Article originally published in The Oregonian’s FoodDay section.
Stinging nettles are wild and a little bit dangerous, kind of like that boyfriend your parents disapproved of in high school. As their name implies, they sting. Intrepid foragers have to gather them in the wild, armed with protective gloves and sharp scissors. Why bother? They also happen to be delicious.
Long considered a spring tonic, nettles are loaded with enough protein, iron, vitamins and minerals to edge them right into super food territory. When cooked, they taste a bit like spinach — which is fitting because as you eat them you might swear you can feel the nutrients and vitality coursing through your veins in a Popeye-like fashion.
The leaves and stems of nettles are covered with fine hairs that release a potent mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid when touched. Not to worry — a quick blanch renders them harmless and ready to eat. To prepare, use tongs to transfer nettles to a large pot of boiling, salted water. Cook for a minute or two to remove the sting, then drain in a colander and rinse with cool water. Trim off any tough stems and chop the leaves coarsely.
You can use blanched nettles in a variety of dishes, just as you would spinach. Try them blended in a soup with potatoes, leeks and a touch of cream or as a savory filling for ravioli or spanakopita. They would also be quite welcome in a frittata, flan or quiche and can be turned into a nettle pesto to pair with pasta.