From forest to plate: A Feast of Nettles
My grad school experience was very different from many other dietitians. Instead of learning the guidelines of the Food Guide Pyramid and how many servings of dairy you were supposed to eat a day, we were out in the woods learning how to harvest stinging nettles. Then we brought them back into our teaching kitchen and made nettle souffles, while learning about their high calcium content. These experiences were what made me passionate about nutrition. Not only was I learning to challenge conventional beliefs, but how exciting to be able to find nutritious foods right in your backyard and to develop the skills to make them into a delicious meal.
I moved out of the Northwest for a few years to work in Kentucky, in a environment where even if nettles were available, if I told a patient to go harvest some instead of drinking milk, I probably would have been fired from my job. I found myself quickly having to adapt some of my ideals to become more realistic. Flash forward to now and I am working at my own practice in Portland, where I am able to blend some of those fun things I learned at Bastyr, along with realistic, individualized patient goals. Because let’s be honest, how many times have I even foraged my own nettles? The answer would be twice, the time I just told you about and the time I am about to tell you about. Apparently, nettles would not be a good, reliable source of calcium for me. I need to learn to get it other ways on the daily basis and I get an extra boost of the bone building nutrient when I do make the effort to get out and do some harvesting. But when I do get that chance every few years, it reminds me of my passion for nutrition, discovering new things and living healthfully. This spring, if you live in the northwest, give nettles a try and inspire yourself to be healthy!
Nettles grow in early spring in areas of lower elevation in wet soil. I found a ton of them at the Aldrich Butte Hike in Southwest Washington They grow anywhere from 3-8 feet tall and look like this:
If you have any doubt whether or not it’s a nettle, you will know when it stings you. However, you really don’t want that to happen; it really does hurt and leaves a rash that can last for a couple of days. Do your research ahead of time, look at several pictures of them and wear long sleeves and pants, gardening gloves and bring gardening sheers and a paper bag. Once you spot them, there are usually a ton more in the area.
Working with Nettles
If you aren’t going to work with the nettles right away use tongs to transfer them into an airtight container and put them in the fridge. Use them within a few days. When ready to use, bring a large pot of water to a boil and transfer leaves into the water with tongs. Prepare an ice bath nearby. Boil nettles for 1 minute then plunge into the ice water and let sit for another minute. Dry on clean kitchen towels.
Now you are ready to use them in cooking! There are many different ways to use nettles, but I typically think of them as any other green and use them like I would kale, spinach, chard etc. Since I had harvested so many, I wanted to experiment with a few different ways of using them. I invited some friends over to share in my bounty, and here is what we had:
Nettle Pesto with Corn Cakes
adapted from Edible Portland
Makes 1 generous cup
3 cups raw stinging nettles
3 medium garlic cloves
1/4 walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Using tongs or gloves, measure 3 tightly packed cups of raw young nettle tops. Add them to salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, drain immediately and then place the greens in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Cool, strain and squeeze dry using a tea towel to remove every drop of moisture that you can.
2. Coarsely chop the nettles to make about 1 cup. Add them to the bowl of a food processor with the garlic cloves and walnuts. While pulsing, slowly add the olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper You might add a small knob of soft butter and a squeeze of lemon juice if it needs brightening. Blend once more to incorporate the final additions.
Nettle Chive Soup
from the Herb Farm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
4 cups stock
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp long-grain white rice
1 Tsp salt
6 ounces blanched nettle leaves
1 cup coarsely snipped chives
freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: creme fraiche/yogurt sour cream/heavy cream; chives
1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and cook about sick minutes. Add stock, mushrooms, rice and salt and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the rice is very soft, about 30 minutes.
3. Add blanched nettle leaves ad chives and blend in a food processor or using an immersion blender. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as necessary.
4. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and chives
Arugula Salad with Pickled Radishes and Nettle Miso Dressing
from the cozyherbivoreblogspot.com
- 2 large cherry radishes
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 1 tablespoon rice wine or mirin
- pinch of sea salt & freshly cracked pepper
- 1 1/2 cup (loosely packed) blanched stinging nettles (see instructions for blanching below)
- 1/2 cup raw apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mellow miso paste
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- pinch of sea salt & freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 handfuls fresh arugula, washed and spun dry
- 2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese, divided (optional, omit for a vegan salad)
- 2 teaspoons sunflower seeds or pepitas, divided
- Make the pickles: in a shallow bowl, combine champagne vinegar, mirin, sea salt & pepper. Place sliced radishes in bowl and set aside.
- Assemble dressing. To blanch the nettles: bring a large stockpot of salted water to a rapid boil. Place a bowl of ice water next to the stove. Wearing heavy kitchen gloves and using tongs, carefully submerge fresh stinging nettles in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove nettles from boiling water with tongs and immediately submerge in ice bath. After 60 seconds, remove nettles from ice bath and place on a clean kitchen towel. Roll nettles up in kitchen towel and squeeze all excess moisture out. (The blanching water can then be drunk as a tincture– stinging nettle tea is a diuretic and is said to reduce inflammation)
- Place blanched nettles, apple cider vinegar, miso paste, and agave nectar in a stand blender. Season with a healthy pinch of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. With the blender running, carefully stream in olive oil until a smooth consistency is reached. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Assemble salad: remove radishes from vinegar. (Save radish-infused vinegar for another salad dressing!) Toss fresh arugula in a couple tablespoons of dressing, or until each leaf is evenly coated but not soggy. Arrange dressed arugula on a plate and garnish with crumbled goat cheese, pickled radish rounds and pepitas. Savor this season of new beginnings.
Nettle Flatbread with Fontina, Mushrooms and Coppa
I made this one up by putting above ingredients on a homemade pizza dough.