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.
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.
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.