Stinging Nettle Soup and Nettle Purée with Bacon and Scallops
It is Spring here in New Zealand and Spring always compels me to put into practice my belief in eating local seasonal food. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can be more seasonal and more local than stinging nettles found in some park nearby. Most people might only recognize stinging nettles as pesky plants that will cause you some serious discomfort when touched. However not many know that stinging nettles are not only edible but sublime. In some countries, usually in countries where people have no other option but to eat seasonal foods, these are a highly anticipated healthy Spring delicacy. Sadly, in affluent countries, the incentive to find seasonal foods is nil as there is no real demarcation of seasonality in supermarkets.
I grew up eating nettle soup in Romania. After a long Winter in the absence of fresh greens and vegetables (we pickle pretty much everything we can get our hands on in the Autumn to keep us fed through the Winter months), nothing gives your vitamin and mineral deprived body a better kick-start than fresh young nettle leaves. I can go on and on about all their various health benefits but I’ll name just few here; nettles have copious amounts of iron, vitamins A and C, potassium, manganese, calcium and are rich in protein.
This is in no way a rant on being environmentally responsible or being all health-nutty, these are just the side benefits of eating this delightful leafy green. I am first and foremost keen on flavour and it just so happens that local seasonal food has the best flavours. Nettles have the intense taste of spring, a flavour you simply must try and are worth any small effort you make trying to track them down and pick these prickly little suckers.
As I mentioned on an earlier post, I love to scavenge for my food, I look forward to it and come Spring I am like a kid in a candy store. Armed with a plastic bag and my pink rubber cleaning gloves I venture out into nature’s bounty.
Where and when to find them (100% guaranteed):
Auckland – Cornwall Park near the Archery grounds - September/October
Toronto – Riverdale Farms along Lower Road – April/May
|My stinging nettle stash , Cornwall Park|
- Pick only young shoots
- Use gloves at all times when
- handling the nettles
- Despite their stinging disposition when raw, soaking nettles in water or cooking them will remove the stinging chemicals from the plant, which allows them to be handled and eaten without incidence of stinging.
Now that you've picked your leaves, and washed them thoroughly, it’s time to make magic. Here are two simple recipes for nettles. The first is the Romanian soup recipe I grew up on and was passed down to me from my mother. The second is a nettle purée and scallop entrée I developed as a way to celebrate the best of Spring.
Stinging Nettle Soup / “Ciorba de Urzici”
A large bowl-full of nettle leaves
1 Onion, finely chopped
100 g Bacon or pancetta, chopped into cubes
1 Egg yolk
2 Tb. sour cream
- Sauté the bacon and onions in a soup pot until the bacon is browned and onions are translucent
- Add water, bring to a boil, then salt the water
- Add the nettle leaves
- Let simmer for 1 hour
- Turn off the heat.
- In a separate bowl, lightly beat an egg yolk and the juice of half a large lemon, then take a ladle-full of the soup broth and add it to the bowl with the yolk, whisk it lightly and pour it back into the soup pot
- In a separate bowl, whisk the sour cream and a ladle-full of the soup broth and then add it back to the soup.
Enjoy with a crusty slice of fresh bread!
Nettle Purée with Bacon and Scallops
1 cup of vegetable stock and 1 cup of water (or 2 shallots finely chopped and 2 cups of water)
3 cups of young stinging nettle leaves
½ a potato, chopped in mid-sized cubes
Lemon to taste
2 Tb. butter
2 wide slices of bacon
A dozen scallops
- In a small pot heat up 1.5 cups vegetable stock. If you have not made any just sauté some chopped shallots and then add 1.5 cups of water which you will bring to a boil. This second option will yield a subtler flavour but is good nevertheless.
- Throw in half a chopped potato, add about 3 cups of nettles, turn down the heat and let simmer until the liquid is reduced significantly.
- Once a thicker consistency is reached, season with salt, pepper. Take this to a blender and puree. Here you may add some butter and squeeze a bit of lemon to your desired taste.
- Transfer the purée back to the pot and continue simmering it for another few minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Meanwhile, stick a couple of slices of bacon on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven until crisp.
- Then fry some salt and pepper seasoned scallops in hot butter. Only a minute or two on each side depending on their size. I like to squeeze some lemon into the butter sauce so I can drizzle it over the scallops and puree afterwards.
- Make a little pool of nettle purée on your platter, set the bacon on top and then line the scallops on top of the bacon.
- The flavours here go so well together particularly, when you have some crusty bread to scoop the purée up with. Enjoy as a first course or light lunch.