In between the frequent raindrops this week, I’ve been planting, weeding and generally trying to spruce up the backyard. The chickens love it. They think I’m out there to play and give them treats as I till the soil turning up bugs, worms and other goodies. It’s cute, but they are a bit of a nuisance crowding round my shovel and nibbling newly planted bushes, trees and flowers.
There are plenty of weeds I wouldn’t mind them munching but not surprisingly the girls don’t agree with me. Instead, they head first for the tender young plants. One plant the chickens and most animals ignore are the nettles growing on the edge of the woods. Known as stinging nettles, this plant lives up to its name by instantly causing a stinging sensation on your skin when touched.
What is surprising is that while this jagged leaf plant may be uncomfortable to touch, it’s a spring delicacy when cooked and served. It loses it’s stinging ability when boiled or even soaked in water.
I love making soup with the nettles I collect from the yard every spring. There’s something very satisfying about making dinner out of something you’d otherwise throw away. The best part is, it has a lovely green herbal taste that really captures the feel of spring. In addition, nettles are very nutritious and high in iron, calcium and vitamin A. They have also been used extensively throughout the world for their medicinal properties. One note of caution, when picking and working with the nettles, wear gloves until you cook them or soak them in a bowl of water.
Nettles can be used in any recipe in which you’d use cooked spinach. If you don’t want to mess with working with the nettles you can substitute arugula, spinach, watercress or other spring greens. I’ve adapted a recipe by Jerry Traunfeld, the original forager chef, from his book the Herbfarm Cookbook .
Creamy Nettle-Chive Soup
(adapted from Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm Cookbook)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons long grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
5 cups slightly packed nettle leaves, arugula or watercress
1 cup packed baby spinach
1 cup sliced fresh chives
2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 4 to 6 minutes or until softened. Add the chicken broth, rice, salt and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low to low and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until the rice is very tender and soft.
Increase heat and bring soup mixture to a boil, add the nettles, spinach and chives and boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree until smooth with immersion blender or cool slightly and puree in batches in blender. Serve drizzled with a little heavy cream, if desired.