I love foraging. I love the idea that there is all that food out there just free for the gathering. This is a perfect time of year for foraging, because a little bit later, many plants turn tough and bitter. Nettles and dandelions, for example.
So – for today’s wild feature: Nettle soup.
Those who read my blog know that I’m a freestyle cook who throws things together never the same way twice, depending on what is at hand. So here, more or less, is what I did:
Basically – take your favorite potato-leek soup idea and add nettles. How hard is that?
Ingredients: nettles, potatoes, a leek, a couple stalks of celery, soup stock (chicken would have been good, but I had some beef bone broth available), a handful of French sorrel, a little lemon juice, bacon (optional), garlic, salt & pepper, and kefir, yogurt, or sour cream to decorate the top. Don’t worry – you don’t have to have all of these – except the nettles, of course.
Here’s what to do:
- Collect the nettles. Yes, first you have to pick the nettles and be reminded why their full name is “Stinging nettles.” Emphasis on sting. Wear gloves. I used to know someone who could take a handful of them and rub them on her face with no ill effects, but I have no desire to do something crazy like that to impress my friends with my daring stupidity. I have found, though, that if you pinch them directly on the leaf, no problem. It’s when you brush lightly past them that you break out in a rash, which is something I will remember the next time I decide to go running naked through the edge of a field. Just kidding, of course. Sort of. However you do it, get a bagful, because they cook down like spinach. Personally, I collected 2 bags, cutting them off at mid-stem so they would grow back – one for the soup and one for drying to make tea at a later time.
- Cook potatoes: boil up 5 or 6, depending on how big a batch you’re making. Make this pan the one you want your final soup in.
- Cook bacon: optional item – but we get this really good chemical-free bacon and if you’re a bacon fan, nothing more need be said. Drain it after cooking on a paper towel. Meatless friends, yes, the soup is good without it.
- Sautee the leek & celery in a little fat of your choice: oil, butter, bacon fat. Slice them up first; make sure you get the dirt out of the leek. I use almost the entire leek up to near the end where it gets a little too tough.
- Wash & cook the nettles. Mine were recently rain-washed, but I gave them another quick rinse just to make sure there were no bird droppings or bugs. Throw the nettles in a kettle with a little water & lightly simmer until limp – just a few minutes. Don’t bother cutting them up – just get them in there without hurting yourself. Boiling them takes away the sting. Ok – it’s starting to look like you’re dirtying too many pans at this point. I admit, I really am a messy cook.
- Blend up the vegetables: Put the celery & leek combo in a blender. Add a little of the nettle liquid to the pan they were cooked in so you get those flavors off the pan. Throw that in the blender too, along with the nettles, stems and all. Also throw in a handful of fresh French sorrel if you have it and blend some more. Sorrels are high in oxalic acid, but it is neutralized by heat. They add a little tang and a lot of Vitamin C.
- Mash the potatoes. I used a separate immersion blender to buzz up the potatoes in their liquid, mainly because I didn’t have room in the blender – but it doesn’t really matter where you do it. The potatoes act as a thickener for the soup. Keep in mind you might want to add some soup stock later, so it doesn’t have to be super thin at this point.
- Combine all the veggies: potatoes, nettles, celery, leek, sorrel – it should look very green.
- Add some soup stock to thin it a bit: I am into making bone broths, so I added a cup of beef bone broth that was gelled solid with its natural gelatin. It’s extremely flavorful, full of minerals and vitamins, and melts in the heat. I often have a crockpot of bones simmering on the counter, so I usually have this handy. Chicken or vegetable would also be good.
- Crumble in the bacon (if you’re using it): Everything else is pureed, so this adds a little chew-factor. Give everything a stir.
- Add a little lemon juice and salt & pepper: A tablespoon or so will brighten the flavors – and salt and pepper to taste, less if you added bacon. Mmmm, still needs a little something….
- Garlic! Chop up about 3 or 4 cloves: (hope you still have some!) Chop finely and let it sit for a half minute or so to develop flavors; then toss it into the soup. Give it all a stir. The heat from the soup will cook it just enough and not too much.
- Ladle into bowls and top with kefir, plain yogurt, or sour cream: I’ve been into making homemade kefir with the raw dairy milk from the Dungeness Valley Creamery down the road, so that’s what we used. We’re really fortunate to have a source of grass-fed cows and certified raw milk so close by! VERY much worth the extra price – this milk is a REAL food, and the nutrients are easily absorbed.
- Serve. Amidst “oohs” and “ahhs”. Very fun. Cost was hardly anything. Nutrient ratio out the roof.
We had a lot of family over that night and some went back for seconds.
Caveat: Since making this, I have read that potato water shouldn’t be used because potatoes contain hemagglutinins that disrupt red blood cell function, and those go into the cooking water. What can I say – we all survived.
Nettles as a Superfood
Nettles are seriously good for you. They provide protein, vitamins C and A, carotenoids, potassium, iron, calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. They’ve been used as a tonic and a diuretic, applied to stop bleeding in open wounds, and slapped on bald heads to stimulate hair follicles and new hair growth. They’re a good source of quercitin, a flavonoid that inhibits the release of histamine; hence, they’re effective in treating hay fever and other allergies. They’ve also been used to treat arthritis, gout, urinary tract infections (the diuretic flush effect), and prostate issues; they’ve also been used to purify the blood and to cleanse the liver and kidneys.
Wow. I really do think I should be eating nettles more often.
Plus, they are a whole lot like pot, only they won’t get you high and they are legal. Ok, so maybe they’re not like pot. But – like hemp – they can grow 7 feet tall and be used as a fiber. They are extremely strong. This is good news. I used to do a lot of spinning (mostly dog and llama hair) – and I am definitely going to give nettles a try. They grow so fast and are so prolific, they even show promise to be used in biofuels.
You learn a lot of things on the Internet. I used to really like nettles, but I love them now. So much, in fact, I’m thinking of turning them into pesto.
One site I read said how the authors love to wrap stinging nettles around them because it makes them feel so alive and tingly.
Thanks, but no thanks. I might have to draw the line with that one. I think sex sounds like a better option if you’re looking for those sensations, and a heck of a lot more fun. Just my opinion.
Anyway – before we get sidetracked – bring on the Spring! Take a walk on the wild side. Collect things along the way. Throw them in a soup. Don’t forget some of the domesticated garden plants that are also at their best at this time of year. Cardoon, French sorrel, and lovage all come to mind. Each are rather strong-flavored in their own way, but are so good added in small quantities to just about everything.
And DO give nettles a try!
Won’t be long and the morels will be ready. Oh yes! Can’t wait!
Here are a couple of good sources for identifying your weeds and wild edibles: