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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Time for Nettles

Nettles.  A plant that is described in the oldest Western herbals for its rich nutrition and powerful medicine.  A sure sign of spring which first appeared this year in the hills in January, are now on sale at our farmers' markets, which is capable of making your skin sting and sing for hours if you brush too hard against its zingy hairs.  You can buy them at Bay Area farmers' markets now.  You might find them atop a pizza at Chez Panisse.  Better yet, nettles are likely growing somewhere near you.  A great piece on identifying nettles can be found here.  Be sure to wear gloves when you gather or prepare nettle,  and make sure they are thick ones!  If you do get stung, smile and remind yourself that the topical application of nettles has been used for thousands of years to treat arthritis and chronic pain, help Roman soldiers stay warm in cold climes, greet the pagan new year, release endorphins, and have fun. 
Nettles have a rich taste reflective of their nutrient density, particularly of minerals such as calcium and iron.  They can be a key ingredient in Spring Green Soup, which is a dish that can be a part of any meal and contain greens that strike your fancy.  They are a kidney and liver tonic in the Chinese point of view, and can clear heat and nourish the blood.  When I feel really gourmet, I tuck blanched netttles inside homemade ravioli (using wonton skin wrappers) with some homemade riccota or kefir cheese.  I've seen recipes for pickled nettles, but they usually rely on vinegar pickling, which sidesteps the probiotic benefits of lactofermentation.   My favorite and easy way to prepare nettles is in Nettle Pesto. 

Nettle Pesto
Pesto is a constant condiment in my kitchen, never used on pasta.   A scoop is great alongside morning eggs, topping roasted vegetables, enriching a salad dressing, making a dish of beans more exciting, adding anti-oxidants to a meal of grilled meat or fish, turning yogurt cheese into a party dip, floating as a cute green island in soup, sneaking into a sandwich, bringing a hit of green power wherever its needed. 

                              1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts
2 cups nettles, loosely packed, tough stems removed (wear gloves!)
                              1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped (stems okay)
                              1 clove garlic or 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped green garlic
                              1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
                              Zest of 1 lemon
                              2 tablespoons white or chickpea miso
                              Sea salt

Soak the nuts overnight in water to cover.
The next morning, bring 1" of water to a boil in a medium saucepan with a lid.  Drop in the nettles, cover, and simmer for 3-5 minutes until soft.  Drain (drink the liquid, it's nettle tea) and press dry.  Drain the nuts, discarding the soaking water. Place the nuts in your food processor or blender and process into a fine paste. Add the parsley, nettles, and garlic and process until finely ground. Add the olive oil and process until incorporated, and then add lemon zest, miso and more salt if needed to get a flavor you like. Store the pesto in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days, or freeze for several months.

COMING SOON: My book Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal Whole Foods for Optimal Health and All-Day Energy will finally be on sale in the beginning of April.   Ask your favorite local bookstore to order you a copy now!

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