You never forget your first encounter with stinging nettles. I was about 6 years old on a trail in Griffith Park in Los Angeles with my parents. My hand brushed against a plant alongside the path.
It felt like a hundred little needles poking the back of my hand. Soon, my skin was covered with little white bumps, proof of the pain.
What I didn’t know then, nor could possibly appreciate at that age, was how nutritious nettles are, and how delicious! Nettles have been used as an herbal remedy for thousands of years, to help treat inflammation and urinary issues. You can buy nettle supplements and nettle tea.
The first time I ate nettles, they were baked, on a pizza. Wow! The flavor is something akin to spinach, but even better. The most classic way to serve nettles is in nettle soup, made with potatoes, stock, and a little cream. Luxurious and vibrant green, this soup is a bowl-licker.
Where to get nettles? Given the sting factor, you won’t find them in the grocery story. You either have to forage for them yourself (they grow wild on almost every continent), in which case, wear thick gloves, and pick the tender tops before they flower, or you can sometimes find them at your local farmer’s market in early spring.
My friend Hank Shaw brought me these nettles which he foraged from a field near the Sacramento Delta (thanks Hank!).
Fresh, raw stinging nettles sting! Wear protective gloves when handling them, until after they are blanched.
- 1/2 large shopping bag of fresh nettle tops
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1/2 cup chopped shallots
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1 pound of yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 to 2 cups of water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or a couple sprigs of fresh thyme)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 to 3 Tbsp of heavy whipping cream
1 Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Wearing protective gloves, transfer the nettle tops into the boiling water. Blanch for 2 minutes. Use tongs to lift the wilted blanched nettles out of the pot and transfer to the bowl of ice water to shock them. Strain in a colander. Cut away and discard any large stems from the nettles. (This should be easier to do now that the nettle stingers have lost their sting due to the blanching.) You should have 3 to 4 cups of blanched tender nettle tops and leaves for this recipe. Any blanched nettles not used at this point can be frozen for future use.
2 In a 6 quart soup pot, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat. Add the chopped shallots and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
3 Add the chopped potatoes, the chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme. If using unsalted or low sodium stock, add one teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.
4 Roughly chop the blanched nettles. Add 3 to 4 cups of the chopped blanched nettles to the pot. Add enough water to just cover the nettles and potatoes, 1 to 2 cups. Return to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the nettles tender.
5 Remove the bay leaves (and thyme sprigs if using) from the pot. Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a standing blender, purée. Return to the pot and take off the heat.
6 Add salt to taste. Depending on the saltiness of the stock you are using, you may need to add at least a teaspoon or more to the soup. Add 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Add lemon juice. Right before serving, swirl in the cream. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Sprinkle with black pepper and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint to serve.