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Foraging nettles (and how to make nässelsoppa)

Young nettles

Did you know that the best way of taking revenge on being burned by at nettle is to eat its relatives? In Sweden it’s common practice. They are picked by high and low in early spring, and used mostly for nässelsoppa (nettle soup) but also as a healthier substitute to spinach (and even added into smoothies). Nettles contain lots of iron and are a great vitamin boost, and taste like a mild, grassier form of spinach. It’s one of my favourite things to forage, because it grows in abundance just about everywhere and it difficult to confuse with anything else. And as long as you wear gloves, the stinging isn’t a problem.

Caroline foraging

Caroline hunting down nettles in Fôret de Soignes.

They key thing is to be out early  – they should be tall enough to be easily pickable, but not so big that they’ve grown large leaves. If picked too late, their consistency is too wooden and stringy. However, should you miss the first leaves, you can also settle for picking only the youngest leaves at the top – however never after the nettles have bloomed. Avoid picking them from ditches and busy parks, as they tend to grow where chemicals and other fluids abound.

PIcked nettles

Freshly picked nettles – pick the top of the nettle in the forest, then remove the leaves from the stalks at home.

The consistency may not be to everyones liking, but as long as you have a powerful food blender that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s a good way of picking your own tender spring greens for free. In Sweden, nettles are mostly used to make nettle soup (nässelsoppa). It’s easy, tasty and nutritious, and always served with a poached or softly boiled egg. For 4 servings, you need:

– 5 litres newly picked nettles
– 1 small yellow onion
– 1 tbsp butter
– 1 litre vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp flour
– 1 dl creme fraiche
– 2 eggs

Nettle soup

Chop the onion finely, then fry it in the butter until soft. Add the nettles and make them wilt, adding some water. Once the mix has  softened, blitz it with a blender or food processor until it’s a fine paste. Add the flour and let it fry with the nettle mix for a little while.  Add the vegetable stock and get it simmering for a few minutes until it has combined somewhat (although it will naturally separate after stirring, due to the high amount of nettles).  Whilst the soup is simmering, soft-boil or poach your eggs. Add creme fraiche, salt and pepper to the soup, and then serve up on four plats. Carefully add half a soft-boiled egg or an entire poached egg on top. Sprinkle with some newly crushed black pepper and chives. Serve.

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