If you’ve been to a farmers’ market in the last week or so, you may have seen nettles on offer. A definite spring food and incredibly rich in iron, nettle can be used anywhere that spinach is used. It has a distinct, rich taste that for some reason reminds me of the ocean.
You may know nettles as a tea more than a vegetable. It is wonderful to help gently improve the function of the intestines, liver, gallbladder and kidneys. It’s also rich in minerals and iron, so a good tea for those prone to anaemia, and is high in silicic acid, which makes for a good hair and skin tonic.
I always think of nettles as something akin to the realm of faerie magic – strange I know. Perhaps it is because it abounds in Ireland and the UK and weaves its way into the folklore and herbal medicine of those parts. According to Dianne Onstad, in Scandinavian mythology nettles are sacred to the thunder god Thor and were thrown on fires during a thunderstorm to protect a person’s home. It is also said to give courage to someone who carries it – rather lovely given that it would be stinging them mercilessly!
With nettles you need to be careful – they’re not called stinging nettles for nothing! I wore rubber gloves the whole time and it is important to remember not to touch or taste anything until they’ve wilted in the pan (each tiny flower and hair contains a sharp point that easily penetrates the skin and irritates it, leaving redness and an unpleasant stinging sensation – until cooked of course!).
They are also a little time consuming to prepare as you need to remove all leaves from the woody stems (which have been used to make linen and in weaving due to their strength – nettle is closely related to hemp). If you decide to cook with nettles, turn on your favourite music, don your gloves and start picking!
An interesting aside, nettle has been used in cheese making instead of rennet as it can curdle milk.
Last year I made a nettle, feta and mushroom pie and it worked well, though I found the nettles were a much stronger flavour than spinach/silverbeet. This time I made two sauces for gluten free pasta but to be honest, the sauces were much nicer on brown rice, especially the coconut milk based sauce. The ingredients listed at the top of the recipe are used in both versions, then there is an option of sauce, and instructions on each below that. Enjoy!
1 medium onion, finely diced
5 small cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Splash of olive oil
200g mushrooms, sliced
Bunch of fresh nettles, leaves picked and washed (about 200gm when picked)
¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp of sambel olek or fresh chilli to taste
Salt and pepper taste
200gm organic tofu ( I used firm but silken would be make more of a sauce)
1 tsp wholegrain, seeded mustard
1/3 cup white wine
2tsp fresh oregano
black olives (optional)
Coconut Milk Sauce
400ml organic coconut cream or milk
1 tsp tamarind
- Heat oil in a frypan and cook onion and garlic until translucent.
- Add mushrooms and chilli – cook until mushrooms are just soft
- Add nettles and once they being to wilt, add your choice of ingredients
for tofu sauce
- Add wine and simmer for a few minutes to burn off alcohol
- Add tofu (crumble if firm), mustard and oregano, and heat through
- Add olives and salt and pepper to taste. Serve
for coconut milk sauce
- Add coconut cream/milk and tamarind
- Cook until the nettles have wilted and flavours combined – around 3-5 minutes. Serve
Tofu sauce: This is a more savoury sauce and I found that the wine and mustard help balance the strong flavour of the nettles.
Coconut milk sauce: The sweetness of the coconut milk is balanced out by the richness and saltiness of the nettle. If you don’t have tamarind you can use a little lemon juice – add a squeeze then taste and add slowly that way (as you don’t need much).