Thursday, May 19, 2005

Celebrate the Green!

Set aside a whole day. Pack a sandwich, some drinking water, a large paper bag, a pair of garden shears or scissors, and gloves. Head for the nearest woods. Find a stream. Follow the water until you come across a stand of nettles. They're usually a couple feet tall, with square spiky stems and beautiful dark green leaves with serrated edges and hairy silvery-colored undersides. If you're unsure about identification, rub your hand across some leaves. If they sting, you've found the right plant!

Take your shoes and socks off and play in the stream. Eat your sandwich. Take a nap, if you feel like it. Approach the nettles and ask if you can harvest some leaves. They usually say "Yes." (It helps if you don't automatically take the stinging to mean "No.") Put on your gloves, get out your shears, and start clipping healthy leaves into your paper bag. Gather a lot, but just a few from each individual plant. Stop just as you're starting to feel greedy.

When you get home, wash the leaves in a colander. Dry them in a salad spinner or by swinging them hard in a cotton bag. Cut individual leaves off of stems. Make a batter by mixing a cup of flour with an egg and a cup of iced water. Don't mix too hard - lumpy is good. If you're feeling adventurous you can substitute chilled carbonated water for the water. Heat a pan with at least an inch of cooking oil, or use a deep-fryer if you have one. Coat one side of each nettle leaf with a thin layer of batter, and throw these into the hot oil. Fry until the batter is crispy but not burnt. The uncoated side of the leaves should turn a brilliant translucent emerald green. Dip the leaves in tempura sauce or any sauce that you like. A bowl of rice, some kimchi or sauerkraut, and a cup of miso soup rounds the meal out nicely.

If you don't care for tempura (or next time you do this), make a delicious cream of nettle soup: in a pot, saute a chopped onion in melted butter until it is golden brown. Set aside a couple of baby nettle leaf-pairs. In a blender, blend up the rest of your fresh nettle leaves with some water, a boiled potato, and the sauted onions. Pour back into the pot, and add chicken broth until you have the amount of soup you want. Heat until it's boiling, then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally and flavoring with salt and pepper, to your liking. Add a dollop of sour cream or whipping cream, garnish with the baby leaves, and serve with crusty fresh bread and a glass of wine. Enjoy!

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