Early spring brings all sorts of wonderful things: cherry blossoms and magnolia blooms, the sounds of children playing in the streets and a slew of fresh young local greens that we were without throughout the long cold winter. Stinging Nettles are perhaps the prized gem of them all. If you’ve read my previous post about this amazing plant, you know I have a deep respect and love for it. Thus when I saw a bounty of young, dark green and purplish nettles at the farmers market this past weekend I filled up my bag to the tippity top and biked home happy.
Nettles can be eaten in the springtime when they first start to come up. They are super high in nutrients this time of year and their leaves and stems are softer and less fibrous. They are covered with stingers so I wouldn’t suggest eating them raw (though some brave souls do). Blanching them in hot water for one minute removes the stingers and turns them to a hyper-color green that shows the high levels of chlorophyll contained in the plant.
I’ve had nettle pesto out in the world but never one that fully satisfied both the foodie and the herbalist in me so I decided to give it a whirl on my own this year. I created a vegan version using toasted sunflower seeds and raw hemp seeds for both their richness and their super-food properties. The nuttiness of these seeds compliments the earthy green flavor of the nettles and made for a creamy but firm consistency. I added a little Meyer lemon for a splash of citrus and a dash of cayenne for some heat.
Roughly 3/4 of a lb fresh nettles (or 1 1/2 cups blanched)
1 cup of sunflower seeds, freshly toasted
1/3 cup of raw hemp seeds
1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one Meyer lemon and its zest
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
Himalayan pink salt or high quality sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Trim the nettle leaves from their stems. Keep the stems aside.
Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and add the nettle leaves. Blanch in the hot water for just 1 minute to remove the stingers and soften the leaves. Immediately remove from the heat. Place the blanched leaves in a high-powered blender or food processor.
Toast the raw sunflower seeds with a dash of salt in a pan until they are a rich golden brown. Stir frequently. Remove from the pan and let the seeds cool in a ceramic or glass bowl.
Add the olive oil and hemp seeds to the blanched nettles and begin to blend. When cool add the sunflower seeds and blend until you reach a creamy consistency. Then add the fresh garlic, salt, spices, the lemon juice and the zest. Blend again until thoroughly mixed and creamy. Salt to flavor.
Garnish with a nettle leaf, hemp seeds, sunflower seed or sesame seeds.
Refrigerate and serve cold or room temperature.
Add to toast, potatoes, pasta or vegetables. Mix into warm food or serve as a dip.
If you love nettles like me you might just find yourself eating it by the spoonful.
(PS. Save the water you used to blanch the nettles and give it to your plants. They will thank you for it! You can also infuse the stems and do the same thing.)