Are you thinking about cooking Moroccan but can’t get your hands on some couscous? It’s OK! Here are my favourite couscous substitutes including some healthier, low carb alternatives.
What is Couscous?
Couscous is the most common carbohydrate used in Moroccan cooking. I think of it as tiny grains of pasta.
It’s usually made from semolina (wheat) flour but can be made from other flours including barley, green wheat, corn or millet.
Couscous also refers to a type of celebrational Moroccan meal made from the couscous ‘grains’ steamed with meat, vegetables and spices.
The Best Couscous Substitutes
1. Cooked Rice
White rice is the easiest substitute for cooked couscous.
Rice will absorb different amount of liquid to couscous. The cooking time will also be different so best to cook the rice first. Then use in your recipe as per the cooked couscous.
To cook rice just boil in plenty of water until tender – about 10 minutes then drain.
2. Cooked Quinoa
Couscous has a very similar appearance to cooked quinoa. The cooking time and the amount of liquid the quinoa absorbs will be different so substitute in cooked quinoa at the cooked stage of the recipe.
To cook your quinoa just boil it like pasta in a big pot of water. Drain when it’s tender – about 12 minutes.
3. Cooked Lentils
While lentils have a stronger flavour than couscous, they can make a satisfying substitute. Especially the milder red lentils. As per all the substitutes here, the cooking time and liquid absorption will be slightly different.
4. Cooked / Canned Chickpeas
Chickpeas are much larger, however they’re a good option if you want something super quick, gluten-free and lower carb than couscous.
5. Make Your Own Couscous
If you happen to have coarse semolina and semolina flour in the house. And a few hours to spare you can roll your own couscous by hand.
Paula Wolfert’s recipe is the best place to start.
Low-Carb Couscous Substitutes
1. Cauliflower ‘Couscous’
It’s possible to turn cauliflower into couscous-like grains by giving chopped cauliflower a whirl in your food processor. I then gently warm the cauli grains in a pan with a little butter or oil.
2. Roast Cauliflower
If you’re looking for a more vegetable-focused, low carb alternative to quinoa, my favourite substitute is roast cauliflower florettes. Like the ones in this recipe.
3. Other Roast Veg
While cauli is my fave, other roast vegetables like zucchini, eggplant (aubergine) or even broccoli can work as a healthier alternative to cooked couscous.
A big handful of roast nuts like almonds, cashews, pine nuts or walnuts can add substance and interesting texture to recipes using cooked couscous.
How to Cook Couscous
Place 1 cup couscous in a heat proof bowl. Add 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil. Pour over 1 cup boiling water. Cover and stand for 5-10 minutes. Then use a fork to fluff up the couscous into individual grains before serving.
More Ingredient Substitutes
- The Ultimate Guide to Vegetable Substitutes
- Collard Greens
- Miso Paste
- Oyster Sauce
Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.
Have fun in the kitchen!