Ode to asparagus

A bit like Danny Devito, British asparagus season is short but sweet. You can buy it all year round but it’s a pale imitation of the stuff you’ll find during the spring and summer months.

Asparagus is full of vitamins A and C, potassium, iron and calcium and it’s also a diuretic – and as we all know, it makes your pee smell. That’s because (here comes the science bit) it contains a sulphurous compound called mercaptan, which is also found in rotten eggs, onions and garlic.  When your digestive system breaks down mercaptan, by-products are released that cause the strange smell.

Don’t let that put you off though; in-season asparagus has long been regarded as a delicacy and is delicious lightly steamed and seasoned with salt and pepper, lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

In this salad, the asparagus is the star of the show, with zesty lemon and salty pistachios as its backing singers. The giant couscous and chickpeas make it a substantial meal and it’s perfect for a packed lunch or picnic – or a speedy supper as it takes under 10 minutes to put together. If you can’t get hold of purple sprouting broccoli (its season is almost at an end, after all) use the ordinary kind.


Asparagus salad with chickpeas, giant couscous and pistachios

(Serves 2–3)


100g giant couscous

1 can (400g) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 packet of asparagus (or 7–8 spears)

1 packet of purple sprouting broccoli (or half a head of broccoli, cut into strips, including the stems)

Half a bag of spinach

2–3 handfuls pistachios, shelled

1 lemon, juiced

2–3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to season



Using a sieve, rinse and drain the couscous then add to a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 5–6 minutes. At the same time, in a separate pan, boil or steam the asparagus for 5–6 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the chickpeas and spinach and massage with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Drain the couscous and add to the bowl (its warmth will gently wilt the spinach leaves) and do the same with the asparagus and broccoli. Top with the pistachios and dress with the remainder of the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

If you want to know more about asparagus and how to cook it, check out this handy guide from Quick Easy Cook.

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