The sheer mettle of nettles. They are taking over the garden: cropping up in the vegetable patch, dominating the borders and creating no-go zones in the middle of the lawn.
But revenge comes in many forms – all of them tasty.
Nettle soup is a well-worn classic: virtuous and brilliantly evocative of Spring but hardly exciting and there are a thousand and one recipes for it washing around the Internet. In short, it needed re-mastering.
Sweet Potato, Nettle and Chickpea Soup
This is a soup with substance; a filling bowlful of hearty satisfaction. Pepped up with the warmth of some aromatic spices it is perfect for those evenings when the sun dips a little too fast leaving the seven o’clock air with a surprising, biting chill.
Two large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
A baking potato, peeled and diced
Two white onions, peeled and sliced
As much garlic as you wish
Spices: cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, star anise – take your pick
Lots of fresh nettle tops
A tin of chickpeas
Vegetable stock, about 3 pints
I’m fairly certain you know how to make a soup so forgive me if I patronise.
Fry off your chosen spices in a little oil until they in turn start to release their oils. The smell will change, just take care not to burn them else you will add a bitter note to the soup. Crush them in a pestle and mortar then add the garlic.
Fry the onion until soft then add the potato (both sweet and regular). Give it a little colour then add the spices and garlic before covering with stock. Leave to simmer until the potatoes are cooked then blend and pass through a sieve to remove and rogue crunchy spices.
Wash and pick over the nettles removing any thick stems and inevitable creepy crawlies. Cook in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water then leave them to drain in a colander or sieve. Chop the nettles then add to the soup along with a can of drained chickpeas. Heat through and serve with bread or cheese straws anda big jumper.
As an accompaniment to Indian food, aloo saag (potatoes and spinach) is a firm favourite. Here the spinach is replaced with blanched and chopped nettles which gives a wonderfully fresh, almost grassy flavour. It works.
A large white onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Teaspoon of mustard seeds
Two teaspoons black onion seeds
Two teaspoons methi (fenugreek seeds)
Salt and pepper
2-3 potatoes, depending on size, peeled and diced into c.2cm cubes
Blanch the nettles in boiling water then drain in a colander. Finely chop them and set them to one side.
Boil the potatoes in salted water until just shy of being cooked. About 10 minutes should do it
Fry the spices in oil, lower the heat then add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the garlic then the potatoes. Cook until they begin to colour and are soft throughout then add the chopped nettles. Let down with a little water if necessary, season and serve with whichever curries you desire.
Photos by @photolotte (flickr)