When it comes to cooking a “starch” for your meal, there are few sides easier to make than couscous. It’s simple, versatile and incredibly fast to cook—it’s ready in just 5 minutes! I made a lot of couscous when testing recipes for our story on this super-fast pantry staple in the January/February 2012 issue of EatingWell Magazine. And through all of that cooking I picked up on these 5 mistakes to avoid in the pursuit of perfect couscous.
Mistake 1: You don’t choose whole-grain couscous.
Although couscous looks like a grain, it’s actually pasta. Make sure what you’re buying is whole-grain. You’ll get an added boost of fiber. You may also notice Israeli couscous at the supermarket. This kind of couscous has larger granules and cooks differently than the smaller variety, and it is also not whole-grain.
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Mistake 2: You don’t use the proper water-to-couscous ratio.
Although couscous is pasta, it actually cooks more like a grain. You can’t just dump dry couscous into a pot of boiling water and drain it. Make sure you’re using the right water-to-couscous ratio, which is 1 cup water to 2/3 cup couscous.
Mistake 3: You add the couscous before the water has boiled.
The couscous we buy at the market today is pre cooked. That means it’s pretty much ready to go right out of the box–one of the main reasons we love it so much. But it really only needs 5 minutes in very hot or simmering (not boiling) water (it varies by brand) to let moisture seep back in. So once you bring the water to a boil, don’t forget to take it off the heat after you add the couscous to prevent overcooking.
Mistake 4: You don’t let it sit long enough.
Those tiny granules of couscous need time to soften. Make sure your pot remains covered to capture the steam from the hot water. Otherwise, you run the risk of undercooking your couscous, causing it to be chewy or crunchy.
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Mistake 5: You forget to fluff.
Right out of the pot, couscous can be dense. Fluff it gently with a fork by scraping the surface and breaking up the clumps for light and fluffy couscous.
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