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Stinging nettles? Who would eat them?

Be adventurous and try them this spring


by: STAFF PHOTO - Stinging nettles are a spring delicacy. Wear gloves and use tongs when handling them. Barb Randall enjoys their fresh flavor and encourages you to try them while they are in season.

You just have to shake your head and wonder how some foods were deemed edible. Take for example stinging nettles. The plant is covered with tiny brittle hairs that really smart when they come in contact with skin. They break off and inject a chemical that causes pain, numbness and itching. So how could you possibly consider putting them in your mouth?

I imagine some wise old Native American medicine man knew the sting could be turned to good use and experimented until he discovered how to harness the plant’s powers. I’m glad the discovery was made because stinging nettles are tasty.

I was prodded to try them by an email from one of my sources saying several chefs were including stinging nettles on their menus. They hoped I could help promote the seasonal specialty food and encourage the public to try them at their restaurants. Before I could urge you to eat them, I figured I had to try them myself.

I found fresh stinging nettles at Food Front Co-Op in Hillsdale. A pound bag cost about $5. The folks warned me to handle them with heavy gloves and tongs. I was instructed to blanch them in boiling water and then use them as I would cooked spinach. I took my bag of stinging nettles home and with tongs pulled out about a third of the nettles and clipped the leaves from the stems. With tongs I put them into a pot of boiling salted water and swirled them around a minute or so. Then I plunged them into a bowl of ice water, drained and then chopped them. The flavor? Delicious. Some describe it as a cross between cucumber and spinach.

Some folks say stinging nettles can protect against hay fever and allergies, acting like honey to desensitize one against the local pollens. Others claim they reduce joint pain, stop internal bleeding, anemia and poor circulation. Still others claim that stinging nettles prevent oily scalp and hair loss. So far there isn’t conclusive evidence that they are effective on any medical condition, so let’s just eat them because they are tasty and unique.

So what are the chefs doing with them?

Remedy Wine Bar, 733 NW Everett St., Portland, will serve Chef Ingrid Chen’s Steamed Mussels with White Wine and Stinging Nettle Pistou (a sauce) with Pecorino Sardo. They are pairing it with two wines: Love & Squalor Riesling 2012 for a dry, but sweet choice to complement the garlic in the pistou, and, from the Loire Valley in France, a 2004 vintage from Bregeon Muscadet.

Chef Erik Van Kley of Little Bird Bistro, 219 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, is making Nettle Butter Whole Roast Chicken served with shaved Brussels sprouts, roasted carrots, salsify and potatoes garnished with nettle butter and grilled lemons. The dish is made to be a shared plate for two.

Chef Jason French of Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., Portland, is presenting a dish featuring roasted leg of lamb, white beans, house-made smoked butter with a nettle puree and black olives using the wood-fired oven.

Chef Scott Dolich at the Bent Brick, 1639 NW Marshall St., Portland, creates a flavorful nettle puree with Viridian Farms pocha bean ragout cooked with a myriad of spices, with pickled ginger and butter poached halibut on top.

What did I create? I sautéed shallots and peppers in a little olive oil then added the nettles, some ricotta and fresh tomato sauce and poured it over whole wheat pasta.

What will you create with stinging nettles? Be adventurous and experiment. Take pictures and post them to our Facebook page. To get you started, here is cookbook writer Joanne Weir’s recipe for Risotto with Nettles.

Bon Appétit! Make eating an adventure!

Risotto with Nettles

Serves 4

6 ounces nettles, stems removed (handle with care)

2 cups homemade chicken stock

2 cups water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, minced

1 cup Arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice

3/4 cup dry white wine, preferably Sauvignon Blanc

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

To remove the stems from the nettles, be sure to use latex gloves.

Place the chicken stock and water in a sauce pan and heat until it is hot but not boiling. Reduce the heat to low and maintain the heat just below a simmer. Place a ladle in the pan.

Warm the olive oil in a large heavy casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 10 minutes. Add the rice and nettles and stir for 2 to 3 minutes to toast the rice and coat with oil.

Add the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine has been reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a few ladlefuls of stock to the rice and stir to wipe the rice away from the sides and the bottom of the pot. Continue to stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add another ladleful of stock and continue to stir until the liquid has been almost absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir in the same manner until the rice is no longer chalky, 20 to 25 minutes total, depending upon the variety of rice. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and add another ladleful of stock, the butter and half of the Parmigiano. Cover the pan and let sit covered off the heat for 5 minutes.

Remove the cover and stir. Place the risotto in a bowl and serve immediately. Pass a bowl of the remaining Parmigiano alongside.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 503-636-1281, ext. 100. Follow her on Twitter at @barbrandallfood



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