If you love the idea of foraging for food, but are worried about accidentally picking a poisonous mushroom or toxic berry, then nettles are a great place to start. Everyone knows what nettles look (and feel!) like, and they grow in abundance across the UK, Europe, and Western North America. And don't worry - once cooked, all the sting is taken out. It's a really delicious plant that can be used pretty much interchangeably with spinach in cooking, and packs a nutritional punch with loads of vitamins A, C & K, calcium, magnesium, and iron. They say the best things in life are free, and nettles are definitely one of those things - organic, seasonal, and all with no plastic packaging in sight!
Here's my top tips for nettle picking:
Find some nettles in a nice patch away from main roads / paths (no car soot or dog wee!)
Using gloves, aim for younger nettles, preferably below knee height to get young, tender leaves. March and April are the best months in the UK but you'll find younger crops throughout the summer too, in patches where freshly seeded nettles have settled.
Just pick the top four small leaves from each stalk as these will be the youngest / freshest, making sure just to pick the leaves and not the tough stalks.
Don't pick any that are flowering - these will be tougher and we also want to leave flowers for bees and butterflies to feed on.
And what better dish to add these delectable nutritious leaves to than my favourite lentil dhal dish, inspired by Anna Jones. This recipe produces one of the creamiet, richest, tastiest dhals I've ever tried, and as a plant-based curry lover I have tried a lot!
Vegan Creamy Lentil and Nettle Dhal
Ingredients (makes 4 portions):
1 Tbsp rapeseed oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
200g dried red lentils, rinsed
1 x 400ml tin light coconut milk
250ml vegan stock
4 cups fresh nettles (100-150g)
1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
First prepare your nettles. Keeping your gloves on, wash them in cold water, then drop them in a pan of salted boiling water and blanch them for 2-3 minutes, until completely wilted and resembling cooked spinach. Rinse them in cold water to prevent cooking them further and set aside. Now heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion on a high heat for 5 mins until softened. Then add the garlic, ginger, and chilli and fry for a further 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Now add the 4 spices and continue stirring for 1 more minute to release the oils and flavours. Add the coconut milk, lentils, and stock, and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the lentils are tender and the dhal is thick, creamy, and rich. Now add the nettles, then stir in the coriander and lemon juice just before serving. Goes brilliantly with steaming hot naan bread!
Nutrition (per serving):
Protein: 13.4g (Women: 26.8% / Men: 24.4%)
Iron: 7.8mg (Women: 52.7% / Men: 89.7%)
Calories: 208(Women: 10.4% / Men: 8.3%)
Sugar: 4.8g (Women: 5.3% / Men: 4.0%)
Total fats: 7.7g(Women: 11.0% / Men: 8.1%)
Saturated fat: 5.8g (Women: 29.0% / Men: 19.3%)
Salt: 1.1g (Women: 18.3% / Men: 18.3%)
Fibre: 8.1g (Women: 27.0% / Men: 27.0%)
See the Nutrition Info page for more details on % of Dietary Reference Values for men and women.