It’s the season for nettles. Right now, while they are young and tender. In a few weeks they will be tough, and only half as a tasty. Eat them while you can!
Nettles are famous for their sting (which comes from their hollow hair-like needles through which the plant injects a histamine directly into the skin) but Edouardo Jordan, Chef de Cuisine at the new Pioneer Square Bar Sajor claims that if you pick them young enough you can “eat nettles as a fresh green, in a salad,” without risk of stinging. He should know. Edouardo has cooked at Per Se, the French Laundry, The Herbfarm, and Sitka and Spruce before opening Bar Sajor for Matt Dillon. I’d never heard of raw nettle salad, but Edouardo reassured me. “Sure, if the nettles are really young. The only problem is the can be hard to find that young unless you are foraging yourself.”
This time of year nettles are popping up in farmer’s markets as well as roadsides, though in my opinion, foraging for nettles is half the fun. If you decide to forage, even for the most tender of nettles, I still recommend you wear tall boots and gloves. Wild foods are no fun if you itch. Pick a clean traffic spot and look below your knee-- for bright green oval leaves with pointy tips with stem covered in a glistening fuzz, the rather innocuous looking hypodermic needle-like stinging hairs.
From Shakespeare to James Joyce, nettles (and their needles) have been a symbol of irritation and deprivation. Nettles are known to be full of vitamins and maybe not coincidentally, their consumption is said to bring virtue. Apparently, from Ireland to Italy, for centuries now monks have gone on soul and gut cleansing fasts of nettle soup.
I, on the other hand, felt perfectly indulgent eating nettles at Bar Sajor. Right now they are featured on the menu twice. Once, dried, and mixed into Bar Sajor’s lovely tea. Further down the menu you can find them cooked, as a salsa verde, under halibut. The nettles were rich, like spinach, but with more depth: earthy, grassy and almost sweet.
“We quickly blanch them,” Edouardo said, “to take away the sting, and then use their simplicity as a strength. I wrap fish in them, make a pesto. Right now were are serving them (under the halibut) with macerated shallots, chili, and coriander.”