Whether you’re a fan of lamb, seafood or vegan dishes, these couscous recipes are ideal for relaxed warm-weather dining.
Couscous is many things all at once. Technically a form of pasta (both are made from durum wheat), its tiny spherical shape and lightweight, fluffy texture means it acts much more like a salad-ready grain such as bulgur wheat, quinoa or farro. And while it originated in North Africa almost 1,000 years ago (at least), it can now be found happily hanging out everywhere from the Mediterranean to the Middle East.
Couscous is also unbelievably quick and easy to prepare. At its simplest, it’s possible to make a delicious bowl of the pseudo-grain in under five minutes, using nothing more than seasoning and boiling water. And it tastes just as good cold as it does hot, making it a perfect plucked-from-the-fridge weekday lunch.
Looking to experiment with couscous? Try the recipes below. Ben Lebus’s lamb kofta couscous salad with tzatziki takes 40 minutes from start to finish, and makes for an impressive dinner that’s light enough for warm evenings. Ross Dobson’s recipe puts couscous to a very different use, adding it to a tomatoey Mediterranean-style seafood stew prepared in a slow cooker.
Australian cooks Alex Elliott-Howery and Sabine Spindler’s zesty vegan dish, meanwhile, features broccoli, lemon juice, pomegranate seeds, chilli and toasted hazelnuts. The founders of the stylish Sydney cafe and cooking school Cornersmith suggest creating a veg-forward version of couscous using grated cauliflower – but if cauliflower’s not your thing, you can easily use regular couscous in its place. Enjoy.
Lamb kofta couscous salad with tzatziki recipe
Ben Lebus says: “These delicious, super simple herby koftas with tzatziki make the perfect lunch or speedy dinner.”
Preparation & cooking time: 40 mins
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- fresh parsley
- cumin seeds
- 500g lamb mince
- 1 x 500g pot of Greek yogurt
- 1 cucumber
- fresh mint
- 1 lemon
- 400g couscous
- 1 x pack of pomegranate seeds
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Chop the onion and garlic. Whack them into a frying pan with a dash of olive oil over a medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley stalks and 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds. Once the onions are soft, take them off the heat and allow to cool.
Put the lamb mince into a mixing bowl and add the cooked onion mixture, as well as a splash of olive oil, some salt and a pinch of pepper. Mix it all up.
Roll the lamb mixture into little golf balls and flatten them into kofta shapes, so they are around 1 cm thick.
Place on a plate, cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and put them in the fridge to firm up (10-15 minutes will do).
Now for the tzatziki. Add the yogurt, a grated cucumber (squeeze out the grated cucumber to remove any excess liquid), a chopped bunch of mint (save a few leaves to garnish) and juice of a lemon to a mixing bowl and add a sprinkling of salt. Mix well.
Back to your koftas. Take them out of the fridge and heat a griddle pan. Drizzle a little oil on each kofta and place them in the pan over a medium–high heat. Griddle the koftas for 5-6 minutes, turning halfway through so that both sides are well browned.
Cook the couscous according to the packet instructions. Fluff it up with a fork.
Once the koftas are cooked, throw over a handful of chopped parsley and allow it to stick to the outside of the koftas.
Serving time. Mix a small handful of watercress through the couscous. Serve the koftas on top of the couscous salad with a small handful of pomegranate seeds and your remaining mint scattered on top. Dollop your tzatziki over everything and dive in!
Mediterranean seafood and couscous stew recipe
Ross Dobson says: “Couscous is used here to thicken the stew and bring everything together; it doesn’t become gloopy and stodgy, but stays slightly crunchy and nutty. If you wanted to get ahead, you could make the tomato sauce in advance, cooking it for the required time and then refrigerating it until needed. About half an hour before you want to eat, just reheat the sauce on High in your slow cooker and when it is bubbling around the edges, throw in the couscous and seafood and proceed.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: about 3 hours
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
- 400g can crushed tomatoes
- 250ml seafood stock
- 3 strips lemon zest
- 50g instant couscous
- 12 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined, but with tails intact
- 16 ready-to-cook black mussels
- 300g squid hoods, cut into rings
Heat your slow cooker to High.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and chilli flakes and when they start to sizzle in the oil, give them a good stir and remove from the heat.
Put the tomatoes, stock and lemon zest into the bowl of the slow cooker. Tip in the contents of the frying pan and season generously with salt and pepper, then give everything a good stir. Cover and cook for 2½ hours, until the flavours have developed and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
Working quickly to avoid losing too much heat, stir through the couscous, followed by the prawns, mussels and squid. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes, until all the seafood is cooked and the couscous has absorbed much of the liquid.
Transfer to a large serving dish.
Cauliflower couscous with broccoli, pomegranate & toasted hazelnuts recipe
Alex Elliott-Howery and Sabine Spindler say: “This salad is a lighter grain-free alternative to a conventional couscous salad – the cauliflower is finely chopped or grated and takes on a grain-like shape. It is very quick and simple as the ingredients require no cooking, except for toasting the hazelnuts.
“At Cornersmith we make our own pomegranate molasses. You’ll find the recipe in our first book, or you can buy it from specialty grocers.”
Preparation time: 20 minutes
- 400g cauliflower, leaves removed
- 250g broccoli
- zest of ½ lemon, plus the juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped preserved lemon or lime rind (or the salt-preserved citrus skins below)
- 2 pinches of ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground sumac
- 2 pinches of chilli flakes
- seeds from ½ pomegranate
- 40g toasted hazelnuts (see page 206), coarsely chopped
- 1 large handful of picked dill, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and mint, torn just before serving
- 60ml olive oil
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)
Coarsely grate the cauliflower using a box grater, or carefully pulse it in a food processor to a couscous consistency – you don’t want to chop it too small or finely, or it will be mushy. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Pick the broccoli into very small florets. Keep half the broccoli stem, peel it and slice it very thinly using a mandoline, or coarsely grate it. Add to the mixing bowl.
Add the lemon zest, preserved citrus rind, cumin, sumac and chilli flakes. Add half the pomegranate seeds, half the hazelnuts, and three-quarters of the herbs.
Season with salt, drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and gently combine.
Transfer to a serving bowl or large plate. Garnish with the remaining pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts and herbs, then finish with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, if desired.
This salad is best made close to serving time.
Salt-preserved citrus skins recipe
Alex Elliott-Howery and Sabine Spindler say: “Everyone is always asking us how to use citrus skins once the fruit has been juiced. This recipe isn’t as fancy as preserved lemons, but is a great way to reduce kitchen waste and at the same time produce a delicious kitchen staple. It is similar to preserving lemons, except you’re using 100% salt to preserve the citrus skins, and no citrus juice. And you can combine all different kinds of citrus skins in the one jar – there is no need to preserve them in separate jars.
“When a recipe calls for preserved lemons or citrus peel, you can fish a bit of your salt-preserved citrus skin out of the jar, rinse it or soak it for 30 minutes, then thinly slice it to use in stews, soups, tagines, marinades and dressings.”
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Preserving time: 6 weeks
Storage: up to 2 years
Makes: 1 x 1-2 litre jar
- lots of pure salt or cooking salt
- citrus skins, such as lemon, lime, mandarin or orange
Give your jar and lid a good wash and make sure they are completely dry inside.
Put a layer of cooking salt in the bottom of the jar, about 3cm (11⁄4 inches) deep. Each time you squeeze a lemon, orange or lime, flatten the peel with the palm of your hand and press it into the salt, then cover the skins with more salt. You can cut the citrus peel into strips to speed up the preserving process – just make sure all the skins are buried under the salt.
As time passes, the salt and citrus peel will compress down and you’ll be able to keep adding more to the jar.
The peel will be ready to use after about 6 weeks.
If you’re using a jar with a metal lid, just be mindful that the salt doesn’t reach the top of the jar and corrode the metal.
As the citrus peels release their juices, moisture will start to build up at the bottom of the jar – don’t worry about this, as there is so much salt in the jar that no bacteria will be able to grow.
The jar will happily sit on the benchtop indefinitely, but during a heatwave we like to store it in the fridge.
Images: Jeremy Simons; Haarala Hamilton; Alan Benson