Top: Add nettles to soup, such as this Potato, Nettle and Green Garlic Soup. Center: Nettles. Bottom: Green garlic. Photos courtesy Good Eggs | SF.
A year ago, we wrote about stinging nettles. also called common nettles and wild nettles. Here’s that background article.
Today’s tip is a reminder not to let the brief season pass you by (it ends this month, depending on your location).
WHAT ARE NETTLES?
Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, are slightly bitter green herbs that grow wild in the spring. Other names are common nettles and wild nettles.
They are members of Urticaceae, family of flowering plants, also known as the Nettle Family. The family includes other useful plants, including ramie, which is used to make fabric.
Different varieties grow worldwide, many without the sting. Those that are picked with garden gloves (rubber kitchen gloves work, too). The sting comes from chemicals* in the plant. Once stinging nettles are blanched, boiled or soaked in water, the sting is gone.
In North America, nettles sprout up very briefly in early spring and late fall, growing like weeds at the edges of cultivated farmland. That’s why the best place to find them is farmers markets.
Why go after something that stings? They have charming flavor, a bit like spinach with a cucumber undertone. You can use as a substitute for cooked spinach.
You can find numerous nettles recipes online, but we’ll start you off with some soup and pesto.
This recipe, from Good Eggs, unites two limited spring vegetables: nettles and green garlic. The soup tastes even better the next day. Prep time is 20 minutes, total time is 45 minutes.
*In the stinging varieties, hollow stinging hairs on the leaves and stems called trichomes inject three chemicals when touched by humans and other animals: histamine which irritates the skin, acetylcholine which causes a burning feeling, and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to relay signals in the brain. They produce a rash that can be treated with an anti-itch cream, aloe vera or baking soda. But the protective chemicals doesn’t do a good job of keeping us away from nettles: They have a long history of use as a medicine and food source. Further, they need to be eaten before they begin to flower and produce other compounds that cause stomach irritation. (Perhaps serve them with some fugu—blowfish?)
1. PLACE the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Salt the water generously—it should be salty as ocean water—and add the bay leaves and a handful of the green garlic tops. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 25-30, minutes or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart. Drain in a colander and cool by spreading the potatoes in a single flat layer on a tray. While potatoes are boiling…
2. SAUTÉ the onion in a large stock pot with a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil over medium-low heat, until soft and translucent. Add the minced green garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes, until soft and aromatic.
3. HALVE or quarter the cooled potatoes, depending on size, and add to the onions and garlic. Stir gently to combine. Add the chicken stock to the pot until the potatoes are just covered; bring to a boil.
4. TURN off the heat and purée half the soup in a blender. Use a kitchen towel to hold down the lid of the blender and be careful of steam and hot splashes. You can also use an immersion blender. If you prefer a more rustic soup, you can lightly mash the potatoes with the back of a spoon or a potato masher, instead of puréeing.
5. USE protective gloves, a kitchen towel or tongs and carefully de-stem and wash the nettles (we cut them from the stems with a kitchen scissors). Drain them in a colander, then chop roughly. Fold into the hot soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve hot with a generous dollop of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of chives and parsley.
RECIPE #2: NETTLE & PISTACHIO PESTO
Nettles make a delicious pesto; here are 20+ ways to use pesto.
This recipe is from Quinciple.com, a premier meal delivery service.
1. DE-STEM the nettle leaves: Hold onto the stem with tongs and use your other hand to carefully snip the leaves with kitchen scissors.
2. BRING a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the nettles by adding the leaves to the water for 1-2 minutes. Remove them with tongs or a slotted spoon, and place them in an ice bath (a bowl with water with ice cubes) to cool. Once the nettles are cool to the touch, strain and squeeze all water from the leaves.
3. ROUGHLY CHOP the blanched leaves and add them to a food processor with the garlic, pistachios, lemon juice and zest, cheese, salt and pepper. Pulse into a coarse paste. Then stream in the olive oil to the desired consistency or about 1/3. Serve immediately or store in a jar for up to 5 days.
Like most herbs, nettles are good for you, rich in calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and vitamins A and C. They have been called “seaweed of the land” because of their complete spectrum of trace minerals and their soft, salty flavor.