To make use of stinging nettles growing in your garden or neighbouring hedgerows, Leonie Cornelius shares her recipe for wild nettle soup with vetch pea
Foraging may seem like something you need expert knowledge at, but there is one plant all Irish people can identify in an instant — the stinging nettle. While sometimes we spot them only when it’s too late, once you know how, harvesting wild nettle plants is an easy way to start cooking with foraged foods. Here, our gardening columnist Leonie Cornelius shares some insight, and a simple recipe to get you started.
The nettle plant
While the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) may be unwelcome in some areas of the garden I like to cultivate an area where they grow so that every year I get a delicious harvest of this amazing plant. The nettle plant is pretty amazing — it can actually assist the body in clearing waste and supports the function of the kidneys making it a wonderful plant for detoxing. They can be steamed or made into a delicious soup or even chopped into salad so long as you blanch them first.
Tips for harvesting
The best parts of the nettle for use in the kitchen are the tender stems before they come into flower. When harvesting wear gloves and pinch off a 10cm stem or so. The leaves are what you’re after but you can take them off after blanching when they don’t sting anymore.
Recipe: Wild nettle soup
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
- 1/2 large bowl of fresh nettle tops (about 3 cooked cups of cooked leaves)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp Irish butter
- 2 small finely chopped onions
- 1 clove of chopped garlic
- 500g of organic Irish potatoes (I leave the skin on for extra nutrients)
- 4 cups chicken/vegetable stock
- 1 to 2 cups of water
- 1 bay leaf
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
- Some wild foraged leaves and flowers for garnish (vetch is an amazing option with its pea flavour)
- Blanch the nettles. To do this, bring a large pot of water to the boil and using the gloves transfer the nettles to the boiling water. Plunge in the boiling water for about two minutes and use tongs to lift them out into a colander to drain. If you want to retain the green-green colour then I suggest putting them in an ice bath but I never do this and the colour still works out a gorgeous fresh green.
- Now take all leaves off the stems of the nettles and discard the stems. The leaves can then be roughly chopped.
- Sauté the onions and when they become glassy, add your chopped garlic clove, which should be after about five minutes or so.
- Now chop the potatoes into 2-3cm cubes and add then to the pot along with the stock and the bay leaf and then add your chopped nettle leaves. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are soft and add the remaining water as you stir.
- Remove the bay leaf from the soup and puree the soup to your liking.
- Now you can add seasoning. Add salt if needed, white pepper and if you like a little lemon juice for freshness. As a final addition you can add your wild garnish. Vetch (wild pea) gives the soup a gorgeous pea flavour and looks stunning with its purple flowers to finish it off.