Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stinging Nettle, Potato & Leek Soup

This is the time of year when my stash of stinging nettles comes in handy. I've got a few packets of blanched and vacuum-packed nettles in the freezer awaiting the lasagna treatment and a larger store of dried, powdered nettles that can be easily added to soups or teas. High in protein and nutrients, stinging nettles are a jolt to the system—in other words, they're just the ticket for the deepest, coldest stretch of winter. They also have that taste of the wild that can't be duplicated by domestication.

Who doesn't love a soup that's ready to eat within an hour on a winter day? Just take your favorite Potato Leek recipe and sprinkle in a couple heaping tablespoons of dried nettles. If you got 'em, that is. If you don't got 'em, may I recommend you plan an outing for the spring. Your local hippies at the health food store should have nettles too. Just a couple tablespoons can transform a routine dish into something with a little more edge to it, a dish that sits up and howls at the winter moon.

3 tbsp butter
3 leeks, thinly sliced (tops discarded)
1 onion, chopped
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 lb red potatoes, unpeeled and cut up
1 quart chicken stock
2 heaping tbsp dried & powdered stinging nettles
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
pinch of white pepper
pinch of thyme
salt to taste

Melt butter in a heavy soup pot. Saute leeks and onion until soft. Add potatoes. Cook a few minutes. Cover with chicken stock; add water if necessary until potatoes are fully covered. Throw in a bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes before adding nettles. Continue simmering until potatoes are tender, then work with a masher. Season and add spices. Turn heat to low. Now is the time to use an immersion blender; otherwise, blend in a food processor to desired consistency. Stir in heavy cream and, if you like, a pat of butter.

For a little extra umph, I floated a few garlic-rubbed croutons on top.

Gift of the Magi

As it happens, 2009 marks my first year with an immersion blender in the arsenal, hence my desire to put it to work. In fact, Marty and I gave each other immersion blenders for Christmas. Same brand, same model. The two presents sat under the tree, fully wrapped, identical, until New Year's Day when we finally decided to give in to the inevitable. The kids took pictures. It was, as they say, a "teachable moment." It's the thought that counts.

Over the years we've tried to resist gadget creep. Toaster-over? No, thanks. Popcorn popper? Pass. Espresso machine? Mr. Coffee gets it done. Waffle iron? Puh-leeeze! But I'll admit we've both coveted the immersion blender from time to time, especially during those all too frequent times we overfed the food processor and sprayed soup everywhere. Plus, they're fairly compact and inexpensive. This was my first test drive and I have to say it came through with flying colors. Hooray for immersion blenders!


Laurie Constantino said...

I always have nettles in the freezer (they're among the easiest wild greens to harvest), but I've never thought of drying them. I'll have to try it next year. Do they lose much (if any) flavor when dried?

mdmnm said...

Funny. I, too, have just entered into the world of immersion blending. No nettles in hand to add to my soup, though. Perhaps next year!

Langdon Cook said...

Laurie: Texture is slightly different but the flavor is the same. Plus, with dried nettles you can toss a tablespoon into any old dish if you're looking to get that vernal shot of spring.

Mdmnm: It won't be long before those nettle shoots are poking through the earth again. Happy blending!

Anonymous said...

Amen on the immersion blender. I have an aversion to owning too many gadgets, too much stuff everywhere, but this one thing is a performer and it's smallish and I love it. Dried nettles is a taste I've never experienced. Until spring arrives with a fresh supply, I wonder if PCC has them in bulk. ??

Heather said...

I have a secret stash place very close to my house, in a little riparian corridor. I freeze mine in pesto form - easy to use if frozen in ice cube trays! But I guess powdered would be easier still.

Anonymous said...

Great idea. I've always thought potato leek soup was just a bit bland. Adding nettles sounds like just the trick, especially when you've got hippie friends at the co-op. Your soup is beautiful.

Navita (Gupta) Hakim said...

m so going to try this..
hi first time here. u have a trove of gr8 pics n lovely recipes...

Langdon Cook said...

Sally - I'm pretty sure you can get dried nettles at PCC. Look in the tea section.

Heather - Love the ice cube pesto idea. I freeze nettles too, but in chopped and blanched form.

Audrey - Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Definitely has more zip than a standard potato-leek (although the color is a bit on the pukey side; maybe a drizzle of Franks Red Hot sauce would brighten it a little).

Navita - Thanks for stopping by. Let me know how yours turns out!

Lo said...

Oh, the jealousy! I love nettles... and this looks fabulous.

Can't wait for spring!!

Langdon Cook said...

Hi Lo, thanks for dropping by. The beauty is my finicky 8-year-old boy just threw a tantrum a few minutes ago when he discovered he'd polished off the last of the soup. Obviously a keeper recipe, and I can feel good about those nettle nutrients doing their magic.

BTW, I found Burp! the other day and am looking forward to digging in more.

Anonymous said...

I love nettle as much as carrot/turnip/radish leaf green! It is wildly underrated... The first two things I bought on my arrival to NY were a immersion blender and a cast iron pot :-) first necessity, right?

Anne said...

Just made the soup - wow! Really good! Reminds me of a cream of asparagus soup.It was a real hit today for lunch.