In Praise of Stinging Nettles
In the Northern Hemisphere it will arrive during the winter or early spring, just when it's needed for its many health benefits. First of all, in a season devoid of greens* nettles provide iron which is much needed to keep our red blood cells count, and keep us strong and energetic. Tea brewed from stinging nettles (fresh or dried) also help in many other aspects, such as cleansing the urinary tract, and combating inflammation. And the best part? It gives your immune system a boost against hay fever, which is everyone's least favourite part of spring!
If stinging nettles scare you, here's the trick: once you blanch them in boiled water, they immediately lose their sting! Of course that does not solve the problem of picking them (use gardener's gloves, unless you are blessed with rough worker's hands or have developed and immunity to the stinging venom in the leaves - something that most regular pickers of nettles develop after repeated exposure). Secondly, if you get them in the farmer's market, you just need to be careful to not touch them until after you blanch them - just pour them into boiling water, like pasta, and wait till they change colour into a dark green and look limp.
If the health benefits alone don't appeal to you all that much, here are a couple of delicious tips recipes using nettles, for any meal of the day:
1) Soup Broth: If you haven't developed a taste for the steeped nettles, you can use the hot tisane in addition to the broth of any soup.
2) Smoothie: The chilled tisane can be used as a liquid in smoothies. Try it with pineapple and kiwi!
3) Fritatta: Chop up a handful of the blanched nettle leaves, and add to 3 whisked eggs. Chop up one scallion, a handful of cilantro leaves, and add a dash of dried chili pepper flakes and 1/4tsp each of turmeric and cumin, and salt to taste.
4) Lentil & Chickpea Soup: In a saucepan, sautee onions, once golden add garlic, sautee for 10 more seconds and add 1Tbs of each cumin and coriander seeds. Sautee for additional 10-20 seconds. Add 6 liters of water and 1 cup each green and red lentils, and 1-2 tsp salt. Cook until the lentils have soften, and add pre-cooked chickpeas (or canned ones). Add chopped up bunch of blanched nettles and chopped fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with lemon juice.
*Go to the local farmer's market to see how little there is of fresh green leaves in the long-nighted months: even kale is quite miserable come February and March).