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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stinging Nettle Soup

Stinging Nettle Soup 1

I'm trying to be better about posting my seasonal recipes before the season disappears. And seeing stinging nettles growing in the wild at Latourell Falls - Columbia River Gorge - Oregon reminded me that I needed to blog this recipe.

The first time I heard of stinging nettles was in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Wild Swans," about 11 brothers who turned into swans at night, and their sister who wove shirts out of nettles to remove the enchantment to change them back. Such devotion. Reading the story as a child, I could only imagine the sores and welts she suffered while weaving the stems into cloth. But actually experiencing the sting myself as an adult was enough to make me permanently wary of this plant. I brushed against a nettle once when I was in Scotland years ago and it caused my skin to sting, and itch, and swell with red dots.

Last month at the Farmers' Market - Alhambra, despite the conspicuous sign that said "Don't Touch," my masochism, or perhaps my insatiable curiosity, lured me toward the bunch of stinging nettles.

"If I can't touch, how will I prepare them for eating?"

"Good question," chuckled the farmer.

So I decided to err on the safe side and didn't purchase any that first week. The following week, the stinging nettles beckoned me forth again with their "Don't Touch" sign. Oh, alright, I reasoned. I'll simply use tongs and scissors and won't touch the nettles at all.

I decided to make a simple vegetarian soup with just pureed onions and potatoes so there wouldn't be any other flavors to interfere with the stinging nettles. After all, if I was going through all the work of plucking herbs with tongs and scissors, I wanted to taste my efforts. Of course, if you have rubber or plastic gloves, by all means use them instead.

Stinging Nettle Soup 2

Stinging Nettle Soup

For about two quarts, you'll need:
1 large onion, diced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch stinging nettles, carefully plucked and washed
About 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Optional: cream or creme fraiche to garnish.

So about these stinging nettles. They look pretty harmless, yeah?

Stinging Nettle Soup 3

Not so fast. Look at the prickly stems. That's where the pain and misery lies.

Stinging Nettle Soup 4

First, chop a large onion. In a pot, on medium-high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and saute the onion until softened.

Stinging Nettle Soup 5

While the onion is cooking, peel and dice two large potatoes. Add them to the pot after the onion has softened and started caramelizing.

Stinging Nettle Soup 6

Add about 2 quarts of water and 1 tsp of salt, then turn the heat down to medium to simmer. The golden color of the broth is from the caramelized onions. If you don't want to use water, you may use chicken or vegetable broth instead, but I found the soup plenty flavorful without the use of either broths.

Stinging Nettle Soup 7

While the broth is cooking, carefully pluck the nettles. I held one stem up with a pair of tongs and snipped off the leaves into the bowl. Then triple wash until the leaves are clean. I continued using the tongs to swirl the leaves in the water and to move them between colander and bowl. I wasn't taking any chances on getting stung again!

Stinging Nettle Soup 8

The plucking was more laborious than I anticipated and took me almost an hour. After the leaves are carefully washed, add them to the pot.

Stinging Nettle Soup 9

Stir just until the leaves are blanched. Then turn off the heat.

Stinging Nettle Soup 10

Using a hand immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. If you only have a regular blender, you'll have to do this in batches.

Stinging Nettle Soup 11

This is what the soup looked like after it had cooled down.

Stinging Nettle Soup 12

Pour into bowls for serving.

Stinging Nettle Soup 13

If you like, you could also drizzle a bit of cream into the soup for garnishing, or for additional creaminess.

Stinging Nettle Soup 14

I think I was really just trying to enliven a plain green bowl of soup.

Stinging Nettle Soup 15

But, if you want more creaminess, by all means add more.

Stinging Nettle Soup 16

The nettles tasted like spinach and are high in vitamin A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They can also be used to treat a variety of illnesses.

But after all that work, eating a soup that tastes like spinach seemed a bit of a let down. I can make the same soup with spinach and save myself the trouble.

But I will say, eating bowl after bowl of green did make me feel healthy. :)


Some of my other green soups that you might like:
Aguadito de Pollo (Peruvian Chicken Soup)
Canh Rau Cuu Ky (Vietnamese (Chinese) Boxthorn Soup)

1 year ago today, shaved snowflake at ID Cha House - San Gabriel.
2 years ago today, afternoon tea in the garden with Portland from Glendora and Angel Face roses.
3 years ago today, Baccali Cafe and Rotisserie - Alhambra redux.
4 years ago today, the prettiest Cobb Salad ever.

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