I’m not sure why anyone would want to eat stinging nettles. The forager will most certainly get stung, and their texture when cooked is like chalky wool. Their taste is described at best as herbal and at worst like gym socks. But people do, perhaps because nettles are a quintessential symbol of spring. Their sting reminds us that the days of dark and damp are coming to an end.
To their credit, nettles are also absurdly nutritious. When blended, they turn a vibrant shade of green whose match would be hard to find in the culinary world. In this recipe, I team them up with green garlic (think green onion, but garlic), tiny new potatoes and crisp, pink watermelon radishes. I also use a three-layered potato seasoning method I learned from J. Kenji López-Alt at The Food Lab, a website that takes a scientific approach to developing recipes. Because potatoes absorb seasoning much better when hot, it is essential to flavor both the cooking water and the potatoes immediately after straining. The vinegar added to the water also helps the potatoes cook more evenly. When adjusting seasoning levels, keep in mind that flavors will become subdued after refrigeration. Err on the side of excess. It is, after all, spring. Bon appétit!
Cooking time: One hour. Makes 10 side dish-sized servings.
3 C lightly packed stinging nettles
1/4 C neutral oil (avocado, light olive)
2/3 C rice wine vinegar
1/3 C salt
3 lbs. new potatoes, washed and cut into 3/4” cubes
6 shoots green garlic
1 baseball-sized watermelon radish
3/4 C mayonnaise (homemade or bought)
1 1/2 Tbs. whole grain mustard
1 Tbs. ground white pepper
1 Tbs. ground black pepper
1. In a medium saucepan, set a quart of water to boil. Meanwhile, carefully clean the stinging nettles. Use a salad spinner and a pair of tongs to fully submerge the leaves, agitate them and drain off any debris.
2. Blanch the nettles in the boiling water for one minute, making sure all leaves are fully submerged. Strain the nettles and reserve their liquid.
3. Rinse the cooked nettles briefly in cold water to arrest further cooking. Squeeze out remaining moisture by hand. In this way, you can be sure all the stingers have been deactivated.
4. Place the nettles, oil, 1 Tbs. vinegar, and 1 tsp. salt in a blender. Switch on and slowly add cooking liquid until the contents of the blender form a smooth, but not runny, purée. Set aside.
5. Combine 1 qt. of cold water, the remaining nettle liquid, 1/4 C vinegar, 2 Tbs. salt and the potatoes in a stock pot. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to low and simmer until potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Drain potatoes, lay them on a cookie sheet and immediately sprinkle with the remaining vinegar and salt. Set aside.
6. Remove the roots and outer layer of the green garlic. Slice into thin cross sections up the stalk until it becomes woody. Sprinkle over cooling potatoes.
7. Cut the radish into 1/4” rounds, then matchsticks, then cubes. Set aside.
8. In a mixing bowl, combine the mayo, mustard and peppers. Fold in the nettle purée. Dip a potato cube into the mixture and consume it. Adjust flavor levels as needed. When potatoes are completely cool, add the mayo-nettle pureé and radish cubes. Mix until all pieces are evenly coated.
Can be served immediately or kept in the refrigerator for three days.