Stinging Nettle and Israeli Couscous With Lemon, Parsley and Capers

by | Dec 9, 2008

Saturday at the farmers market I was talked into buying some stinging nettle and I must admit, I was pretty skeptical. Who wants to put something in their mouth that has stinging in the name?

But despite my reluctance, I could not deny that the nettle (to avoid negative connotations I am going to ditch the “stinging” part) was beautiful, fluffy and green, things that I generally associate with delicious. Besides, I pride myself on not being afraid of trying and cooking new foods.

I accepted the challenge. Now what to do with these weird things?

Eating the nettle alone did not sound particularly appealing. If I really love it I could always go back and get some more, right? I had heard that nettle has an earthy, green flavor, so I thought it might pair well with pasta, garlic and lemon.

I do not usually keep pasta in the house (I prefer fresh pasta if I am going to bother eating it), but I did recently purchase some Israeli couscous from Trader Joe’s. Israeli couscous, also called ptitim, is basically just giant couscous. It is made out of semolina wheat, the same kind of flour Italian pasta is made from. (No, couscous is not a whole grain).

I was starting to form a mental image of my meal: Mediterranean style Israeli couscous with greens and garlic. Oh! And I just bought a beautiful Meyer lemon at the farmers market. It’s juice and zest would be a perfect complement to brighten the dish. And since we are going Mediterranean, Italian parsley and capers would be lovely accents.

On a whim I decided to roast an acorn squash as well and use the nettle dish as a stuffing. It was good, but I do not think it was the best pairing and I do not recommend it. I looked nice, but the flavor profiles were a little off.

The nettle and couscous dish on its own was spectacular though. I wish I would have paired it with my Romanesco broccoli instead.

I should also confess that my lips are stinging a bit, but in the good way.

Stinging Nettle and Israeli Couscous With Lemon, Parsley and Capers
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 bag of stinging nettle
  • 1/2 cup dry Israeli couscous
  • 1/3 bouillon cube
  • 1/2 shallot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 Meyer lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tbsp capers

Start some water boiling. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan on medium heat and add couscous. Toast couscous in olive oil, stirring frequently until light brown, about 5 minutes (just following the instructions on the box here). Slowly add 1/2 cup of boiling water to couscous, add bouillon cube and return to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes.

In the mean time dice your shallot, garlic and parsley. Rinse your nettle in a strainer (you can touch it a little, but I would keep your hands off as much as possible). Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the chopped shallot. Cook shallot for 2 minutes then add garlic. After 30-60 seconds add nettle and salt, then stir and cover. After one minute, uncover the nettle, stir again and add parsley.

If the couscous is ready, add it to the pan. If not, turn off the heat until couscous is ready to add. Stir couscous into the greens until well mixed. Squeeze lemon juice into the pan and add grate lemon zest directly on top of the dish. Add capers, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. This is probably enough for 2 people as a side dish. Yum!

Anyone else have any nettle ideas?

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17 Responses to “Stinging Nettle and Israeli Couscous With Lemon, Parsley and Capers”

  1. Anonymous says:

    So if you touch the uncooked nettle, does it sting you? I wonder if the farm that sells it has liability insurance…..?

  2. Darya Pino says:

    anon:It has stickers, but you can touch it a little. I wouldn’t rub it on your face or anything. Because the spines are so thin, cooking makes them go away completely.

  3. Karin says:

    So it looks like the nettle cooked down a bit to a smaller volume like other leafy greans- true? And in the end, would you still describe the nettles flavor as earthy/green? This is one that I’ve definately never seen in my farmers market or grocery stores.

  4. NB says:

    Rub it one the face? Sounds like a great idea to me: I can just see 50 years ago someone rubbing papaya on their face, now they sell papaya (papain) in a Kiel’s tube for $50. I’m calling it right now, stinging nettle will be the next big thing, selling in a tube for $50. Someone find me a marketer……

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  6. Matthew says:

    Nettle is sold (and picked) at several locations up here in PDX…good stuff, haven’t worked with it yet though. Lemon, parsley, and capers are a wonderful combination…I should try it with quinoa.These inspire me to post up some of my own recipes…

  7. Mike says:

    So is this the same kind of stinging nettle that stung me when I was a kid in the woods? It looks kind of smaller and non-threatening in your picture, I remember it having sharp spine-like pokers and big purple/blue flowerery things. Same bush?

  8. Darya Pino says:

    @KarinYes, the nettle cooked down quite a bit. The half bag I bought was enough to pepper my dish.I was terrified of the nettle so I masked the flavor a bit with lemon, parsley and capers. What was left to taste was green, slightly herbal and earthy.—–@MatthewI definitely recommend it and I think quinoa would be a great pairing. Keep us posted on how it goes!—–@MikeI think we had this discussion before.I grew up in So Cal too, and I believe you have the wrong name for your assailant. Stinging nettle is exactly what I showed in the picture. I think you are referring to bull thistle.

  9. Matt Shook says:

    I’m reiterating some points here but what the heck…Mike, those nasty purple flowered spiny plants are probably Artichoke thistle (very common in SoCal) or as mentioned by Darya, bull thistle. I’ve worked as a naturalist and habitat restoration specialist all over Southern California so I ran into these invasive plants quite often.I believe there are three common varieties of nettle within the California Floristic Province…Western nettle (Hesperocnide tenella), Creek nettle (Urtica dioica ssp. holosericea), and Dwarf nettle (Urtica urens).As mentioned before…cooking the leaves of young nettles removes the stinging toxins…nettle can be used in any recipe calling for spinach or chard. Nettle can be gathered by using heavy gloves without problems.

  10. Darya Pino says:

    @mattThanks for all the great info! I once saw those artichoke flowers at the farmers market. Do you know if you can eat them?

  11. Matt Shook says:

    @DaryaI’ve never tried myself, but I have one naturalist friend who did and he said they were awful…which I found disappointing because I love traditional artichoke. You can eat them, but they tend to be a bit on the bitter side…If anyone is looking for food from the hills of SoCal I would highly suggest Coastal Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis fruit (which must have all needles scraped off prior to consuming) and buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum). Prickly Pear Cactus fruit tastes like a combination of pomegranate and kiwi…at least it did to me. Buckwheat seeds can be harvested and made into a pancake like item. Yep, it’s the same buckwheat pancakes as the traditional breakfast staple.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I remember when Harry Potter met the Stinging Nettle.- Daniel

  13. Dianlu Jiang says:

    thanks for sharing your experience. I had the herb many years before in China. I miss the stuff. so please tell me where can I get the herb in LA.

    thanks

  14. Dan Faibish says:

    Hi Darya,

    I enjoy very much reading your posts. I just saw this one about the Israeli couscous. As proud as I am of the Israeli culinary culture, I must say that Israeli couscous is not couscous at all…just small pasta, made of regular flour.

    Dan

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