Instant Pot Lemon Asparagus Couscous

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dill lemon cous cous

“Couscous – the food so nice they named it twice.”

And for anyone who doesn’t get my stoner comedy references:

What the eff is Couscous?

Couscous is an incredibly versatile ingredient – with a chewy texture similar to pasta, couscous is actually rolled semolina or processed durum wheat. There is a bit of debate as to whether it is a pasta or grain online, though I tend to lean towards something pasta-like than grain-like as it is not something you would harvest; like quinoa for example.

While there are different kinds of couscous, it is a dish most popular around the Mediterranean regions. In these regions, couscous is more akin to a rice alternative rather than a pasta.

For this recipe, I am using an Israeli couscous also known as ptitim – which is actually… not really considered couscous. But the name is used interchangably with English-speakers. Invented in the 1950s when rice was scarce, ptitim is a pearl shaped pasta (about the size of a peppercorn).

Israeli couscous is larger than traditional couscous and also more pasta-like than what most would consider couscous. It also has a slightly different process to make which involves toasting the semolina first, which results in larger pearls with a chewier texture and almost nutty flavor.

The best way I can think to describe Israeli couscous is like if you made orzo, but it was shaped into pearls rather than flattened.

Couscous is not only the term to used to refer to the pearls themselves, but also the name of the dish! Couscous is a combination of the couscous along with a variety of ingredients, but most traditionally, stew is poured on top.

lemon asparagus couscous

For this recipe, I am using all of my favorite spring-time ingredients to make a sweet and sour couscous side dish that will definitely become the star of any meal.

What You Need to Make Couscous

Here’s what I used to make the perfect spring couscous!

  • couscous – of course. I am using Israeli style couscous or ptitim, which are pasta-like pearls the size of a peppercorn or small caper.
  • chicken broth – you can definitely make this vegetarian and swap out the chicken broth for something veg friendly! Chicken broth just adds a boost of savory flavor.
  • sweet peppers – to bump up the sweetness.
  • shallots – a sweeter cousin of regular onions, it sautes in a breeze.
  • dill – one of my favorite spring time herbs!
  • asparagus – seasonally, it’s best to grab asparagus at the beginning of spring when it’s fresh out of the ground.
  • capers – for a pop of salty flavor!
  • hot/cayenne/pepper honey – for added sweetness and a hint of heat. I love hot honies because they add a ton of sweet and savory notes!
  • lemon infused coconut oil – I found lemon infused coconut oil and I have been dying to use it on a semi-healthy dish like this one. You can totally use plain coconut oil.
  • lemons – add tons of acidity that meshes amazingly with the asparagus and capers especially.

Couscous Cooking Methods

There are different ways you can prepare this dish. For my recipe and instructions down below in the recipe care, we will be using an Instant Pot to pressure cook the couscous to perfection.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, that’s no big deal. You can follow the basic steps outlined below to cook your couscous. The biggest difference between cooking in the pressure cooker and cooking on the stove top is that the pressure cooker will cook the couscous in five minutes whereas the stovetop method could take fifteen to get the same results.

Stove Top Method:

  1. Saute the veggies along until the shallots are softened and just beginning to caramelize, about ten minutes. Remove the veggies from the pot and then add the couscous to the pot without cleaning it. Saute the couscous for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Pour in the broth, cover and simmer until the couscous is tender and the broth is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Return the sauted veggies to the pot along with the honey, lemon and a touch of butter. Fluff up the cous cous and garnish with fresh dill.

I served my couscous as the bedding beneath a salmon filet stuffed with shrimp (no recipe for this, by the way, I just grabbed it from my local grocery store!). It’s sweet and tangy – and something just different enough that it will definitely be the talk of your next cookout.

dill lemon cous cous

Instant Pot Lemon Asparagus Couscous

The Starving Chef
Sweet and tangy couscous that's perfect as a spring time side dish.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Healthy, Instant Pot, Mediterranean, Quick & Easy
Servings 4


  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 ½ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons lemon infused coconut oil or plain coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons multi-color sweet peppers chopped
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 3 sprigs fresh dill stems removed
  • 10 stalks asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons hot honey or can sub plain honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons lemon butter
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • Put the Instant Pot (IP) on saute mode on the "more/high" setting. When the screen reads hot, add the coconut oil and peppers, shallot, garlic, capers and asparagus. Saute until tender, about 3-4 minutes, then add the couscous. Continue to saute until the vegetables are just beginning to brown – another 5-8 minutes.
  • Add the chicken broth and turn off the IP. Put the IP into pressure cook mode on the "more/high" setting. Stir then put on the lid to seal. Pressure cook for 5 minutes.
  • When the IP is finished cooking, carefully perform a quick release or allow the IP to depressurize naturally over 15 minutes.
  • Add the butter, honey and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Fluff gently with a fork until well combined. Garnish with fresh dill, as desired. Serve hot or cold. Enjoy!
Keyword asparagus, couscous, lemon
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