Pearl Couscous With Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes Recipe (2024)

By Martha Rose Shulman

Pearl Couscous With Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes Recipe (1)

Total Time
20 to 25 minutes
Read community notes

This is a simple dish with few ingredients and lots of flavor. The sauce, inspired by Melissa Clark’s pasta with burst cherry tomatoes, is incredibly sweet and wraps itself around each nugget of couscous in the most delicious way. Cherry tomatoes break down in a hot pan in about five minutes, collapsing just enough to release some juice, which quickly thickens and caramelizes a bit. You want the tomatoes to stay partially intact so that you don’t just get skins floating in sauce, but you need to cook them long enough to achieve the caramelized flavor that makes a tomato sauce sweet. You can cook the couscous a couple of days ahead and reheat in a pan with a little olive oil or in the microwave.

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Yield:4 servings

  • 1⅓cups pearl couscous
  • 2quarts water
  • Salt to taste
  • 2tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2garlic cloves, minced or puréed
  • 1pound (about 3 cups) cherry tomatoes, the sweetest you can find, cut in half
  • ¼teaspoon sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1sprig basil
  • 2tablespoons, or more, slivered basil leaves

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (4 servings)

301 calories; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 5 grams monounsaturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 50 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams dietary fiber; 3 grams sugars; 9 grams protein; 1522 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Pearl Couscous With Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes Recipe (2)


  1. Step


    Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add couscous. Toast couscous, shaking pan or stirring often, until it colors very lightly and smells aromatic and toasty, a bit like popcorn. Immediately add 2 quarts water and salt to taste (be generous, as if you are cooking pasta) and boil 10 minutes, until couscous is al dente; it should not be mushy, and there should still be plenty of water in the pot. Drain through a strainer and rinse with cold water. Tap strainer against sink to drain well, then return couscous to the pot, cover pot with a kitchen towel, and return lid. Let sit for 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

  2. Step


    In a wide, heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic. As soon as it begins to sizzle and smell fragrant, usually in about 30 seconds, add cherry tomatoes and turn heat up to medium-high. Add sugar, salt and basil sprig and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes collapse and skins shrivel. Some of the tomato pulp will be in the pan, and should thicken and caramelize slightly, but there should still be pulp inside the skins. This should only take about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and remove basil sprig. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add a little fresh pepper if desired.

  3. Step


    Add couscous to the pan along with slivered basil, stir together, and serve.



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Cooking Notes

Wesam Abdallah

Welcome to the world of cultural appropriation, folks. Where Palestinian couscous (maftoul) becomes Israeli couscous. Funny what having the bigger guns does to history, isn't it? Apparently, my grandmother is a time traveler or something, as she was making this long before Israel's existence.

Mark R

This was great and easy to do. There is an ambiguity in the recipe though which should be cleaned up. At the end of step 1 it says to "return lid" to the pot. However, nowhere before in the recipe did it say to put the lid on a first time. I don't think the couscous should be cooked with the lid on. Instead, "return lid" should be changed to "cover with lid." (Or, If I'm wrong and the intention was to cook the couscous with a lid on the pot, then after "boil" it should say "covered".)


Every middle eastern country has a couscous recipe (and many are exactly the same), so relax buddy.


Love this recipe, have made several times. Simple and awesome for weeknight meals. Can add protein (sweet sausage, pancetta, grilled chicken) to make it a full meal.

Mark R

(cont'd from prior note)

Perhaps a better way to do this would be to toast the couscous in a separate pan (one more to clean up, but it won't be very difficult given all it was used for was the toasting), and meanwhile bring water to a boil in the large saucepan. Then when it's boiling, add the separately toasted couscous and boil for 10 mins.

Thoughts anyone?


Unfortunately, most of the Israeli couscous I have seen in western shops are pretoasted. So, make sure what you've got is not toasted or simply skip the toasting bit.

Anne M

This is a good quick dish. I added chickpeas to the tomato mixture for protein. I would definitely make again but would add more garlic and black pepper to give it a little more flavor.


Add cararmelized red onions and a few splashes of balsamic vinegar with red chili flakes to the tomatoes. Divine!

Barbara from Ottawa

It's quite different from the other couscous. It's a wheat pasta shaped in tiny balls -- developed in Israel during a rice shortage in the 1950s (it was originally shaped like rice). Very neutral in flavor, so it takes on the flavors of whatever sauces and aromatics you use. Lovely texture and looks pretty on the plate.


If you don't have any basil dried oregano works really well as a replacement.


So many ways to adapt it. Following other comments I heated water first to prevent couscous sitting in cold water and Getting mushy while it comes to a boil. Regarding the question of what is a ‘sprig’ of basil, I put in a whole stem, with all the leaves attached. I removed it when finished. added some left over roasted peppers and onions to the tomatoes. Lots of slivered basil at the end. An excellent addition was a handful of toasted almond slivers for flavor and crunch on top before serving


I followed the directions to the “t” and found this recipe to be quite bland.


Added pesto cube, no basil. Excellent! Also cooked 2 cups couscous



Judi M.

Most of the commercially-available couscous I’ve seen is labeled “toasted.” Don’t be deceived. Brown it yourself in a bit of olive oil before continuing with your recipe. I cook for two, so I can boil the water for cooking in my microwave while I’m re-toasting the couscous on the stovetop. The flavor is so much better!


Was Curious bc of the comments about cultural appropriation and origin of Pearl or Israeli Couscous so I found this; but maybe Wikipedia has a bigger gun... in the end does it really matter

eas 2/22/23

This was tasty. I followed package instructions on the Israeli couscous but it was too dry. 1 cup dry to 1.5 cups water probably about right. Good flavor of tomatoes. Used dry basil


I made this in my instant pot using couscous/water proportion from another recipe: 1.75 c couscous, 2 c water (I actually used veggie broth for more flavor). Sauteed garlic in oil in the IP, then added dried couscous and stirred to coat with oil. Pour in broth, tomatoes on top, 2 minutes at high pressure, 10 minutes release. Stirred in the basil and added a squeeze of lemon juice after removing the lid. Looking forward to leftovers for lunch!


If you’re using fresh, summer farmers market tomatoes, don’t add sugar! They are sweet enough; this was too sweet with the added sugar. Once the tomatoes are really going, add a bit of sherry vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan.


Heavenly. Per some suggestions I put some stock in the couscous water, added dried oregano and red pepper flakes to the tomato sauce (I didn’t have basil on hand) and also cooked up some spicy Impossible sausage that I added in at the end, as well as some mozzarella pearls. Incredibly flavorful and really easy to make.


We weren’t impressed with this dish at all. I prepared a half-recipe: 1/2 lb. tomatoes and 2/3 cup couscous. If I try this again I will use less couscous. I added the boiling water to the toasted couscous and it worked just fine. I should note that my dry pearl couscous was labeled “toasted”, but it was a uniform ivory color before cooking. Next time I’ll use more basil and/or chicken broth instead of water and see if there’s improvement.


We thought this was pretty bland. Will add more seasoning if I make it again.


I also added red, orange, and yellow paprika for the taste and color, which worked out really well!


Add pine nuts and feta


This is absolutely delicious; one of my favorite comfort foods. Comes together in a flash and it’s just perfect.


Can this be made a day ahead?


3/2/21Kinda bland as-is. Try adding carmelized onions, splash of balsamic, red chili flakes to the tomatoes. More garlic and pepper. Could add spinach? Dried oregano?

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Pearl Couscous With Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes Recipe (2024)
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