Thursday, January 27, 2011

Turning Nettles into Comfort Food

Thinking of nettles has, admittedly, never occurred in my mind as delicious comfort food. Some of my first memories of hiking-or simply wading through some underbrush-are accompanied by the discovery of nettles. You too, I'm sure, have seen stung and have felt the red welts which always appear at the slightest touch. Certainly nettles are not a popular weed to run into, let alone seek out for food.

While Carla Emery certainly doesn't recommend planting this stinging weed-she too has been stung and clearly remembers avoiding the plant while hauling water up from the crick-she knows how to disarm this plant by cooking it, a Cream of Nettle Soup for example, perfect for rainy days or if you need a conversation starter at the dinner table. Talk about bringing out the best in a plant!

And now, how Carla Emery tames the nettle:

Don't touch nettles with bare skin until cooked!

The points are tiny silica needles that inject formic acid. Use gloves to pick, clean, and work with them in the kitchen! Use the tops of young plants in spring, when they are about 6 inches tall. Otherwise, take only the top rosette of just growing eaves and the topmost bud plus the few leaves just under that. You can go on harvesting to mid-June.

Don't let them sit around. Pick and then boil them. The cooking disarms them. Serve sprinkled with caraway or dill seed. Nettle leaf tea, sweetened with honey, is an old-time remedy for a stuffy nose or a sore throat. Nettle root makes a yellow dye. A nettle poultice is an old-time remedy to stop the bleeding from a wound.

Cream of Nettle Soup

Steam 4 c. young nettle leaves until soft. Puree. If they need more liquid, add a little meat or vegetable soup stock. Melt 2 T. butter. Cook 2 T. grated onion in the butter. Add 2 T. flour to that and cook, stirring, until mixture is turning brown. Now gradually add

2 c. more stock, salt and pepper to taste, and the nettle puree. Simmer on low heat 10 minutes. Add 2 c. milk and heat just warm enough to serve. Good with grated cheese sprinkled on top.

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