Israeli Couscous with Sugar Snap Peas & Asparagus

© 2013
© 2013

This is a really beautiful dish I have been wanting to post for a while.

Couscous has been around for centuries (as far back as the 13th Century). It is is a North African staple and believed to have been invented in Algeria and Morocco following the 11th Century collapse of the Zirid kingdom. In the eastern Arab countries it has been known  as moghrabiyyeh, “the North African dish” since the 13th century.

Despite it being an ancient dish popular in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, couscous only gained popularity in the US within the last 20 – 25 years. Typical couscous is small (roughly 2 mm), round, pasta-like granules made from semolina and wheat flour and dried. Israeli couscous is similar to couscous in that it is a round pasta-like granule made from semolina flour and wheat flour. Unlike typical couscous, Israeli couscous (also known as pearl couscous), used in this dish, is much larger and toasted instead of dried. The larger size and toasted character gives Israeli couscous a nutty flavor and a sturdy composition resulting a chewy bite that allows it stand up to sauce.

In Israel, Israeli couscous is known as “Ptitim.” According to Osem food company, Ptitim was invented during the austerity period in Israel’s early rebirth in the 1950s. During this time period rice was scarce and there was a need to provide for the needs of the Mizrahi immigrants, for whom rice was a dietary staple. Allegedly, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, asked Eugen Propper, one of the founders of the Osem food company, to quickly devise a wheat-based substitute to rice. The company took up the challenge and developed ptitim, which is made of hard wheat flour and roasted in an oven. The product was instantly a success, after which ptitim made in the shape of small, dense balls (which the company termed “couscous”) was added to the original rice-shaped ptitim. Consequently, Ptitim was nicknamed “Ben-Gurion’s Rice” by the people. Cute story, huh?

Food historians take issue with Osem food company’s story and claim Israeli couscous is simply a marketing term for what was known previously as North African berkukes or Palestinian matfoul that was popular in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Regardless of where it originated and the delay in reaching the US, I’m glad it is here. I love the pearly little pasta balls with their chewy, yet tender, nutty flavor. Almost any recipe using a grain, i.e. barley, quinoa, or bulgur can substitute Israeli couscous instead. Of course, you will lose the grains nutrients and fiber but sometimes you just have to eat what you like instead of the healthy stuff. Right? Israeli couscous a very versatile ingredient that can be used in salads, soups, sides or as a base for chicken or fish. It is wonderful when prepared like a rice pilaf. This recipe uses Israeli couscous as a side dish with vegetables. It is simple and quick, full of flavor and perfect for weeknight meals.


  • 4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth (a good recipe can be found on the post Spicy Paprika Cauliflower Soup with Dumplings.)
  • 2-1/2 cups asparagus spears, diagonally cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shelled fresh green peas or frozen, thawed
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese


Whisk 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, and lemon peel in small bowl; set dressing aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add couscous.

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Sauté until couscous is a golden brown color, roughly 5 minutes.

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Add 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth, increase heat, and bring to boil.

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Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender, about 10 minutes. If the couscous is too dry, add more broth by tablespoonful to moisten and allow to be absorbed into the couscous.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add asparagus, sugar snap peas, green peas, and remaining minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until al dente, about 3 minutes.

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When done, transfer vegetables to large bowl. Add couscous and drizzle with dressing. Add chives and parmesan cheese and toss.

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Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

© 2012

NOTE: For a more savory, rounder flavored couscous, use a good chicken broth instead of the vegetable broth.

4 thoughts on “Israeli Couscous with Sugar Snap Peas & Asparagus”

  1. Yay for Israeli Couscous! I’m really surprised it isn’t more popular. I think a bowl of israeli couscous cooked in homemade chicken stock with a little salt is the ultimate comfort food.

    1. Thanks for dropping by and the comment. I agree with you about being an ultimate comfort food. We like Israeli couscous a lot. We also like couscous but the ability to toast the larger Israeli couscous to bring out the additional depth of flavor is amazing. We use Israeli couscous for sides and salads. In fact, you can modify this recipe by adding some halved cherry tomatoes, chilling it and using it as a salad. The brightness of the lemon with the tender chewy Israeli couscous and the depth of flavor added by the veggies makes an unbelievable lunch salad. Baby Lady likes it a lot.

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