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Couscous “Risotto”

4 Servings

45 minutes

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Traditional risotto is made with starchy medium-grain Italian rice. This “risotto,” modeled on a dish we had in Tel Aviv, uses pearl couscous (which actually is a pasta) and a cooking technique similar to the classic risotto method to produce “grains” with a rich, creamy consistency. The wheaty flavor of pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous) is nicely complemented by the salty, nutty notes of Parmesan cheese and the grassiness of fresh parsley.

Couscous “Risotto” with Asparagus:

Trim 1 pound pencil-thin asparagus, then cut the spears on the diagonal into ½-inch pieces; reserve the stalks and tips separately. Follow the recipe to add the 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pan; after the couscous has simmered for 5 minutes, stir in the asparagus stalks. Cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, then add the asparagus tips. Cook, stirring, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the asparagus is tender, another 2 minutes. Continue with the recipe to add the Parmesan, parsley and remaining butter.




Don’t allow the onion to brown. The assertive bittersweet flavor of caramelized onion will easily overwhelm the other flavors in the dish.

45 minutes


  • 4

    tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces

  • 1

    medium yellow onion, chopped


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Peter G.

you mention asparagus in the directions but don't list it in the ingredients? What's up w/ that?

Janelle C.

Hi Peter,

Couscous Risotto with Asparagus is a variation of the recipe. It's completely optional, which is why it's left out of the full ingredients list.

The Milk Street Team

Bianca T.

This was a pleasant surprise! I was wary about the liquid to couscous ratio, thinking it was too much liquid. But it was spot on. I used a whole wheat israeli couscous, and topped with braised leeks and mushrooms. Sausage would be a lovely accompaniment too. Thanks for the fresh take!

Anne F.

How would it taste with regular couscous, rather than Israeli couscous?

Janelle C.

Hi Anne,

You'll need pearl couscous, which is sometimes referred to as Israeli couscous as mentioned in the recipe description.

The Milk Street Team

Heather H.

My local shop is out of couscous. Is there any other small pasta substitute you would recommend?

Hyman H.

Delicious. I substituted broccoli - parboiled - for the asparagus. It worked perfectly, Thanks.

Lisa A.

Tried this but ended up with too much liquid ☹️

Jennifer B.

I used regular couscous, and though a bit soupy, it was fine. I served it with slow cooked italian bone-in chicken breast and it was perfect for soaking up all the chicken juices.

Kevin S.

yeah three cups water was too much...I looked at the version with the asparagus which I though this was based on the pictures and that recipe called for FOUR cups of water. That would have been a soup not a risotto.

Victoria T.

Please remove this recipe and replace it with the one for risotto that has aspargus as an option. This has too much water (4 cups instead of 3), uses oil not butter, has no cooking times, and was an absolute mess. Usually your recipes are terrific, but this is a waste of good ingredients. I salvaged it with three ounces of cheese (not 1), a double dose of pepper, and it was then just OK.

Steven S.

Made this tonight and it was very good. I just added the asparagus stems with 6 minutes cooking time left and put in the tips with 3 minutes remaining. The only change I made was to use 2.5 cups of water instead of 3. It really was like risotto except much easier since you didn't have to constantly stir and add more liquid.