spices! Specifically, turmeric and black pepper.
I used turmeric and black pepper in this recipe for two reasons:
- They’re a delicious, warming spice combo.
- When paired together, they have nutritional benefits!
Here’s the gist – Turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin, which fights inflammation. Black pepper contains an active compound called piperine (similar to the capsaicin found in cayenne pepper), which can help with digestion. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t absorb curcumin very well on their own, but when consumed with piperine, we absorb curcumin 2000% more effectively!
It’s unrealistic to expect medicinal benefits from the amount of turmeric and black pepper in one recipe, but it can be beneficial to use this spice combo on a regular basis in your cooking.
Ingredients for the best pearl couscous
You can certainly make pearl couscous with just dry couscous and water, but a few extra ingredients really liven it up. Feel free to modify these based on what you’re serving your couscous with or what you have on hand.
- Oil – I used ghee for extra flavor, but you can also use butter or olive oil.
- Spices – Equal parts turmeric, black pepper, and garlic add warm, savory notes to this recipe. Feel free to experiment with other dry spices that you enjoy.
- Pearl couscous – This is also known as Israeli couscous. (See the ‘recipe modifications’ section if you want to use Moroccan or Lebanese couscous.)
- Broth – This adds flavor to your couscous. You can use either vegetable or chicken broth.
- Fresh herbs – Fresh parsley adds color and freshness to this recipe, but you can also use other fresh herbs like basil or mint.
- Crumbled feta – This is totally optional, but highly recommended. Feta adds tanginess, a bit of salt, and color contrast to make your couscous dish “pop.”
Tips for flavorful pearl couscous
Don’t get me wrong, pearl couscous is delicious on its own. Soft, squishy pasta balls… what could be wrong with that? But, couscous really shines when you give it some extra love. Here’s how I make mine extra delicious.
- Make it pilaf style – Toasting your couscous in oil and spices before cooking adds a nutty flavor and helps infuse flavor from the spices into each little pearl.
- Add herbs and spices – Don’t skimp on these! I added turmeric, black pepper, and garlic during sauteeing, and fresh parsley on top, but you can use other herbs and spices too. Try dry spices like lemon pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika, or cayenne and fresh herbs like parsley, mint, or cilantro.
- Use broth as your cooking liquid – Instead of cooking your grains in water, cook them in vegetable or chicken broth. This will infuse even more flavor into your couscous.
Frequently asked questions
Yes! Add a 1:1 ratio of couscous to liquid to your rice cooker and cook on white rice mode. The only difference with using this method is that you won’t be able to saute spices or toast your couscous in the rice cooker – you’ll need to do that step on the stovetop, then transfer everything to the rice cooker.
To make this recipe in a rice cooker, start by adding ghee (or oil) and spices to a pot or pan and simmering for 30 seconds. Add the couscous and toast for 1 minute. Transfer the toasted couscous to the rice cooker, then add 1.5 cups of broth and cook on white rice mode.
Not all couscous is created equally (although they are all delicious). Pearl couscous (or Israeli couscous) has medium-large grains and is made from baked wheat. Lebanese (or moghrabieh) couscous has large grains and is made from semolina. Moroccan (or East African) couscous has small grains and is also made from semolina.
- Moroccan couscous version – Since Moroccan couscous grains are much smaller than pearl couscous, they don’t take as long to cook. Complete steps 1-2 as written, but set the Instant Pot to ‘manual’ mode (high pressure) for 5 minutes and do a “quick release” (turn the valve to ‘venting’) as soon as the timer goes off.
- Lebanese couscous version – Since Lebanese couscous grains are larger than pearl couscous, they will take longer to cook. Complete steps 1-3 as written, but let the Instant Pot “natural release” for 10 minutes (instead of 5).
- Add vegetables – For extra flavor and nutrition, you can saute vegetables before toasting the couscous. Try onions, shallots, or carrots.
- Make it whole-grain – You can buy couscous in whole-wheat varieties for extra flavor and fiber.
- Use different spices – Spice this up however you like! I’d suggest either lemon pepper, chili powder, cumin, paprika, or cayenne.
- Vegan/dairy-free version – This recipe can easily be made vegan. Use olive oil instead of ghee, vegetable stock as your cooking liquid, and vegan feta as a garnish.
Instant Pot Couscous with Turmeric and Feta
- 1 pressure cooker
- 2 tbsp ghee (can also use olive oil or butter)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1½ cup pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous)
- 1¾ cup vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
- ¼ cup crumbled feta
- Press 'saute' mode on the pressure cooker and allow it to heat up for about 30 seconds. Add ghee, turmeric, garlic, and black pepper. Saute for about 30 seconds until the spices are fragrant.
- Add couscous and stir to coat in the melted ghee and spice mixture. Toast for about 1 minute, then press 'cancel' on the pressure cooker.
- Pour in the vegetable broth, put the lid on the pressure cooker, turn the valve to the 'sealing' position, then set the pressure cooker to 'manual' mode (high pressure) for 3 minutes. The pressure cooker will take about 3 minutes to come to pressure before the cooking time starts.
- Once the timer goes off, do a "natural release" (i.e. leave the pressure cooker alone) for 5 minutes. Do a "quick release" (i.e. turn the valve to 'venting' mode to release any remaining steam)
- Stir, spoon into a serving bowl, and garnish with parsley and crumbled feta.
- Please note that nutrition facts are an estimate and can vary widely based on amounts and specific types used.
- Stovetop version: In a medium-sized pot heated to medium heat, saute ghee, turmeric, garlic, and black pepper for 30 seconds. Add couscous, stir and toast for 1 minute. Pour in vegetable broth, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer until the couscous is tender (about 15 minutes).
- Rice cooker version: Add ghee (or oil) and spices to a pot or pan and simmer for 30 seconds. Add the couscous and toast for 1 minute. Transfer the toasted couscous to the rice cooker, then add 1.5 cups of broth and cook on white rice mode.