Nettle Season Begins

22 03 2009

I’ve posted about nettles before and have been excitedly anticipating their arrival. There’s been a lot of snow this winter and I’ve been looking forward to the first signs of spring. For me, that means going out to pick the first stinging nettles.

Yesterday I wandered out the trail that meanders in the general vicinity of our western property line and was able to pluck a small bag of spring shoots. I think this is the earliest that I’ve gone out, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Normally that loop would net a grocery sack’s worth in mere minutes, but I was able to get enough for dinner at least.

I’m always looking for new ways to prepare them as well. Nettles work great as a stand in for chard, spinach and pretty much any other cooked leafy green. I do find the steaming, squeezing and chopping routine a mite tedious, however, so this time I tried something new.

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

Nettles sautéing with onions and spices

After rinsing I carefully dumped the nettles onto my cutting board and, keeping my distance, sort of whacked at them with my knife. This resulted in a roughly chopped pile that I then dumped into a pan where I had onions and spices waiting. After a few stirs, the nettles had lost their ferocity and I had a pan of greens that weren’t also soggy. Yay!

I used one of the Spinach Dhal recipes from Complete Indian Cooking by Mridula Galjekar, Rafi Fernandez, Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani as a starting point and, with a few substitutions, ended up with a delicious vegetarian meal. I’ve listed original recipe ingredients in brackets and copied the instructions as written.

Nettle Dhal

1 cup split yellow mung beans [chana dhal or yellow split peas]

3/4 cup water

1 tbsp mustard oil [oil]

1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds [1/4 tsp black mustard seeds]

1/2 onion, thinly sliced [1 whole onion]

4 garlic cloves, crushed [2 cloves]

1″ piece fresh root ginger, grated

1 tsp chipotle in adobo [1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped]

1 small bag fresh nettles, roughly chopped [10 oz frozen spinach, thawed]

1 tsp ground cumin [1/4 tsp chilli powder]

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala [1/2 tsp]

1/2 tsp salt

1. Wash the chana dhal or split peas in several changes of cold water. Put into a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Drain the pulses and put them in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until soft.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy pan and fry the mustard seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for 5-6 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach is dry and the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the remaining spices and salt and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Drain the split peas, add to the spinach and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve at once.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.

Nettle Dhal served with basmati rice, spicy papad and chilli pickle.

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4 responses

23 03 2009
Akansha's Recipe

mmm yummy!!!!

23 03 2009
Maya

I think you’ve just spurred me to finally get out there and hunt down some nettles. I’ve been meaning to for years, but always manage to miss them. (Donning the gloves now…)

24 03 2009
shepardess

Yummy! They still haven’t come up around my land, but I ‘ve been getting bagfuls down river. That dal sounds delicious. I’ll have to try something like it

25 03 2009
Saara

@Amitabha: Thanks! I will be turning to your site for recipes in the future.

@Maya: Get out there and make sure you pick enough to dehydrate as well. I will finally do so this year.

@shepardess: The nice thing about the season being slightly later up here is that you’re reminded of what’s in season before it’s too late … unless it’s something only available Downriver. I’ve been making sure to try many new ways of preparing nettles this year.

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