I’ve been thinking for a long time what my first blog post should be and so far have not come up with one idea that satisfies me as the inaugural, drum roll first blog post. So I thought I would look to the seasons for wisdom. It is March and the air is quite crisp and still chilly but the sky is clear blue and the sun is beaming down brightly after weeks of rain and stormy weather. The parched California soil is spongy once again. We have officially stepped into no drought status. I can hardly believe this news. All of this cold and wet weather produces one of my favorite wild edibles. Stinging nettles. This emerald colored leafy ground cover grows along river banks and is quite abundant during the months of February and March. In fact, if you like to forage watch out because they don’t call these greens stinging nettles for nothing. Tiny hair-like bristles cover the leaves and stems of these seemingly innocent looking greens but grab them with your bare hands and you are in for a shocker. Once the leaves are touched the hairy bristles inject a fluid containing formic acid into your skin. The sensation is mild at first and then escalates gradually into a searing burn. Okay I might be a little sensitive but they do sting much like a bee or ant bite and where the stingers brush up against you, your skin may also blush red. Plants have their own defense mechanism and nettles like to zap you with their tiny stingers. Though the sting smarts, it’s not poisonous and they actually have healing properties that help increase circulation providing some relief to those with arthritis, gout, sciatica and neuralgia. Nutritionally speaking, nettles are high in chlorophyll which is very alkalinizing and a wonderful source of iron, making them a fantastic green for those low in iron. Nettles also help to balance blood sugar and hormones and are incredibly grounding and nourishing. They also taste delicious and their mild flavor combines well with other greens and vegetables.
I look forward to seeing bags of fresh nettle leaves every year at my local farmers market. Once I see them, I grab several bags, blanch them quickly in boiling water to remove those pesky stingers and make whatever nettle concoction I can think of. The options are only limited to my imagination. This week I made a creamy, dairy free nettle soup, a deep green nettle tea, nettle pesto and a new one – nettle Brazil nut milk. Nettle season is rather short so I also make a batch of nettle purée with a touch of lemon and avocado oil and freeze them in 4 oz. jars. Whenever I feel like boosting a dish with some nettle goodness, I have a jar of my purée at the ready.
I want to share one of my favorite nettle recipes and encourage you to make it for your Saint Patricks Day feast this Sunday. You are planning on celebrating right? I certainly hope so! When creating recipes I like to balance nutritious with delicious and I think you will be pleased. But before you give them a try I have a confession because I wasn’t always a S.O.U.L. (Seasonal, Organic, Unrefined, Local) cooker. In my college days (when nutrition was not on my radar) I loved to make a great big St. Patty’s Day Feast for my friends with all the traditional fixings — boiled corned beef and potatoes, cabbage chopped finely into ribbons and slow braised with onions and lots of butter, mashed potatoes (because you can’t have just one kind of potato for goodness sake!) and soda bread dotted plentifully with currants. We completed our rather ivory and pink meal with something green but not with kale and certainly not nettles. No it was our annual Oreo Dessert (a concoction made with Cool Whip, vanilla pudding from the box, cream cheese, powdered sugar and crushed Oreos) tinted with green food coloring a la Shamrock shake. Obviously Oreo dessert was not a dessert inspired from the Ballymaloe kitchen in Cork, Ireland but this nettle soup is. While I love the cream used in many of the traditional recipes, I created this one without cream, using cashew cream and celery root for added depth instead. If you don’t have time to make the cashew cream, not a worry, coconut milk works great too. Enjoy!
Creamy Nettle Soup
- Yield: 5 Cups
1/4 lb of nettles, blanched
2 tablespoons of ghee, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 cup white wine
1 medium celery root, peeled and chopped
1 quart of vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup cashew cream (see recipe) or coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon White pepper
Sea salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Have ready: Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1 tablespoon of good quality sea salt.
- Using tongs grab nettles and dunk into boiling water. Blanch for 3 to 5 minutes until they turn bright green. (Blanching nettles will soften the fine hairs on the surface of the leaves and stems that sting upon contact when handled raw.) Either drain the nettles into a colander or lift them out with tongs and dunk them in the ice bath
- Once nettles are cool, drain and place on a large cutting board. Using a chef knife scrape leaves and thin stems away from larger stems. You can pick off the leaves with your hands but it is much faster to do the knife technique. Set de-stemmed nettles aside.
- Slice leeks: cut away thick dark leaves, leaving just the white root end. Then, cut leek lengthwise and clean layers over running water. Slice leeks crosswise into thing half-moons. Place sliced leeks in a bowl and rinse with water. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and shake out water.
- Heat a 4 quart, heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of ghee and olive oil. Add leeks and turn heat low enough so leeks do not brown. Cover and allow to sweat for a couple minutes. Remove lid and add thyme, sea salt and sage. Stir and continue cooking until leeks are very soft and translucent.
- While leeks are cooking, chop celery root. Celery roots have a thick skin so it is much more efficient to cut away the outer layer with your chef knife. Make a shallow cut on the most sturdy side of the root. Place root cut side down and cut away the outer layer. Slice root into 1/2-inch panels an then 1/2 inch strips and then crosswise into cubes.
- Return your attention to the leeks and deglaze with white wine or apple cider vinegar
- Add celery root to leeks followed by chicken or vegetable stock. Increase heat and allow to come to a boil, then reduce hit and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- When celery root is fork tender. Stir in nettle and simmer for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
- Working in batches, carefully ladle soup into a high powered blender. Only fill it 3/4 of the way. Place lid on top and cover with a thick kitchen towel to prevent any hot steam or soup from escaping. Blend at low speed at first an then gradually increase to medium low until soup mixture purées easily. Blend until smooth and silky.
- Place puréed soup into another soup pot.
- Once all of the soup is blended thoroughly, return soup back to the stove. Heat gently and add cashew cream or coconut milk and one more tablespoon of ghee. Add a pinch of sea salt, white pepper and taste. Adjust seasonings by adding more sea salt and white pepper. Sometimes a touch of lemon juice brightens everything up so feel free to do that as well. When heated through, ladle soup into bowls and savor!
Cashew Cream for Savory Things
1 cup cashews
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon turmeric, optional
1/4 teaspoon Sea salt, or more to taste
- Soak cashews for up to two hours or overnight in filtered water.
- Drain cashews and put into a high-powered blender.
- Add water, vegetable stock, garlic power thyme, turmeric if using, and sea salt. Blend until very creamy. You may have to stop and turn on your blender several times for all the ingredients to incorporate but at a certain point everything will come together and blend smoothly. If you are using a Vitamix, work the mixture with the tamper. If the mixture is too thick to blend, add a little more vegetable stock or water.