Stinging nettles are not only edible but also delicious; they are traditionally eaten around the beginning of spring — which conveniently coincides with Easter, so it's not uncommon to serve it at that time. I got inspiration for this recipe from one of my English cook books from the 1800s, and it's mostly unchanged aside from using chicken stock pots rather than making the stock from scratch.
I offer two versions of the recipe here — the more traditional version which perhaps contains a bit too much butter but tastes awesome, and the healthier version (which is virtually Syn free on Slimming World). If you're vegetarian, use a vegetable stock and a touch of freshly ground pepper.
PICKING UP NETTLES
Nettles appear in the first few days of the weather warming up; in the UK they usually appear around early April and you can find them until August to September depending on the season. Stinging nettle can grow to 2-3 meters long and the best nettle for cooking is usually harvested as soon as it comes out, hence why it's a popular dish for Easter.
The stems and leaves of the stinging nettle are covered in tiny little hairs that will give you a rash for about an hour if you touch them so best to grab your garden gloves for this!
When harvesting, you want the top 4 inches at most of the plant (which can grow to 2-3 meters long). Avoid flowering plants if you are picking up them late in the season — but the flowers can be removed.
You want 200g-300g of nettle for this soup, which is roughly half a supermarket plastic bag.
The plant is fairly distinctive, and in Europe there are very few other plants with that stinging property. You will usually find it in semi-shaded areas, like under the trees at the end of the garden.
CLEANING AND PREPARATION
The first step is to clean the plants to get rid of any unwanted mud, grass and bugs. The best thing to do here is to keep your gardens gloves on and fill your sink with the hottest water from the tap.
Then arm yourself with a bit of patience — grab and inspect every plant and remove any hard stems — if the stems are really soft and still green (like in the photos above) you can keep the whole plant. If your plants are picked in the middle of summer, the stems are likely to be a bit too thick, so it is easier to just "peel" the leaves off the stem.
Place them directly in the hot water as you're doing this, then leave the nettle to soak for about 10-15 minutes. Swirl them around with a pair of tongs when you start soaking, and again at the end, so you can dislodge anything that may be stuck in there.
The water will likely turn orange, this is completely normal.
Drain the leaves and start boiling a large pan of water (2-3L) with a big pinch of salt. The salt is necessary as it helps to keep the leaves a nice green (otherwise they turn a not-so-appealing grey colour).
Drop the leaves into the boiling water and blanch them for about 5 minutes. From this point, the leaves won't sting anymore and you can take your gloves off.
Drain the leaves and you can gently squeeze them to get some of the water out of them. You can then place them in a container and keep them in the fridge for later use, or freeze them. You can use them like you would spinach or even broccoli in most recipes.
Step by step
Make sure to have prepared 200g-300g of raw nettle as above.
- Start with a cold saucepan of a size of at least 3L, and melt 50g of butter on the lowest heat — if you're not using butter, use a few sprays of fry light or a very small amount of rapeseed or sunflower oil
- Chop the white onion and leek and cook on low until the onions go translucent. (Tip: If you're cooking the healthy version, add a couple of pinches of salt now, it'll prevent the onions from burning)
- While the onions cook, peel and dice the potatoes and carrots, and add them in.
- Crash 4 garlic cloves with the side of a knife, peel them and throw them in as they are, the soup will be blended later
- Keep stirring for 5-10 minutes. The onions and potatoes will eventually start to brown a little bit
- At this point add your stock — you should have about 1L of liquid
- Keep cooking on low until the carrots are cooked
- Add the nettle at the very end, and cook for another 10 minutes
At this point, you'll want to leave the soup to cool down and use your stick blender — or any other method — to blend the soup together. It may seem a bit too liquid, it should be slightly thick, but this is up to you — at this point if it's too liquid, I suggest either leaving the soup to reduce on low for about 30 minutes, then leave it to cool and reassess (it goes thicker as it cools) — or you could add a very small amount of premixed cornflour and a bit of water to thicken it. The former gives a better result in my opinion. Obviously, if the soup is too thick, you can add a small amount of water (but not too much to not dilute the flavours).
Leave to cool a little bit, add a small amount of freshly cracked black pepper and serve with a bit of double cream — or a tablespoon of salted low-fat yoghurt for the healthy version.
- 50g butter (ignore for the healthy version)
- 1 white onion
- 1 leek
- 4 garlic gloves
- 4 medium potatoes
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 chicken stock pots (or 1L of actual stock, or vegetable stock)
- 200-300g raw nettles
- salt, pepper
- double cream for serving (or low fat yogurt)