Grasping The Nettle

Moseying down a country lane in Ireland at this time of year often involves negotiating a path somewhere between the narrow roadway on one side and the inevitable ditch full of stinging nettles on the other. Yesterday afternoon, however, as I was giving the scads and scads of nettles an advisably wide berth, I was stopped in my tracks by a single thought, and the thought was this, that here was something I could eat… Without any further ado, I beetled back to my parent’s house, with a mission in mind which was going to require a pair of thick gloves.

Stinging nettle, handle with care

Stinging nettle, handle with care

Foraging, it seems to me at least, is all the rage these days. I mean Greg has been at it in LA, Sapuche in Hawaii and Marc in New York, to name but a few. Somehow, though, foraging seems almost too grand a word for what I did next, which was to walk to the back of my parents garden and snip a few nettles, but I suppose it does count as such.

The key thing with foraging for food in the wild, of course, is that you need to be able to identify the edibles in the first place, because they don’t come conveniently labeled in a package or from a market stall. Fortunately, I have absolutely no problem identifying nettles and, if your bare skin has ever had the misfortune to come into contact with any, neither will you.

It was quite traditional here in years gone by to pick young nettles in spring and cook them up in soups and such, almost like a spring tonic, such were the good-for-you qualities of this alternative green.

As my Ma did was telling me this, she did rather emphasise the fact that it was young nettles we were talking about. The nettles I had picked weren’t quite so young looking anymore.

It’s like spinach, my Da kept chirping in from his throne chair in the sittingroom.

So, undeterred by the fact that I had not-so-youngish nettles, I made this, which is like something I would make with spinach. I will say that the age of the nettles did this dish no favours, as they never really got very tender and would probably have been more suited to being put in a soup or stew at this stage, if anything. Still, I’ll be keen to try this next spring, when I’ll have lots of tender, more spinach-like nettles at my disposal.

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Nettles With Ginger And Yoghurt

Young, tender nettle leaves are a must for this. The older leaves get tough and chewy.

Nettles With Ginger And Yoghurt

You’ll need:
  • 100g young nettle leaves, weighed after removing the stalks
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 x 2cm cube of root ginger, finely chopped
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • olive oil for frying
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
You’ll also need:
  • Gloves, for handling the nettles
The Steps:
  • Remove the leaves from the nettle stalks.
  • To mitigate the stinging effect, I tried soaking the leaves in water with a couple of tblsp of vinegar for 30 minutes or more, as per zerrin’s suggestion, which seemed to help, but I still mostly kept the gloves on when handling the leaves.
  • Rinse the nettle leaves and chop roughly.
  • Place a frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, add a glug of olive oil.
  • Add the garlic and onion to the pan, stir and fry for a minute, then cover and allow to sweat for about 5 minutes or so, until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the ginger to the pan and stir and fry for about a minute.
  • Gradually add the nettles to the pan, stirring to combine with the onion mixture and allowing the nettles to wilt down. Should take around 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the yoghurt to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt and a couple of twists of black pepper, stir to mix then cover and cook until the nettles are cooked through, maybe 5 minutes, though it’ll depend on how young and tender they are to begin with.
  • Serve as a side to meat or rice dishes.
The Variations:
  • You can, of course, use spinach instead if you don’t have, or don’t want to deal with nettles. You may want to use relatively more spinach by weight (say 200g at least), because it will wilt down considerably more upon cooking.
The Results:
  • Side-dish for 3-4 I’d say
Comments
  • One of the nicest dishes I ever tasted was in the Cognac region in France – snails roasted in a garlic and nettle sauce. It was sublime. Always meant to look up a nice nettle recipe, they’ve a delicious tang when done properly.

  • I’ve noticed the mention of foraging growing about the food blogging world. I have to admit there are very few things I can identify. I do, however, remember searching for morels in the forest behind our house when I was a kid.

    I’m not familiar with nettles so thanks so much for the lesson. The dish looks wonderful!

  • Don’t think I’d trust myself to ‘forage’. Knowing me, I’d probably end up bleeding from mouth in some hideous fashion. The only foraging I do is in Superquinn. ;)

  • I with my dodgy eyesight might not want to do this without a partner to reassure me, I love the father ‘chirping’ in the background…your food and story telling is so…Irish? :) No you are simply the best!

  • Oh, fun that you are cooking with nettle! I tried it for the first time in that soup in Studio and it was delicious. Your recipe with ginger and yoghurt sounds excellent!

  • Wow, I never had nettle before…very nice. But I’m laughing about your Dad’s throne…ha-ha.

  • I’ve only recently learned that nettles can be cooked and eaten, or made into tea. My one and only brush with nettles was literally just that … I brushed up against some the first time I was in Ireland and … ouch! I’ve never made that mistake again! LOL

    Meanwhile, as I’m a huge fan of bitter greens, I’d love to try them sometime.

  • We still have no concept of what a nettle tastes like. Are they bitter like spinach or collards?

  • Foraging is the ultimate in local, seasonal, and organic eating! With that said, I will leave it to those who are far more adventurous than me; I’ll have to be content with foraging in Whole Foods or the farmer’s market.

    As for nettles, it’s THE ingredient for ’09! The only time I’ve tasted anything close was nettle pasta but aside from the slight green color, I didn’t get much sense of the flavor. Before I don the gloves and risk painful rashes, I will try to find someplace that serves it so that I can have a taste.

