This Israeli couscous recipe was born from leftovers, as so many great recipes are. One day, left with not enough chicken and vegetables for a full meal, I chopped them all up, made an easy vinaigrette and a batch of couscous, tossed them together, and dinner was served. Now I specifically make more grilled or roasted chicken and vegetables than I need so I can make the leftovers into this dish the following night. My Greek Chicken Kabobs with Yogurt Sauce is a perfect first day recipe for this, but you could also use rotisserie chicken and grilled or roasted vegetables from the prepared foods counter of the grocery store.
And really, anything goes. Toss in tofu or steak instead of chicken, and use whatever vegetables you want. I find stirring in the feta cheese at the end really adds to the final dish, but if you are lactose-intolerant or eating dairy-free, you’ll still enjoy this meal.
To begin, you will make the couscous by first toasting it in butter and then simmering it with water or chicken broth until the couscous is tender and the liquid is absorbed. While it’s cooking, you will chop up or shred your chicken breasts and chop up your vegetables. You can use chicken thighs or drumsticks as well, but chicken breasts are easier to quickly shred or chop. Then you’ll make a quick vinaigrette with lemon juice, dijon mustard, and olive oil. Toss it all together after your couscous is done, and add in your feta cheese at the end. Delicious, healthy, easy, and comes together in less than a half hour.
What is the difference between regular couscous and Israeli or pearl couscous?
Traditional couscous is made of crushed durum wheat semolina that is pre-steamed and dried before being sold in supermarkets here. Couscous can then be rehydrated and gently steamed on a stove top, where it is ready to eat in minutes.
Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous) is larger than traditional couscous, and is prepared in a similar way to pasta. In fact, Israeli couscous basically is pasta dough that has been extruded through a round mold. It is often pre-baked or toasted before being sold, which creates its slightly chewy texture and nutty flavor. The nutritional value of pearl couscous is similar to pasta as well, so it is not as healthy as a whole grain.
Nor is it as healthy as traditional couscous, which is slightly lower in carbohydrates and calories and contains selenium (an antioxidant that also carries other health benefits). And, because it is made from wheat, neither type of couscous is gluten-free. That said, Israeli couscous is a great way to change up your pasta repertoire, and you can also find whole wheat versions of both types of couscous.
How to cook Israeli couscous and regular couscous
Traditional couscous and Israeli couscous are cooked in different ways. With traditional couscous, you bring water to a boil, then add the couscous and turn off the heat. In 5 minutes, the couscous steams, and you just need to fluff it with a fork. Israeli couscous is cooked much like pasta, though I like to toast the grains in butter before adding the water or broth. Once you add the liquid, the couscous will simmer gently for about 10 minutes. I like to turn the heat off when there is just a little bit of liquid left in the pan, and the couscous is almost tender. Cover the pan and let it sit for 5 minutes; then the couscous will be perfectly done and the liquid absorbed.
As with pasta, there are slightly different sizes of pearl couscous that require different amounts of liquid for cooking. Don’t panic. If your couscous is not yet tender but the liquid has cooked off, just add more liquid in small amounts until the couscous is done. Similarly, if the couscous is tender and is still swimming in liquid, just drain the couscous as you do pasta.
Other recipes you might enjoy
If you love this recipe, you might also enjoy my Dijon Chicken and Mushroom Crepes recipe that also uses leftover chicken. Or my other recipes that make quick and easy weeknight meals, like my Creamy Orzo Chicken with Red Peppers and Mushrooms, my Spinach Frittata with Mushrooms and Feta, and my Parmesan Pearl Barley Grain Bowl.
Israeli Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables
This easy Israeli couscous recipe combines pearl couscous with chopped cooked chicken, vegetables, and feta cheese tossed in a simple dijon vinaigrette.
- 1 T. butter
- 1 1/3 c. Israeli couscous
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 2/3 c. chicken broth or water
- 2 T. lemon juice
- 1 t. Dijon mustard
- 5 T. olive oil
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1/4 t. pepper
- 3 cups cooked chicken breast meat, chopped or shredded (roughly 1 lb of chicken)
- 3 cups chopped grilled or roasted vegetables (bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, etc.)
- 1/2 c. feta cheese
- 1 T. chopped basil, for garnish (optional)
Melt butter in a saucepan (non-stick preferred) over medium heat.
Add couscous and 1/4 t. salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes until some of the couscous pieces are lightly toasted.
Then add the chicken broth or water and bring back to a boil.
Turn down the heat and simmer over medium to medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is almost gone and the couscous is almost tender, turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes.
While couscous is cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk lemon juice with dijon mustard and slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified. Whisk in salt and pepper.
Pour couscous into large bowl and toss with vinaigrette.
Add chicken, vegetables, and feta cheese and stir to combine.
Sprinkle with chopped basil for a garnish (if desired).
If the water evaporates before the couscous has finished cooking, add more water or chicken broth 1-2 tablespoons at a time.