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Couscous with Lemon and Herbs

This couscous with lemon and herbs is a delicious side dish or even a light lunch on its own. I've enjoyed it warm or at room temperature, making it a very versatile dish that is even good as leftovers.

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A white bowl of couscous with herbs and lemon with a serving spoon and a green kitchen towel.

What is Couscous?

Many think of couscous as a grain, but it is in fact a very small pasta. There are generally two types of couscous – Moroccan couscous, which is very fine and what is called for here, and the larger Israeli couscous, which is more like little balls. Moroccan couscous is so easy to prepare – you just add it to seasoned boiling water and then turn off the heat. What comes next is important, however, because that’s how you add flavor to your couscous, turning it into Couscous with Lemon and Herbs.

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Ingredients on a cutting board on a counter - raisins, pinenuts, herbs, lemon, a bowl of couscous and olive oil - with a green kitchen towel in the background.

Flavorings for Couscous

For this recipe, I wanted to add something sweet, something nutty and salty, and then something bright and fresh. The raisins and golden raisins were my sweet ingredient. You could substitute dried cherries or dried cranberries. My nutty ingredient was pinenuts, but almonds would be nice too. Finally my bright, fresh flavors were lemon zest and juice and a mixture of fresh herbs – mint, basil, chives and parsley. Of course, olive oil helps to move all those flavors around.

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Pinenuts toasting in a non-stick skillet.

Toasting Nuts

It’s important to toast the nuts for this recipe and you have a few different ways to do that. The quickest and easiest way is to pop them into a dry skillet and pay attention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve over-toasted (dare I say “burned”) nuts by not paying attention. Toss the nuts regularly over medium to medium-high heat and remove them from the skillet as soon as they are toasted to your liking. You could also spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and pop them into a 350˚F oven for 10 minutes or into a 350˚F air fryer for 5 to 6 minutes (watching carefully and shaking halfway through). 

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Looking down into a casserole pan with cooked couscous in it, next to a green kitchen towel and a wooden spoon.

How to Cook Couscous

When it comes to cooking your couscous, you could either bring the water to a boil and pour it over your couscous in a bowl, covering with some plastic wrap and letting it sit for 5 minutes, or you could bring the water to a boil and then stir in the couscous and cover with a lid. I prefer to do it in the saucepan because it keeps the couscous warmer for longer. Whichever way you choose to do it, make sure you add the salt to the water so that the couscous is evenly seasoned. Let the couscous sit for 5 minutes and then fluff it to loosen all the little pasta.

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Hands using a zester to zest lemon into a pot of couscous with herbs.

Fresh Flavors at the End

Immediately toss in the raisins and pinenuts and fluff with the couscous. The heat from the couscous should be enough to soften your raisins. Just before you’re ready to serve, zest the lemon into the pot, toss in the herbs and then season with the lemon juice and olive oil. Taste and season again with salt and freshly ground pepper to your liking and then serve warm or at room temperature.

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A white bowl of couscous with herbs and lemon on a counter with a green kitchen towel behind it and a cutting board of kitchen tools and ingredients.

What to Serve with Couscous

Honestly, this dish is so tasty that it can make me very happy all on its own at lunchtime. It does, however, make a really nice and interesting side dish to any grilled chicken or fish, or even a beef kabob. It has enough flavor to stand up to other flavors, and yet doesn’t compete. Try it with this Tandoori Spiced Mixed Grill (below), or Pecan Crusted Chicken Breast, Grilled Harissa Chicken, Arctic Char with Burst Cherry Tomatoes, or Pan-Seared Scallops with Orange and Tarragon. Remember, those leftovers are great the next day for lunch – warmed in the microwave or skillet or just eaten at room temperature.

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Tandoori Shrimp on an oval platter with couscous with lemon and herbs.

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Couscous with Herbs and Lemon

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 5 m
  • Total Time: 15 m
  • Servings:
    4
    people as a side dish

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup pinenuts
  • 1 cup Moroccan couscous
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • Zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Start by toasting your pinenuts. You can do this in a small skillet over medium heat, tossing regularly or in the oven on a baking sheet at 350˚F for 10 minutes. Set the pinenuts aside.
  2. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the olive oil and salt and stir in the couscous. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and cover with a lid. Set the pot aside for 5 minutes.
  3. Fluff the couscous with a fork and add the toasted pinenuts, raisins and chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice. Drizzle a little more extra virgin olive oil on top and serve warm or at room temperature.
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