Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Melissa Reome
This post is sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Rest assured all opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.
Nothing beats a shrimp recipe with a lot of flavor that you can make in 30 minutes or less that seems like it took much longer. This Middle Eastern spiced shrimp and couscous recipe is the perfect idea for a quick lunch or weeknight dinner. The shrimp are cooked with the warm flavors of cumin, allspice and paprika. The couscous has fresh pops of flavor from lemon, parsley, tomatoes, pine nuts and currants. The flavors all come together in delicious harmony.
If you’ve never had couscous, it is an excellent alternative to traditional pasta, rice or quinoa in this application. Couscous is versatile and is quick and easy to prepare.
Couscous With Tabouli: The Best of Both Worlds
This is not a traditional Moroccan couscous dish by any means but is definitely inspired by some of the flavors in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The other flavor profile included in this dish is inspired by my love of tabouli (also tabouleh, tabouli, tabbouleh, taboulah) which is popular in the Middle East. Tabbouleh is a vegetarian salad made with bulgar wheat, parsley, onion, tomato, mint, lemon and olive oil. This recipe for shrimp and couscous is a perfect marriage of the two. The addition of a lot of fresh parsley, lemon and tomato to this recipe are an homage to my love of Tabbouleh.
What is Couscous Made Of?
Couscous is a type of pasta which is made with semolina flour from durum wheat. Many people however, mistake it for a separate type of grain.
Different Types of Couscous: Three Types
Moroccan Couscous : The smallest of the three types.
Israeli (Pearl Couscous): Israeli couscous is similar to the size of peppercorns and even as big as tapioca pearls.
Lebanese: The largest of the three types.
How Couscous is Made
Couscous is a tiny man made pasta as opposed to a grain. What we buy in the grocery store is actually instant couscous. I equate it to instant rice which might take five minutes to cook vs non-instant rice that might take 20 minutes. Instant couscous is pre-steamed then dried to create what we typically commercially buy in the United States.
Is Couscous Gluten Free?
Couscous is made from durum wheat. It is not gluten free and not suitable for someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. If you are looking for a gluten free alternative, rice is certainly an option.
How to Cook Couscous
Couscous to Water Ratio
Using equal parts of water, stock or broth will give your couscous perfect consistency if making on the stove, in the oven or the microwave. If using a rice cooker, typically 1 and 1/4 cup of liquid for every cup of couscous should suffice. Whichever method you choose, don’t forget to cover it after adding the hot liquid so it can absorb all of the liquid.
How to Cook Israeli Couscous vs Moroccan Couscous
Because Israeli couscous is so much larger than the Moroccan variety, it will take longer to absorb the liquid you are cooking it with. Generally speaking, the Moroccan variety takes about ten minutes and the larger varieties may take a few more minutes.
The Recipe: Shrimp and Couscous
This recipe comes together from start to finish in under thirty minutes. If you truly wanted to, you could even make the couscous ahead of time and just cook the shrimp to add when you are ready to eat. Although couscous can be eaten warm or cold, when adding protein to it, I personally enjoy it warm. If I was only eating the couscous, I would enjoy it either warm or cold.
To get started, toast the pine nuts (pignoli, pinoli) in a dry skillet that has been warmed over medium heat. Toss the pine nuts until they are lightly brown and fragrant.
These Pine Nuts Are Expensive! Can I Substitute With Something Else?
Pine nuts are surely pricey. They are actually the edible seeds of pine trees. They take a long time to grow and are complicated to harvest. Pine trees might take over twenty years to produce seeds.
If you don’t want to splurge on pine nuts, lightly toasted almonds would be a welcome substitute in this recipe. Not a fan of nuts or are allergic? Leave them out all together.
After the pine nuts are toasted and set aside, sauté shallots in olive oil (or another suitable oil) in a saucepan until translucent. Add the garlic.
I prefer to use my own homemade chicken stock but store bought boxed or canned stock or broth would be a suitable alternative. I preheated my stock in a separate pot but you may add unheated stock directly to the skillet with the shallots and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil then add the couscous.
