I was out for a walk the other day and followed a path through some allotments which were thick with nettles. It had been raining and the sun had just come out. The new shoots on the nettles just looked so vibrant and fresh that I thought I would try cooking them. Eating nettles is not a new or uncommon thing - I believe in past times they were commonly eaten as a soup to break the winter diet of roots, preserves and dried goods.
When you pick nettles you want them to be young and tender. I believe we maybe getting towards the end of the eating season but mine were delicious none the less. When you select your nettles, try not to pick roadside or near busy public rights of ways - I am sure traffic fumes and dog piss don't aid the flavour. You should pick only the tips - the top four leaves - and to avoid being stung you must 'grasp the nettle' from underneath the leaves. The stinging hairs are only located on the upper surfaces. For two:
Nettles, about the same volume as a bag of spinach
1 small onion, finely chopped
Butter - 75g
Garlic, 5 fat cloves
Fresh ginger, a thumb sized piece, peeled and finely grated
Potatoes, 200g peeled and chopped into chunks
Cauliflower - 1/2 a small one, cut into florets
Vegetable stock - 300ml (I use Marigold Vegetable Bouillion Powder)
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
Ground coriander - 1 tbsp
Ground cumin - 1 heaped tsp
Chilli flakes - 1/4 tsp
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander stalks, washed and finely chopped. Save the leaves for your salad.
In a large saute pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the butter until very soft and golden. Add the spices and gently fry to release their flavour. Add the ginger and potatoes along with the stock and simmer until the potatoes are half cooked. Add the cauliflower and continue to gently simmer.
Really wash the nettles well using a wooden spoon to slosh them about in the sink. Blanch for 1 minute in rapidly boiling water then plunge into icy water to preserve the green colour. Squeeze well using a tea towel (the nettles won't sting once blanched). Run your knife through the nettles to roughly chop them. When the cauliflower is almost cooked, add the nettles and coriander stalks (loads of flavour in the stalks!) to the curry and season well with salt and pepper. By now the potato should be starting to break down and will thicken the curry slightly.
I eschewed rice in favour of a shop bought Peshwari naan, some Greek yoghurt, mango chutney and a finely sliced salad of cucumber, red onion, tomato and fresh coriander leaves dressed with salt and lime juice. As with all really good Indian food, the magic is in the flavour combinations. Fresh, cool, creamy, hot, sweet, crunchy, sour - don't skimp on the yoghurt, chutney or salad and try a bit of everything together. Boom!