This weeks' Vitally Delicious salad includes a leafy green that probably brings back some painful memories...
Foraged nettles! (Or those gently tolerated in your garden/allotment.)
They don't have the best reputation, but if you've tried nettle tea or nettle soup you'll know they're fantastic when correctly prepared. What's more, they're free and readily available all year round although at their best now with their tender new season growth spurt. Our current Vitally Delicious salad includes smoked tofu, wheat free noodles, sesame broccoli and tempura nettles. Simply pick nettle tops (the new growth in the top 5-8cm is the most tender) and deep fry in a simple batter of self raising flour and water. The nettles sting is provided by the stinging hairs which are reinforced by silica thus acting like a glass hypodermic needle which inject the uric acid into your skin. However, heating or crushing the leaves disarms the sting so be bold.
You can also steam or boil nettle leaves, drain them and dress them with olive oil for an adventurous and delicious vegetable side, or blend with pine nuts and Parmesan with garlic and olive oil for a great pesto. Being a perennial plant they are far more nutritious than annual vegetables. This is because their longer, more permanent roots mean more minerals and vitamins can be accessed by the plant. They also have surprisingly high levels of protein, around 6 or 7g per 100g (about the same as tofu!)
We could go on about nettles, but everything you'll need to know is covered in 'The Forager Handbook' by Miles Irving. He tells how nettles have been used as food, medicine, fibre for cloth and rope, dyes, hair products, soil cleanser and vegetable rennet. They have even been used to alleviate symptoms of arthritis by introducing uric acid into the skin.
So the next time you avoid a nettle-lined footpath, think twice - it could be the start of your next meal! In the meantime, our Vitally Delicious salad is a good place to start.