NETTLE recipes may not be on your bucket list of things to cook but there’s a lot more to this tough and abundant plant than its sting.
The benefit of foraging in nature is that you eat foods that are seasonal and have grown in an environment that best suits them, rather than being forced in greenhouse conditions.
The fairly recent resurgence of interest in plants, fruits and fungi, grown in the wild means that a lot of people are willing to step outside their comfort zone and try something that isn’t ready-packaged.
And cooking with nettles is a great way to use a plant that is easy to find and is packed full of goodness.
Nettle health benefits
The nettle belongs to the Urticaceae family, which in Latin, unsurprisingly, means ‘to burn’, but as a food it ranks alongside other green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, which are rich in vitamins C and K as well as calcium, carotene and potassium.
Its health benefits were first discovered by the Greeks who used the nettle as a diuretic and laxative, while today is it also believed to reduce blood sugars, strengthen the immune system and combat fluid retention etc.
Now, I should confess that I have only just very recently started cooking with nettles – and my reluctance had nothing to do with the many, many times I’ve been stung over the years!
I have a childhood memory of my parents deciding it would be a good idea for us to eat nettles because of their Iron content. I seem to recall that it was my father’s idea – he was a child in Ireland during the Second World War so it’s quite likely that nettles would be have been used for cooking.
However, my parents did not have the benefit of the Internet and we were given boiled nettles that tasted like metal. Yuck!
As an Irish Mammy myself now, I’ve been keen to use recipes with foraged foods like blackberries, elderflowers, sloes, crab apples and rosehips, so I guess it was time to ‘grasp the nettle’!
And to be honest, my attitude to nettles started to soften over the summers of 2014/2015 when our two daughters spent ages almost daily counting ladybirds on an aphid-covered nettle patch in our back garden.
So, it was to my great delight and relief that I found that nettles are actually a delicious addition to my favourite potato and leek soup.
My recipe for Potato, Leek and Nettle Soup:
- Three Cups of nettle leaves (the cup I use is equivalent to 150ml or 9fl oz)
- Three Cups of raw, chopped potatoes (floury is best)
- Two garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
- Two pints vegetable or chicken stock
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Some butter (or oil if you prefer)
Use rubber gloves to pick young nettle leaves, wash them and drain well. Melt the butter in a large pot and sweat the leeks and garlic for about 10 minutes (lid on).
Add your potatoes, nettles and vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are softened, seasoning to taste. Then you can blitz with a hand blender before serving with your preferred accompaniments.
I’m not a fan of cream in soups but if you are then feel free to add it in. If there’s someone in your family that cannot live without meat then I’d suggest adding a little smoky bacon with the leeks and garlic at the start of cooking (this is quite useful if you’ve some leftovers in the fridge).
If you find that nettles are your new favourite ingredient and are worried that they’re only at their best in the late spring/early summer then don’t panic as they freeze well.
Anyway, I’m on a roll now with nettles and have always wanted to make my own pesto so I will, hopefully, will be blogging very soon about my efforts!
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