Cooking with Spring Nettles: Where to Begin

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Nettles — the general term used to describe about forty plants from the Urtica genus — are readily found in spring and summer markets yet remain on many people's "to avoid" list. There is, of course, the "stinging" descriptor, and that tends to elicit fear in the minds of many home cooks. There's also just not knowing what to do with them when you get them home. Well, it turns out nettles are not only flavorful but extremely healthy! Here are a few easy ways to get to know them this spring. 

Often used as a medicinal herb, nettles are delicious in many spring recipes — from soups to salads, pizzas, and pastas. And the health benefits make them a logical choice, too. NPR's Nicole Spiridakis concurs, noting "I had an inkling that despite their sting, nettles might be an overlooked bit of nature's bounty, their prickly leaves couching a hidden secret: Not only are they good-tasting, but they are good for you." Packed with iron, calcium, vitamins A and C, you can use them as a partial stand-in for greens like chard or spinach in certain recipes where they won't be the main player (soups, pastas and warm grain dishes). 

But what about that stinging part? How to get around that? Spiridakis suggests washing and draining them. Discard the stems and boil the leaves for 3-4 minutes or until the greens have wilted. Drain and use immediately or store in an airtight refrigerated container for up to 5 days. 

If you want to use them easily and without a recipe, here's what you can do: if you use parsley at home, I use nettles in much the same way. After boiling them, I chop them up and toss bits into everything from omelettes to sauces. I find the best way to get comfortable with them is to start using the heck out of them and then figure out how you enjoy them most. 

Read More → Nettles Bring Spring to the Kitchen by Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

Have you tried nettles in a recipe? What's your favorite way to prepare them?

A Few Great Starter Recipes:

  1. Spring Lasagna with Asparagus, Peas and Stinging Nettles - The Bitten Word
  2. Pizza with Garlic Cream and Nettles - Food and Wine
  3. Nettle Walnut Pesto Crostini - Epicurious 
  4. Nettle Pasta with Garlic Mustard Pesto - Chesapeake Taste
  5. Warm Nettle and Beet Salad - The Potager Page

(Images: Nicole Spiridakis for NPR)

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