Sunday 18 April 2010

Nettle soup

So at the end of our second topic week on The Industrial Food System, our attention is turning towards the green world that is still in our hands. Next week we're going to do a photoblog on "What's Happening in My Garden" - about all seedlings and blossoming trees, new leaves in windowboxes, allotments coming to life, the whole Spring thing.

What's happening in amongst the flowers and veg are a lot of what gardeners call weeds and medicine plant people call herbs. One of these bold fellows is the nettle plant, famous as a tonic and cure-all, especially for the urinary tract and a terrific source of iron and other minerals. And for all forgaging cooks as a superb ingredient for soup or substitute for spinach.

Last week at our Strangers' Circle we started our get-together as always with a feast of home-cooked food: Angie's onion pakoras. William's egg salad with new lettuce from the Mangreen polytunnel, Elena's carrot and cumin soup, Mark's spelt rolls, my cherry-plum and rhubarb compotes . . . . and house nettle soup. Our low-carbon supper set us up so we could get down to draw up our first order as a Transition wholefood co-op - a real community exercise! We had all kinds of debates on the merits of poppy seeds, whether we should choose raisins or sultanas, what colour lentils. Some things we were unanimous about - extra virgin olive oil, fairtrade brown basmati rice, local bread flour . . . Tully did the figures on his laptop, Elena held sway over the catalogue, Mark made tea, Naomi and I negotiated kilos of gluten-free pasta. Oh, and we laughed a lot.

So if you want a kick-start an evening nettle soup is an energetic way to go. The plants are good until June when they start flowering. Nettles are best now however when small and young. Just pick the tops and strip leaves. Cook like spinach with almost no water. Then chop and add to whatever you like. Egg dishes are lovely with nettles, but nothing quite beats nettle soup. Here is my recipe (adapted from the classic text on wild food by the great nature writer Richard Mabey).

Several potatoes, diced
4 good handfuls nettles
1 onion. chopped
Strong veg stock (I like to add celeriac, fresh thyme, lots of leek)
Butter or olive oil
Several leaves of wild garlic
Creme fraiche (optional)
Black pepper, sea salt and nutmeg

Sweat the onion in a large saucepan. Add diced potatoes for a few minutes. Add stock and cook for twenty or so minutes. Rinse and sort nettles. Cook for a few minutes until soft, then add to soup for the last five minutes. Season and serve with creme fraiche and strips of wild garlic (from your local wild space or garden!) Richard Mabey instructs to squash the soup with the back of a spoon or puree, but I like the chunks.

The kind of soup that just keeps getting better. Bon appetit!

Photo: picking nettle from the Spring Tonic Walk 09, by Helen Simpson Slapp

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