7 Best Couscous Substitutes

Categorized as Cooking
Couscous Substitutes

Are you one of the many who have fallen in love with couscous – the deliciously fluffy North African staple? Well, you’re not alone! Over time, couscous has become increasingly popular around the world due to its tremendous versatility. You can add just about anything to it and it still tastes great.

But what do you do when couscous is hard to come by or if you want to explore new varieties that are equally delicious? Look no further! I’ve got you covered with our list of the 7 best couscous substitutes perfect for all occasions, diets or simply incorporating into traditional dishes.

1. Quinoa

Quinoa is often used as a substitute for couscous because it is high in protein and fiber, making it a healthier alternative. Quinoa has a slightly crunchier texture than couscous but they are similar in size and shape.

In addition to having higher nutritional value than couscous, quinoa can also be served in much more varied ways. While traditionally served as a side dish or as part of salads and soups, quinoa can also be used as an ingredient in vegan burgers patties or meatballs or added into dishes such as lasagna or macaroni & cheese for added texture and nutrition.

Quinoa can also be blended into smoothies or pureed into soups for extra thickness while adding additional health benefits at the same time. 

When it comes to cooking quinoa instead of couscous, one key difference is that it takes longer to cook than couscous and absorbs more water. This means that when cooking quinoa as a substitute for couscous, you should use less water than usual. 

To prepare quinoa as a substitute for couscous, begin by rinsing the grains in cold water. This helps remove any debris or residue that may remain on the grains from the manufacturing process.

After rinsing the quinoa, place it in a pot with enough water to cover the grains by about 1/2 inch. Bring the pot to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Once cooked through and tender, fluff with a fork before serving or using in your favorite recipes.

2. Sorghum

Sorghum is an excellent substitute for couscous and can be used in any recipe that calls for the latter. Although its flavor is nuttier and slightly more robust than couscous, sorghum has a similar chewy texture when cooked. The versatility of this grain makes it suitable for side dishes and main dishes alike, as well as salads. Since sorghum is packed with dietary fiber, it provides more nutritional value than couscous. 

There are two types of sorghum that can be found in the market. The first is grain sorghum. It can be found in the market as flour, whole grain, or pearled (with the husk removed). The second type is sweet sorghum which comes in syrup form with a rich flavor that’s similar to molasses and honeycomb. 

Both types of sorghum can be cooked the same way as couscous: on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker. If you cook it on the stovetop, allow plenty of time (around 1 hour) for the grain to cook fully. When using a pressure cooker, you will only need about 30 minutes of cooking time at high pressure. 

3. Short Grain Rice

Sorghum is an excellent alternative to couscous, as it offers a similar nutty flavor but with a slightly larger round shape. This can add a new dimension of texture and flavor to your dish. In addition, sorghum is high in protein, dietary fiber, iron, thiamin and niacin, making it a healthy option compared to couscous. 

To make sorghum as a couscous substitute, first rinse the grain with cold water. Then bring 1 part sorghum to 2 parts water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes before fluffing the grain with a fork. 

For added flavor to your dish, try using vegetable stock instead of water while cooking the sorghum. You can also add some butter or oil during cooking for added richness and texture. If you’re adding herbs or spices like garlic or cumin during cooking, wait until after you remove it from the heat so that their flavors are not cooked out. 

4. Riced Cauliflower

Riced cauliflower has become an increasingly popular substitute for couscous as a gluten-free, low-carb alternative. Cauliflower is a neutral-flavored vegetable that can easily take on the flavors of whatever it is cooked with, making it a great candidate for side dishes like couscous.

Additionally, it has a similar shape and texture to traditional couscous, which helps to create the same experience when eating a dish that calls for this grain. 

Cooking riced cauliflower as a couscous substitute is relatively straightforward. Begin by heating 1 tablespoon of oil, such as avocado or olive oil, in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in your riced cauliflower and sauté for about 5 minutes until lightly browned.

If desired, you can season the cauliflower at this point with salt and pepper or any other herbs or spices of your choice. Then continue cooking for another 5 minutes or until the cauliflower becomes soft and tender.

5. Millet

Millet is a diet staple from Asia and Africa, however, it has become increasingly popular in the western world particularly among those who are looking for a gluten-free option. It is high in protein, and contains various vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and more. Millet can easily replace couscous in any dish due to its similar texture and mild flavor.

To cook millet as a couscous substitute, the process is very simple. To begin with, measure out one cup of millet. Rinse it thoroughly under cold water until the water runs mostly clear. This helps to remove some of the bitter outer layer of the grain.

Next, transfer the millet to a small saucepan along with two cups of water or broth and bring it to a boil over high heat; then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes until all of the liquid has been absorbed into the millet. Once finished cooking, fluff up with a fork and let cool before serving. 

6. Cooked Rice

White rice is an excellent substitute for cooked couscous, as it is versatile and can be used in many of the same dishes. Rice has a mild flavor that lends itself to a wide range of cuisines, making it an ideal replacement for couscous.

To cook white rice, bring a pot of water to a boil and add one cup of long-grain white rice. Turn the heat down to low and cover it with a lid, leaving it to simmer until the water is completely absorbed—usually around 15 minutes. Afterward, fluff the rice with a fork before serving. 

When using white rice as a couscous substitute, it’s important to remember that it will absorb different amounts of liquid than couscous does. As such, you may need to adjust other ingredients in the dish accordingly.

For example, if your recipe calls for 3 cups of cooked couscous then you would use 4 cups of cooked white rice instead since the cooking liquid will be fully absorbed into the grains during cooking. Additionally, bear in mind that the cooking time for white rice may be slightly longer than that for couscous due to its larger grain size.

7. Cooked Lentils

Cooked lentils make an excellent substitute for couscous, particularly the milder red lentils. Lentils have a more distinct and strongly flavored profile, but with the right accompaniments, they can provide a satisfying meal. 

When substituting lentils for couscous, it’s important to consider the absorption rate of the lentils. Lentils absorb liquid more slowly than couscous, so you should use about 1/4 cup more water or broth for every cup of lentils used.

Once your cooked lentils have cooled off and absorbed all of their cooking liquid, you can season them up as you would with couscous. Try adding herbs like parsley or mint, seasonings such as cumin or garlic powder, and lemon juice for an extra zesty flavor. You can also add ingredients like onions, tomatoes or feta cheese for added texture and flavor variations. 

For added convenience, pre-cooked canned lentils can also be used instead of dry ones but these should always be thoroughly drained and rinsed beforehand.

Final Thought

As you can see, there is a wide variety of substitutes for couscous. Whether you are looking for a gluten-free option or just something to switch up the flavor of your dish, there is a substitute that can work for you. Before you decide on one, be sure to research the nutritional facts and cooking times of each type so you can make the best choice for your meal. Enjoy!

By Rosie Elliott

I’m Rosie. I’m a professional chef with experience in Western, Mediterranean, and Italian cuisine. I’ve been cooking for over 15 years, and I have two daughters that keep me busy!