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Pearl Couscous Recipe with Vegetables and Apricots

Smoky spices with a touch of sweetness and healthy veggies make this pearl couscous recipe with vegetables and apricots a versatile side dish and delicious comfort food.

This vegetarian side dish with middle eastern flavors is quick to make and it’s great paired with turkey (instead of stuffing), roast chicken, flank steak or a mild fish.

finished pearl couscous and vegetables in bowl

What is pearl couscous?

Pearl couscous (which looks like small pearls) is made of small balls of semolina flour. It is also referred to as Israeli couscous, called Ptitim In Israel, where is was developed in the 1950’s when rice was scarce due to austerity in Israel.

Israeli pearl couscous is not the same thing as regular couscous or Moroccan couscous. It is relatively new, has much larger grains and chewier.

Simply put, it’s a type of pasta. It absorbs flavors beautifully if cooked with the method in this recipe and is typically sold in grocery stores as toasted Israeli couscous or pearl couscous. The toasting adds a nice nutty flavor. 

What’s in the recipe

You can boil Israeli couscous like regular pasta and use it in salads. This recipe, instead, blends several spices – smoked paprika, garlic, cloves and cumin – that infuse the couscous while cooking. 

Combined with roasted vegetables and apricots, bright fresh chopped spinach and the richness of some butter (or olive oil if you prefer), the result is a deep, flavorful and very tasty side dish with lots of extra nutrients.

The dried apricots add great texture and a subtle sweetness. I tried roasting them with the vegetables and boiling them with the couscous. Both ways work fine. Just be careful they don’t burn if you choose roasting (although I like a bit of char on mine).

Play around with the variations and shortcuts to suit your time, needs and tastes. 

Tailor to your Taste

Here are some variations and substitutions you can try to make it your own.

  • Couscous:
    • For this dish, don’t use traditional couscous – only pearl or Israeli
    • You can, however, substitute with orzo acini de pepe pasta if you can’t find pearl couscous
  • Vegetables:
    • Roast other vegetables such as diced mushrooms, zucchini or red peppers instead of butternut squash.
  • Spices and seasoning
    • Play around with spices you like. For example, try coriander, curry powder, nutmeg, regular paprika, thyme, etc.
    • And add some heat with sriracha or red chili flakes if you like.
    • Lemon zest or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice will add some bright flavors as will lots of fresh herbs.
  • Add-ins
    • Sprinkle the finished dish with toasted almonds, pine nuts or other nuts for crunch.
    • Substitute dried cranberries or golden raisins for the dried apricots. These can be added while the couscous is cooking (not roasted)

Steps to make this pearl couscous recipe

pearl couscous, spiralized butternut squash, spinach, apricots, butter, seasonings, onion, chicken broth, olive oil
Ingredients: pearl couscous, spiralized butternut squash, fresh baby spinach, dried apricots, butter, seasonings, chicken broth, onion, olive oil
spiralized squash and onions on pan
 Toss butternut squash and onions with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out in single layer on foil-lined pan.
roasted squash and onions on pan
Roast onions and squash at high heat in the oven for about 15 minutes.
couscous and apricots in pot
Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add seasonings, then broth, apricots and a cup of couscous. Cover and cook for 9-10 minutes until broth is almost fully absorbed.
spinach added to cooked couscous in pot
Add roasted veggies and fresh spinach and stir until wilted for a minute.
spoon of finished pearl couscous and veggies
Adjust seasonings and serve.
pearl couscous in bowl 2

What to serve with pearl couscous

Serve the couscous for dinner tonight as a main course if you like along with a salad and perhaps a ratatouille soup or vegetarian split pea soup. In this case, the recipe will serve two.

As a simple side dish, it pairs well with sous vide turkey breast, marinated flank steak, maple balsamic trout, juicy grilled pork chops and balsamic glazed chicken. The couscous is a great way to add savory flavor to a meal.

Shortcut

  • Skip roasting the vegetables and just sauté onions and another veggie e.g. mushrooms in the pot. 

Make ahead 

  • The couscous can easily be made a couple of hours ahead of serving. To reheat, just add a bit more broth or water and reheat covered in the microwave for about a minute.  Toss then serve.

Other pasta side dishes you might like

finished pearl couscous and vegetables in bowl
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4.67 from 12 votes

Pearl Couscous Recipe with Vegetables and Apricots

Smoky spices with a touch of sweetness and healthy veggies make this pearl couscous recipe with vegetables and apricots a versatile side dish and delicious comfort food.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Side Dish, vegetarian
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Servings: 4
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Roast vegetables, Note 1

  • 1 cup diced onions, 1/4 inch (red onion or white)
  • 2 cups spiralized/diced butternut squash (or mushrooms or bell pepper or combo)
  • 10-15 dried apricots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and black pepper

Couscous

  • 2 tablespoon butter (or oil)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon minced or grated garlic (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • pinch ground cloves
  • pinch cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon sriracha (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup toasted Israeli couscous
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 450F/232C.
  • ROAST VEGETABLES & APRICOTS: Place onions, butternut squash (or mushrooms/red peppers) on a pan lined with foil and sprayed with oil. Drizzle on olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly. Roast for about 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft and starting to caramelize.
  • MAKE COUSCOUS: While veggies are roasting, heat butter in medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add smoked paprika, garlic, cloves, cumin, sriracha. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add couscous and apricots. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer and cook covered for about 9-10 minutes or until couscous is soft (but still a bit chewy) and most of broth is absorbed (the remaining broth will absorb as it sits). If broth absorbs before couscous is cooked, add a bit more broth or water and continue cooking for another minute or two.
  • ASSEMBLE: Add vegetables, apricots and chopped spinach to couscous. Stir well until spinach wilts, about 30 seconds. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately or set aside and then warm in microwave for a minute before serving.

Notes

  1. Variations and Substitutions
    • Couscous:
      • For this dish, don’t use traditional couscous – only pearl or Israeli
      • You can, however, substitute with orzo or acini de pepe pasta if you can’t find pearl couscous
    • Vegetables:
      • Roast other vegetables such as diced mushrooms, zucchini or red peppers instead of butternut squash.
    • Spices and seasoning
      • Play around with spices you like. For example, try coriander, curry powder, nutmeg, regular paprika, thyme, etc.
      • And add some heat with sriracha or red chili flakes if you like.
      • Lemon zest or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice will add some bright flavors as will lots of fresh herbs.
    • Add-ins
      • Sprinkle the finished dish with toasted almonds, pine nuts or other nuts for crunch.
      • Substitute dried cranberries or golden raisins for the dried apricots. These can be added while the couscous is cooking (not roasted)
  2. Make Ahead:
    • The couscous can easily be made a couple of hours ahead of serving. 
    • To reheat, just add a bit more broth or water and reheat covered in the microwave for about a minute.  Toss then serve.
 
Nutrition values are estimates.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Pearl Couscous Recipe with Vegetables and Apricots
Amount Per Serving
Calories 369 Calories from Fat 90
% Daily Value*
Fat 10g15%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Cholesterol 15mg5%
Sodium 544mg24%
Potassium 832mg24%
Carbohydrates 62g21%
Fiber 7g29%
Sugar 16g18%
Protein 10g20%
Vitamin A 10259IU205%
Vitamin C 22mg27%
Calcium 85mg9%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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This pearl couscous recipe, originally published as Israeli couscous in 2017, has been updated with edited information and pictures.

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