This week Ali and Elspeth talk about spring greens in the wild and in the garden—and how they like to eat them.
It’s that lush time of year again – when everywhere we look it’s bursting, verdant, and full of life force edible greens popping up all over - From backyards and side roads, whether you forage or join the gathering at farmers’ markets.
Elspeth and Ali are trying out some new ways to brighten up their cooking with these tender beauties.
First up, nettles:
Elspeth first learned to identify stinging nettles on a Canadian island as a kid, walking down the path to the water with her hands held high over her head. She learned to spot them quickly—one brush with a leaf and she’d have a red, burning, nettle-stung hand. But when her first daughter was born a friend brought them a big pot of creamy nettle soup with kernels of sweet corn and earthy, vibrant flavors, and she learned that nettles are edible and not so scary if you pick them wearing garden gloves.
It makes sense a friend would give them to Elspeth after childbirth, nettles are fortifying. Ali likes to make an infusion with the young leaves and stalks before the plant is full-grown and flowers. She cuts a bunch of the tender stalks with leaves into a pot of boiling water, then turns off the heat and lets it steep for 4-8 hours. It quenches her thirst after a dark winter. That bright nourishing peridot color. It’s good hot or cold.
Ali’s also challenging herself to cook more with dandelion greens because she likes bitter tasting foods. She wants to try making the greens into a pesto with basil, garlic and walnuts.
Elspeth makes a pesto with garlic mustard, which also grows wild, and she tosses it hot with pasta. The flavor is just like you’d imagine—pungent, with a mustardy kick. A few years back two farmers she interviewed recommended another way to eat greens with pasta—they taught her to take the tops of turnips and radishes and sauté them with sausage and garlic and white wine and finally a dash of heavy cream and penne.
Ali imagines carrot green, beet tops, any of the tops would taste good sautéed like that or minced up into a salad or as garnish.
Spring is also the time to harvest raspberry leaves before the plant flowers. Ali dries them in a single layer on an old window screen, the same way she does with the nettles so she has both ready to use for tea throughout the year.
Elspeth has mint, arugula, spinach, and Swiss chard ready in her garden. She likes to make the mint and arugula into a salad with cilantro, lemon juice, artichoke hearts and Parmesan, and the spinach and Swiss chard she wilts down for a skillet spanikopita.
Soon enough gardens and roadside stands and farmers markets will explode with color. But for now, Elspeth and Ali are reveling in all things green.
STINGING NETTLE SOUP
Folklore says you should eat nettles in the spring to cleanse your blood. Apparently there’s some medicinal truth to the advice: nettles are packed with iron and vitamins A and C and have been clinically proven to help with everything from anemia to inflammation to asthma. Most importantly, though, they’re delicious, and the leaves impart a wonderful earthy flavor to this soup. This recipe is adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen.
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 quart chicken stock
5 ounces young nettles, washed and chopped
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen and thawed
Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and potato and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften—about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil; turn the heat down to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are just tender. Add the nettle leaves and simmer uncovered for another 2-3 minutes. Add the milk and puree. Finally, stir in the corn, taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Serve hot, with a nice slice of crusty bread.
According to Holly Bellebuono, cookbook author and herbalist on Martha's Vineyard, nettles are iron rich. Ali follow her technique for the infusion by gathering a bunch of stalks and leaves and dropping them into a big pot of boiling water. Then she lets them steep for up to eight hours and strain off. The leaves are edible if you want to snack on them. They don't taste like much but are mouthy and full. The drink can be served hot or cold. Add lemon or honey, if you're so inclined.
This interpretation is from Holly's book, The Healing Kitchen, Roost Books, 2016.
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