Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stinging Nettle, Kale, and Green Garlic Soup

"It's not easy being green"  says Kermit the Frog.

Am fascinated by the medicinal properties of plants. Stinging nettle is one of those plants with a long healing history. 

A little history on nettles...
Dating back to as early as the 3rd century B.C., Greeks prescribed nettle juice to treat snake and scorpion bites.  The Romans used nettles to treat stiff joints (i.e., arthritis).  Early European herbalists prescribed nettle to treat scurvy and asthma.  Native Americans prescribed nettle tea during pregnancy to help strengthen the fetus and ease delivery.  I could go on and on about the many touted benefits of nettles -- an all around super weed.

So what can you do with nettles?
You could make soup.  Or, you could make nettle pesto, nettle risotto, nettle pasta (ravioli too), use them as a pizza topping, nettle pie (i.e., spanikopita, but with nettles in place of or in combination with spinach and other greens), nettle tea, nettle beer (might need to try this)...just a few suggestions to get you started.

Today, nettle soup...
I bought the nettles at the farmers' market over the weekend with no real plan in mind. Just something new to experiment with at home.  Although, nettles grow wild, so you can forage for them as well; they like nitrogen, moisture and sun, and thrive along streams and rivers. They are mild in taste, along the lines of spinach, but slightly more herbaceous.

Love coming home with an unfamiliar ingredient and figuring out what to do with it.  Before long, found myself in the kitchen, chopping and slicing, transforming a few simple ingredients into a satisfying bowl of green nettle soup. 

It all comes together rather quickly to produce a light, delicate, refreshing soup that -- with the addition of green garlic, young leeks, and [red Russian] kale yells -- 'welcome spring.'  The green garlic, leeks, and shallot get a quick saute in butter, and are subsequently simmered in the pot with the rest of the ingredients for another 20 minutes or so.  Then, into the blender where the ingredients are transformed into a very smooth puree.  Doesn't get much easier than that. 

Be careful when handling nettles; there's a reason they're called stinging nettles.  The leaves contain tiny hairs (trichomes), which release a painful combination of chemicals, including formic acid, acetylchlorine, seratonin, and histamines.

Blanching nettles for 30 seconds deactivates the sting.  After a quick plunge in boiling water, transfer the nettles to an ice bath so they retain their bright green color...

Nettles grow wild, so you can forage for them...they like nitrogen, moisture and sun, and thrive along streams and rivers.

You can see the tiny little stinging hairs on the underside of the leaf. The leaves and smaller stems are edible; discard (compost) the larger stems, as they tend to be a bit fibrous.

To deactivate the sting, plunge the nettles into a pot of salted boiling water, then transfer to an ice water bath so they retain their green color...

You can swirl a dollop of yogurt on top if you so desire; the yellow flowers are from flowering turnip greens...

Stinging Nettle, Kale, and Green Garlic Soup 
serves 2-4
1 bunch (~8 ounces) stinging nettles
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium leek, roughly chopped
3 shallots, chopped
4-6 stalks green garlic, depending on their size, chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bunch (~6 ounces) kale, roughly chopped
2 medium (~8 ounces) potatoes, cubed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whole milk yogurt (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Plunge the nettles in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath.  Pull off the leaves and smaller stems (discard the larger, more fibrous stems).  Squeeze as much water as possible out of the nettles and roughly chop.  Reserve one cup of the cooking liquid.

Heat the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the leeks, shallots, and green garlic.  Saute a few minutes until wilted.  Add the chiken or vegetable stock, kale, blanched nettles, potatoes, and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.

Transfer to a blender and blend until a very smooth puree.  Add a little of the reserved cooking liquid if needed.  Serve immediately with some crusty bread.  Drizzle a little yogurt on top (optional).

Note:  A high speed blender (such as a Vitamix) is essential in order to obtain a silky smooth texture.
If you can't find green garlic, add more leek and shallots and/or substitute with whole garlic cloves or even green onions (scallions).


Happy Valley Chow said...

That looks and sounds like an incredible soup. With lots of fresh flavors, great job :)

Happy Blogging!
Happy Valley Chow

Amy (Savory Moments) said...

Stinging nettle is something that I've been wanting to try! Your soup looks so lovely, fresh, and springy!

Ashley Bee said...

Your pictures are amazing. They look magazine-worthy. I always want to find nettles but am too scared to forage my own. I'm going to keep my eyes on farmers markets though!

Erin Vincenz said...

Do you cook the nettles with the other greens after blanching?

Wild Greens and Sardines said...

Erin, yes, you add the nettles with the other greens. Thanks for pointing this out. I revised the instructions to reflect this.

Erin Vincenz said...

I tried this recipe and it is fantastic! It is springtime in a bowl. Thanks!

Erin Vincenz said...

Oh...Ps. We substituted ramps for the green garlic.

Wild Greens and Sardines said...

Erin, Glad you enjoyed. Ramps are always a welcome addition.