I’m a big believer in trying to eat like the locals, so when I saw stinging nettles at the Edinburgh farmers’ market, I snatched them up. (Yes, I realize that I could just go harvest my own from any park or garden, but I took the easy route). Nettles actually do sting, thanks to a pesky chemical compound, so, lacking gardening gloves, I wore plastic bags when washing and chopping them. The best part of the nettle is the youngest bit — the tender top leaves. If the plant has already flowered, don’t eat it — just mow it down and let the young stems sprout anew!
Knowing that nettles are commonly used for tea or soup, I found this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and adjusted it based on what I had on hand and to my own personal taste. I did not precisely shift the quantities when converting to non-metric measurements; for more precise measurements, please refer to the original recipe.
Stinging Nettle Soup
3 Tbs butter
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
Six cups of chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups stinging nettle tops, roughly chopped (Wear gloves while handling raw nettles!)
4-5 scallions or spring onions, chopped
salt and pepper
yogurt or sour cream (optional)
1. In a heavy, large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the onion, garlic, and celery, salt and pepper. Sweat until softened.
2. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
3. When potatoes are tender, stir in nettles and simmer about five minutes.
4. Remove from heat and stir in scallions. When cool enough, puree with an immersion blender or food processor.
5. Reheat if necessary. Serve with yogurt or sour cream to garnish.
For my first taste, though not first brush, of nettles, I was pleased. The soup was appropriate for spring as the taste of nettles can only be described as green. Lacking nettles, I could see myself making this with any young lettuce or other greens. I used chicken stock but if you want to make this 100% vegetarian then vegetable stock would work just as well. The yogurt added some necessary creaminess; without it, the soup had a sort of grainy mouthfeel — not altogether unpleasant, but a bit unsettling at first. I enjoyed the fact that I was eating a weed, quite literally. There’s something very satisfying about creating a delicious meal out of what would ordinarily be discarded as rubbish.