Rice with nettles
The unique, rich, dark taste of this plant enhances all sorts of foods.
The first green wild plants start poking their heads up at about this time of year. Our rains have been sparse, but that moisture was enough to release the energy in their seeds. Out foraging and taking pictures, I see clumps of nettles standing in neglected street-side corners, and remember how good they taste cooked with garlic and rice. So I stoop down and quickly gather a handful, ignoring the slight sting. Passersby stare for a moment, then walk on, thinking who knows what. Yes, it probably is a strange picture: a middle-aged lady with a camera dangling from her shoulder, picking nettles. I hope someday to be an old lady picking nettles.
It’ll be another month or so until the nettles are big enough to harvest in quantity. Their sting will be powerful then, and I’ll have to be cautious. I’ll go out with a bag and a pair of scissors, cut my nettles close to the ground, and bring them home to dry.
Nettles fit into all kinds of food. Steamed, sautéed with garlic and/or onions, combined with cheese, mushrooms, as a filling for crepes or ravioli – just recall any recipe calling for dark green leaves, and substitute nettles. Herbalists say ironically that with enough cheese and butter, any wild green is tasty. But the rich, dark taste of nettles stands up to irony (and is good for raising hemoglobin).
And nettles taste nothing like spinach. It seems that whenever an author is at a loss to describe the taste of a wild green, he or she says it tastes like spinach. Nettles have their own flavor, not earthy like chard, not mild like green beans, nor yet bitter, like spinach – but their aroma sometimes reminds me of wakame seaweed.
- 1 cup rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup tender young nettle leaves, rinsed and chopped: a small handful
- 2 cups boiling water or hot stock
Rinse your rice well to free it of dust. Allow it to drain in a sieve until no more water drips.
Heat the oil in a small pot and add the rice to it. Stir, covering the grains with a film of oil.
Allow the rice to heat through and change color slightly. Add the garlic, salt and nettles. Stir well.
Add the water or stock – carefully, there will be steam. Stir again and cover the pot.
Steam the rice on the lowest possible flame for 10 minutes. Check to make sure all the liquid is absorbed and the grains are tender all the way through. Let it sit a further 5 minutes before serving. If you like the taste, you might try using a full cup of nettle leaves next time.
It’s not only good, it’s good for you.