Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A Curry With A Sting

In this ever increasing world of global warming, with seasons becoming a little less predictable and generally warmer, odd things are happening amongst the hedgerows of Britain. I was out walking at the weekend and there, sprouting out in a menacing manner, was my favourite wild herb - the nettle. This wasn't an old tough bitter specimen left over from 2007. It was a young and tender set of new shoots awaiting a bare hand to sting. And it was 2 months early.

Fortunately I had my gloves on, so like David Bellamy, I got amongst the undergrowth and pinched a few handfuls. Walkers avoided eye contact with me as I looked clearly insane delving into the foliage with an excited smile on my face, and who could blame them? I love nettles. For me, they combine all that is good about our wild edible food along with a sense of danger. Well, as dangerous as wild food is ever going to get in Britain.

One sting from a wild nettle and you know all about it. As a 7 year old, I ran naked into a whole pile of stinging nettles one hot 1970s caravan holiday in the Lakes. Dock leaves and Calamine Lotion were no relief and I spent two weeks feeling sorry for myself indoors instead. Quite why anybody would want to put one into their mouths may appear strange, and if I was seven years old I would have ran a mile. 31 years on, I can't get enough.

A quick wash and pick and a few minutes in a pan, just like wilting spinach, is all that is required to null any sting. Squeeze out excess water then use in a multitude of recipes for a delicious and original flavour along with plenty of vitamins and iron. And it is free. I used my few handfuls in a simple curry, accompanied by some potatoes and mushrooms for a nice little twist on a vegetarian curry with a real sting.

Nettle, Potato and Mushroom Curry
Feeds 4

2 onions, sliced
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
3 large floury potatoes such as Maris Piper, peeled and cubed
100g button or chestnut mushrooms, halved
1 thumb size of ginger, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large red chilli or 1 tsp of dried chillies
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
Half tsp cayenne pepper
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
300ml vegetable stock
4 handfuls of nettles, washed, picked, blanched, squeezed and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat up the oil in a large pan and add the onions. Cook, stirring, until golden.
2 - Crush the ginger, garlic and chilli with a pestle and mortar until you have a paste, or blitz in a food processor or finely chop.
3 - Add the paste and spices to the onions and cook stirring for 1 minute until fragrant.
3 - Add the potatoes and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
4 - Add the tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and the sauce has thickened slightly.
5 - Stir in the nettles then taste for seasoning. Serve with basmati rice and/or breads and chutneys.


Antonia said...

David - how interesting! I have never (dared) try nettles. You promise they won't sting?! I remember falling into a big bank of nettles when I was younger - very painful indeed.

Joanna said...

Funnily enough, I was only thinking this morning that it was probably warm enough for nettles to grow, and how I'd like some to eat ... it's been raining hard ever since I had that thought, and now it's dark. Fingers crossed I can have a look tomorrow :)

Thanks - a timely reminder


Holler said...

That sounds like my kind of curry!

Thank goodness for dock leaves!

Aimée said...

Very cool, David. Can't say I have ever had nettles, but there is always a first time.
Bummer about your childhood experience. :)

Bellini Valli said...

No nettles here in Canada I don't think...but I do remember sitting on one when I was 10 in England. We have Scottish Thistles, can you do anything with those??

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Of course you only pick the stuff which is high enough to be out of dogs cocked leg reach.

I remember those 70's Summers Up North. The midgies were the worst and I was forever getting wicklows. I did spend many a happy hour in the concrete paddling pool by Lumley Castle though, which is sadly no more.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Oh, and excellent sounding curry by the way.

Coffee & Vanilla said...

Your curry dish sounds delicious!
I'm just on the laptop in the kitchen cooking chicken curry with Cynthia's homemade curry paste... ginger, garlic, celery...

Have a good day, Margot

Wendy said...

We've had a remarkably cold winter up here. Don't remember the last time it was above 5oC and for most days it has been around 0oC or below. It's great!
I've never tried cooking with nettles. Too many bad memories, perhaps. Love my vege curries though. This may have to be tried out later in the year.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

How were you not scarred for life after that incident? What a ingenious recipe this is, David.

Jeena said...

Lovely curry David it looks really tasty. I love potatoes used with spices they go so well! I have never tasted fresh nettle leaves before but if they taste anything like spinach n curry I am sure they will be wonderful. :-)

David Hall said...

Antonia - as long as you don the rubber gloves whilst washing, I promise you they won't sting once wilted!

Susan - I was mentally scarred! The memories are that vivid. Eating them has helped exorcise those stinging ghosts :o)


Ed Bruske said...

DAvid, coincidentally I just finished writing an article about edible weeds in which stinging nettles figured. I am fascinated to see you actually using them, especially this time of year. Your climate must be favorable--for plants, anyway.