Ultimate Veggie Couscous

I was trying a friend’s couscous the other day ; he got the vegetarian one. I tasted it, and I thought ; that’s not a vegetarian couscous. That’s just a couscous without meat ! It felt bland, lacking depth and taste.

I was not happy with it, and I felt driven by the challenge of making an actual vegetarian couscous. One that would in no way pale in comparison with the traditional couscous.

I’m so glad I did, as there seems to be a real void in terms of veggie couscous offering. Granted, my version takes some work ; but a classic couscous does too, doesn’t it ?

The Ultimate Veggie Couscous needed a meat replacement, as I didn’t feel you could rely on veggies only in terms of texture and in comparison with the Classic Couscous experience. For me, the tastiest couscous is Lamb Couscous, so I picked Jackfruit, which is close to the lamb’s usual texture in the classic couscous once cooked and shredded. To give it some taste, I worked on a broth reduction, elevated by mustard, harissa, vinegar, honey and a bit of liquid smoke. But I did not neglect the veggies themselves, and treated them like meat, browining them in a pan with butter and oil. I also relied on some flavour boosters such as msg, or kelp for my broth, which helped me bringing the depth I needed.

If you haven’t eaten a good couscous in a long time because you’ve turned vegetarian or vegan, do try this version (if you’re willing to spend a few hours in the kitchen, that is !)

Ultimate Veggie Couscous- Recipe

Ingredients – Advice & key points

  • Ras el-hanout : This is one of the two king spices in any Algerian kitchen. You can usually find it quite easily. You might find two kinds of ras el-hanout : a yellow one, and a red one. I use the yellow one. The yellow ras el-hanout is rich in turmeric, which gives it its yellow color, while the red gets its color from the dominant spice in the blend, the sweet chili pepper, which gives it a slightly spicier flavor.
  • Couscous : How couscous is traditionally cooked is one of the main reasons why this dish is so tasty. It takes a bit of work and patience, but you need to steam your couscous two to three times. Two is enough in my view ; three will take your couscous up a notch in terms of softness. Besides, do take your time when separating couscous grains (see video) ! I recommend using medium-sized couscous ; this is mine and my mother’s favourite.
  • Cilantro, beldi lemon, msg, kelp : You can skip those items if you don’t feel like including them or don’t have them. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the liquid smoke though, which adds a really interesting smoky flavour that elevates the dish.

Let’s make some couscous !!

Difficulty: Intermediate Prep Time 60 min Cook Time 100 min Total Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 4
Best Season: Winter


Of course you can get an aromatic and tasty couscous broth without meat ! Between condiments such as mustard, harissa and beldi lemon, a few fresh herbs, and some specific flavour enhancers such as msg or liquid smoke or kelp, there are so many hacks one can use. This is an actually flavourful vegetarian couscous, which I am so glad to suggest as an alternative for all my vegetarian friends. 


For the veggies and broth

For the Jackfruit "meat"


  1. Prep your ingredients

    Slice your onion.

    Put 20g butter and 1 tbsp oil in a pan on medium heat. Add your onion, with 1 tsp salt. Allow your onion to cook for around 30 minutes, until caramelized.

    Quickly rinse your couscous under cold water, then put it in a large container. 

    Cut your sweet potato, your turnip and green bell pepper into chunks.

    Cut your carrots (fully peeled) and zucchini (half peeled) in 2 inches long chunks. 

    Thinly mince your Beldi lemon, your garlic and ginger (you can use powdered ginger if you don't have fresh one). 

    Break off your celery stalk three times. 

    Mince your cilantro leaves. 

    Rinse your preservered salted jackfruit and drain it. 

  2. Couscous time

    Heat up a couscous maker filled with 1l water. Bring it to a boil.

    Now that your couscous is dry, add around 2 tablespoons olive oil upon it, and a teaspoon of salt. 

    Rub it between your fingers (see video) until you've removed all the couscous lumps.

    Put your couscous on the top part of the couscous maker and cover.

    Once steam escapes, remove the lid, and let it steam around 15 minutes.

    Remove from heat and add to your previous couscous container. Add half a glass of water upon it. 

    Set aside. 

  3. Onto the stove

    Remove your onion when cooked.

    To a Dutch oven, add 20g butter and 2 tbsp olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Add your veggies except celery, and brown them in several instalments (I did mine in three instalments). 

    Put back all your veggies in your Dutch oven. Add your cooked onions, too.

    Add your spices along with 1 level tbsp salt, and mix. Roast your spices for 1 to 2 minutes. Add your garlic and ginger, let it sizzle 30 seconds. Add your tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute. 

    Pour your water while scraping the bottom of the pan. Add your jackfruit, your kelp and msg, then cover and cook for 40 minutes.

  4. Finish cooking

    After 40 minutes, remove the zucchini, green bell pepper and put them in one bowl, and Jackfruit in another. 

    In a small saucepan, filter 8 ladles of the broth using a strainer. Let it reduce around 20 minutes while your veggies finish cooking.

    Meanwhile, shred your jackfruit using two forks and preheat your oven at 200°C. 

    When the broth is thicker, add your sauce ingredients. Pour 2/3 of the sauce on your shredded jackfruit. 

    Layer your jackfruit on a baking tray linen with paper parchment. 

    Insert in the oven for 20 minutes. 

  5. Final step, duh !

    When your veggies are cooked, add your Beldi lemon and 2 tablespoons harissa.

    While your jackfruit cooks, steam your couscous on top of some boiling water one last time for about 15 minutes, and heat up your broth with vegetables.

    Assemble : some couscous, then a healthy amount of veggies and broth, some jackfruit, some cilantro leaves. 

    Et voilà !! You're finally done !


  • This sauce freezes well. I definitely advise you to make a large amount, since the cooking time is quite long, then freeze it in batches (I pour individual portions in plastic bags). You will be so glad to find one on a lazy winter night. 
  • This amount will enable you to serve 10 plates of pappardelle al ragù, or 4 plates of pappardelle and 1 lasagna bake. 
Keywords: home made, lamb, soup, chorba, frik, barley, oriental, comforting
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