Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday lunch: Grasping the nettle

Stir-fry of stinging nettles, ramps, carrots and chickpeas, served over basmati rice.

We've seen nettles at the market over the last year or two, but we've been too intimidated to try them out - until now. Yes, they really are "stinging" nettles - if you brush against the leaves, you will get a painful sting which can linger from hours to days. According to Wikipedia, these little leafies have micro-needles which inject you with formic acid, serotonin, histamine, and a couple other nasty chemicals. Luckily, mincing (VERY fine), sauteeing, soaking or boiling the leaves destroys the chemicals that cause the sting. Humans must have figured that out pretty early on, because nettles are a rather ancient food: they are useful as yet another veggie that appears early in the season when few other things are ready for harvest.

We swiped this recipe idea from the excellent food politics blog La Vida Locavore. It's simple - which is what we wanted for our first nettle experience. You may be wondering how one prepares nettles, given that you can't touch them without being stung. The answer: latex gloves. No, seriously.

Nettle leaves separated from inedible stems

It sounds like a lot of trouble to wear gloves just to prep some greens, but these guys were really worth the fuss. They have a deep, interesting flavor once cooked (when raw they smell haylike), and they retain a pleasantly chewy texture even after sauteeing.

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