    If I make this with spinach, can I still tell people it’s (made in the spirit of) nettle ? 8-D

  • If I went out foraging, i’d prabably end up getting the wrong plant. I have never tried nettles. Nor have I seen some up close. But I’ve been seeing some recipes lately that use this ingredient. Now it’s got me a little curious as to what it really tastes like.

  • Mike: I’d like to experiment more with them – I definitely want to try some really young nettles and see what the taste difference is

    Lori: thanks – it’s funny, we used to “forage” when we were kids (though we didn’t call it that) – picking field mushrooms and blackberries from the hedges – but I would be much more wary of doing the same now

    Toasted Special: well, now, I have been known to forage in Superquinn myself, lol!

    Chef E: aw, shucks, thanks – and my Da is a very important critic, let it be said, not to be ignored ever :)

    Natasha: I’ll definitely have to experiment more with it I think!

    noble pig: yep, he may be getting on in years but he still has what you might call a commanding presence :)

    Diva: oh you never really forget that kind of brush with nettles! I definitely recommend eating them instead :)

    Duo Dishes: well, first I have to say that I’ve never had collards so I can’t compare on that front; I didn’t find them especially bitter but I guess somewhat spinach-like (though the ones I had needed more cooking than spinach so, in that respect maybe a bit more like collard greens); from what I gather, the really young, tender leaves are probably the most spinach-like – I will have to get hold of some for myself and see

    Tangled Noodle: of course you can say it’s in the spirit of the nettle! And having a taste before you don the gloves and risk some very unpleasant stinging sensations sounds like a wise course of action to me…

    jenn: well, you usually don’t want to get too close to nettles unless someone has cooked them for you :) I’m certainly keen to try them some more now, though

  • I remember as a small kid being horrified when I heard my Aunt was making nettle wine. Sadly (or luckily I don’t know which) I was way too young to try it but if this gang ever gets together for a nettle party …

  • I have wanted to try nettles for years, but they seem to be fairly thin on the ground in Long Beach. They were the absolute BANE of my childhood, always popping up in places that children inevitably play- under trees and hedges, in ditches- so it’s only sods law that I can’t find the damn things now.

    I’ve actually seen recipes for salads made with raw nettle leaves. As a child who has had the misfortune to romp through a gang of nettles while wearing shorts, THAT is something I have no desire to try in the near future.

  • Waw,…..what a clever & yummie idea!! And to pair it with ginger,….wow!!

  • This has to be the most creative use of nettles yet. Looks delicious. I’ve done a bit of foraging myself, but not recently – I have fond memories of morel hunting and especially enjoying the end result.

  • Sounds good and thanks for the link. I picked a few pounds of nettles a few weeks ago and cleaned, blanched and froze them in little packets. They’re great to add to purees, pastas and sauces for color. I just made a pureed soup with nettles sunchokes and ramps that was pretty good and I think I may do a nettle dessert next week too.

  • I have always been intrigued by eating nettles. When I was in Ireland, I did have the misfortune of being stung by some, and I just can’t get past the fear that they will sting my throat the whole way down!!!

  • Recipe looks great but not sure if I’m ready to go out digging up nettles..memories of those stings last a long time! Also I’d probably end up picking some poisonous leaves with them!!

  • Rufus: well if your Aunt does decide to make any more nettle wine, do send some my way (academic interest you understand…)

    Angry Brit: I’m with you on the raw nettles thing – I’ve had too many encounters with them to want to try that!

    Sophie: well, it’s something I would do with spinach, so I thought I’d give it a try – definitely want to try it with younger nettles next time though

    OysterCulture: morels, now there’s something I’d like to try but not something I’m likely to find hereabouts unfortunately…

    Marc: some great ideas there, I should try to get hold of some more for soup etc.

    Jenn: I know exactly what you mean – even when I was cooking them, I was paranoid about whether the sting would be gone completely or not!

    Mary Bakes: it’s not for everyone I guess and I definitely think that anybody whose been stung by nettles has a hard time forgetting it…

  • wow! thanks for a great recipe and a gorgeous picture. I’d love to try this…I wonder where I can find nettles where i live..

  • Foraging is such a wonderful concept – but of course my fear is that I’ll identify something incorrectly. I find morphing nettle into something else quite satisfying – after being pricked multiple times walking around barefoot. Thanks for the young vs old tip – I didn’t realize nettles don’t age well.

  • veggiebelly: thanks and good luck with locating some nettles!

    gastroanthropologist: indeed, cooking them up is like having the last laugh on the nettles and sweet revenge for those barefoot stings :)

  • I never knew you could eat nettles…I always thought they were painful weeds growing up in the country…then again I MOWED fresh asparagus each spring as a child (the horror! the horror!)

  • A great recipe of nettles! Yogurt and ginger is a wonderful idea. I’ll definitely try this soon. I myself wear gloves even if I wait them in vinegar and water. But it absolutely helps and prevents any possible pains.

  • Caitlin: yikes – I can feel that loss of asparagus – thank goodness you’re though with that phase, lol!

    zerrin: I had a feeling that you would be interested in this one :)

  • I’m often stopped in the middle of hiking with the same thoughts about surrounding vegetation, and like you I usually don’t have the knowledge I need to identify them. It’s great (and brave – ouch!) that you picked the nettles and tried cooking with them. They certainly look great in your photo, though it’s a shame they turned out to be a bit too old…

  • Well Sapuche, I did have to run back to the house to get heavy gloves before I starting plucking – too many bad nettle experiences in my past to do otherwise :)

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