Take the sting out of spring’s best greens.
What foods do you associate with spring? Let me guess: asparagus or strawberries come to mind first. (For me, too.) But spring holds a lot of b-side produce delights, too. Like stinging nettles. What are they? Do they really sting? Why, and how, should you cook stinging nettles? Read on.
What are stinging nettles? Whey sound like something out of a bad fairy tale.
Nettles are an incredibly nutritious perennial green, actually categorized as a weed. But to get at the nutritious properties, they have to be tamed into edibility.
Nettles have been used medicinally for millennia. At least since the Ancient Greeks, people have used nettles as a diuretic, allergy medicine, and powerful anti-inflammatory. Nettles may have other strong medicinal properties as well — so many, in fact, that there are contraindications for certain medications and physical conditions.
You’ll also like: Stinging Nettle Pesto Pasta and Sheet Pan Pasta Pomodoro
For our purposes, though, we are talking food, not medicine.
You’ll usually find stinging nettles at farmers markets around mid- to late May. These are not the type of greens you grab by the handful, though, unless you want a really painful afternoon. Rather, nettles come in pre-sealed plastic bags. Now look closer. You will see tiny hairs covering the leaves and stems. Those hairs are actually thousands of tiny prickers. Brush one against your skin, and you will feel stinging and burning, and possibly develop a short-term rash.
How to Cook Stinging Nettles
Scared off yet? If you’ve made it past the rash sentence above, good. Because we’re about to get to the fun part: eating them. If you handle them correctly, nettles are actually a dead simple green to prepare.
1. First, blanch them.
Heat up a big pot of salted, boiling water. Then, without touching the nettles, dump them directly from the bag into the pot. Press them with a slotted spoon or tongs to fully submerge them. Let them cook for about 45 seconds to one minute like that. This wilts and neutralizes the burrs.
2. Drain and cook.
Drain the nettles in a colander and squeeze out all of the excess moisture. At this point, they are ready to handle. Sautée them with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper for a simple side green, or turn them into this Spring Nettle Pesto Pasta. The leaves can also be brewed into a nutritious tea.