After the liquid boils, turn off the heat and cover. After ten minutes, fluff the couscous with a fork. Then add the currants, pine nuts, parsley, lemon juice and zest.
For this recipe I am using Wild Red Argentinian Shrimp from Omaha Steaks. Caught off the coast of South America, they are fresh, sweet, and the texture and flavor is more like rich, succulent lobster than any other shrimp. You may substitute other varieties of shrimp. Just make sure they are peeled and deveined prior to using in the recipe. Red Argentinian shrimp also cook faster than traditional varieties.
How to Cook Shrimp
How to Cook Frozen Shrimp
If you plan on defrosting shrimp, do it the day you plan on eating them. If you choose to defrost shrimp in cold water, pat them dry on paper towels prior to putting them in a large skillet.
The Red Argentinian shrimp are the only variety I have never made sure were completely defrosted prior to cooking. This variety is quite unique in that they are more like lobster in firmness and taste. Is it okay to defrost these shrimp completely? Definitely, just be cautious not to overcook them.
How to Long to Cook Shrimp
Cook the Red Argentinian shrimp three to four minutes on each side over medium-high heat when being cooked from frozen if cooking in a skillet. Note, if grilling other varieties of shrimp or larger or smaller shrimp, cook time will vary. Since red Argentinian shrimp are indeed red when they are RAW please make sure you note how long they are cooking and test one for doneness prior to serving. Shrimp should be 140°F when fully cooked.
When cooking other varieties of shrimp, I peel and devein them first, then run them under cold water in a colander. Within about 5 minutes most shrimp will be defrosted. Drain off any additional water after the shrimp are fully defrosted and pat the surface dry with a paper towel to promote a better sear. Most shrimp will cook up in about five minutes. If you are cooking extra large or jumbo shrimp, they will likely take another minute or two. Putting an exact time on cook time is difficult because there will be a variance in stove or grill temperatures and size of shrimp.
Regardless, investing in a good instant read thermometer is always a great way to guarantee your food is cooked perfectly every time.
Mediterranean Spiced Shrimp with Couscous Recipe Substitutions
Feel free to experiment with different flavor profiles when making couscous and shrimp. Don’t like parsley? Cilantro would be a great alternative. Don’t like tomatoes? Leave them out. This is a flexible recipe that you can easily personalize. The joy of cooking is being able to make a recipe your own so don’t be afraid to experiment. Enjoy!
Middle Eastern Spiced Shrimp And Couscous
- 16 oz peeled and deveined raw shrimp
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp paprika sweet
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 cups couscous (durum wheat/Moroccan)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 3 tsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup shallots, minced
- 1/2 cup currants may substitute raisins
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (pigoli), toasted may substitute toasted almonds if desired
- 1 lemon juice of one lemon and zest
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tomato vine ripened, chopped optional
- 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- In large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. Add shallots and cook 2 to 3 minutes being cautious not to burn. Add garlic, cook one minute until fragrant.
- Add stock to couscous and bring to a boil then turn off heat. Stir then cover. Keep covered for 10 minutes.
- In a skillet over medium heat, add pine nuts (pignoli). Do not add any oil to the skillet. Toast pine nuts until fragrant and lightly browned. Add to couscous.
- Add lemon juice, lemon zest, currants, parsley and tomatoes to couscous. Fluff couscous with fork and cover with lid while cooking shrimp. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat skillet over medium-high heat on stove or on grill with olive oil, ghee, clarified butter or vegetable oil. Add frozen shrimp to pan and cook 3-4 minutes on each side until fully cooked. Note: if using Red Argentinian shrimp, they will appear cooked even with raw. Shrimp are finished cooking when internal temperature reaches 140°F on an instant read thermometer.
- Remove shrimp from pan just prior to them being finished cooking and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to skillet and add cumin, allspice and paprika. Cook spices for 30 seconds then add shrimp back to skillet. Add 1 tablespoon butter and stir until melted and shrimp are thoroughly cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add shrimp over the couscous and serve immediately.