My first encounter with the Stinging Nettle was in France on a motor-trip in Burgundy. A little stopover in the bushes by the side of the road added an ‘embellishment’ to the relief I’d been seeking. Is there a more vulnerable feeling to be had, than from squatting with legs splayed and exposing one’s delicate rumpskin (yes I made that up, you know what I’m saying) to all manner of elements? And then to be flagellated with a hundred thousand tiny needles! Talk about negative reinforcement. Do I have PTSD, or are there really that many sightings these days of snakes in toilets? It’s a long recovery. Whenever I chance upon Them, the nettles, on a walk in the woods, I automatically yield a wide berth. Now I see them actually for sale (really!) in the farmers’ markets and I have to think that there must be something extraordinarily redeeming about them for people to willingly, and for good money, engage in any kind of relationship with them. Trepidation is my middle name, but so is curiosity. So I went out on a limb yesterday at the market, made the transaction for this risky venture, and gave the third degree to the Wild Food Gatherer regarding the protocol of messing with the greens. Having now dealt with the dastards, my breathing has returned to normal and a truce is in the air. All will be well as long as one avoids contact prior to cooking. This, it turns out, is easy enough. Rubber gloves or tongs can be used to swish them in a bowl of water, dislodging any dirt. They should be dropped into a large pot of boiling water and drained after 3 minutes. Then they are ready to be trimmed off of the stems (gloves no longer necessary). Their slightly minty taste bodes well. They can be used as a side dish unto themselves by sautéing with olive oil and garlic. Put into an egg dish. Or made into a simple soup with potatoes. Here is my rendition with green garlic, which is all the rage at the markets right now.
Recipe: Nettle and Green Garlic Soup
1 large pot boiling water
2 cups of nettle leaves, washed as described above
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, or 2 shallots, chopped
2 potatoes, scrubbed, peeled if you wish, and chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
2 or 3 green garlics, including tops, chopped
1 c milk, or more, to personal taste
salt and pepper
perhaps a little butter
yogurt and minced green garlic for garnish
Drop nettles into boiling water for 3 minutes and drain.
Remove from stems and chop coarsely.
Heat olive oil in soup pot on medium. Add the onion and stir.
Add potatoes, stir; add stock, stir.
Cook until tender. Add nettles and green garlic and cook for another few minutes. Puree in a blender. Add milk (or more stock for vegan) and blend some more.
Serve in bowls either hot or cold, garnished with yogurt, green garlic, salt and pepper.
Makes more than a liter.