Foragers - get excited! It's nettle season, and this week's blog brings you Chef's favourite nettle soup recipe.
Tibetan people love eating nettles. They call to mind the story of Milarepa, the twelfth Tibetan century saint who transformed himself from a murderous black magician into one of Tibet’s most famous yogi. It is said that during the years that he lived alone in his meditation cave near Mount Everest Milarepa lived off nothing but nettles, and that over time his skin turned green.
Think of nettles as similar in taste and texture to spinach, for which they are a great substitute. They are an amazing source of iron and calcium, and they are packed full of vitamins and minerals.
Nettles are best cooked in early springtime, when their leaves are most tender, but they can be enjoyed throughout the summer and even into early autumn, and also can be dried for use later in the year. Harvest them before they flower and the stalks toughen.
Use gloves both for picking and washing them, and clip off just the tops of the plant for the juiciest leaves. The toxin that causes nettles to sting is destroyed during the cooking process.
In this recipe we use a mix of nettles and leeks for the combination of flavours and shades of green. Feel free to play with the ratio of nettle: leek, or to omit the leeks altogether if you are after a purer, earthier flavour.
2.5 tbsp olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tbsp sea salt
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, washed and diced
c. 150g nettle tips
1.5 litres boiling water
Pepper to taste
Sour cream or crème fraîche
Heat the oil in a large pan or wok over a high heat. Fry the garlic for a minute or two until it is lightly browned. Add the salt and then the onion and fry gently for a further minute. Spoon in the leeks, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes over a medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, wash the nettles thoroughly and discard any thick stalks. Place into a separate pot of boiling water, and boil for one minute until softened. Strain and add to the original pot.
Pour in 1.5 litres of freshly boiled water and leave to simmer for ten minutes. Then turn the heat down low and puree using a hand blender.
Serve in warm bowls and season with pepper to taste.
If you like a garnish, add some chopped chives and a swirl of cream or yoghurt.
Meat-eaters read on! In Tibet dried salted sheep fat works to give a nice smoky flavour to the soup, but an easier option is to throw in some browned chorizo for a similar effect. This can be fried separately and added later, or cooked alongside the vegetables and blended in.
Let us know how you get on!