Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Foraging: Stinging Nettles

Since moving to the state of Washington, I have been swept away by the foraging possibilities - both abundant and nearby. I have been devouring all kinds of information on the subject, learning about different things to look for by season. Winter is over here in the Pacific North West, and that means yummy stinging nettles are in their prime.

Stinging nettles - which lose their "sting" after being cooked for one minute - are easy to identify, and deliciously yummy. They remind me of spinach, but maybe a bit woodsier. I now substitute them for pretty much any dark leafy green veggie in recipes. Not only are stinging nettles pesticide-free gifts of nature, but according to my research, they are also a nutritional powerhouse, chock full of all the dark-leafy-green veggie benefits including iron, calcium, and folic acid.

In early spring, we donned long sleeves and pants, gloves, and boots, and ventured down to the nearest trails to pick our first lot. A modest half grocery bag's worth.

Never having cooked with Stinging Nettles before, I wanted to tread lightly. Even my husband (who generally does not get as excited about food) was all too eager to help me pick them, probably in large part for the fact that he got to jump into the weedy shrubs, thorns and brambles and be a little boy again. And we had two other adorable helpers.

You are supposed to harvest only the top two or three bracts of the plant while they're still young, so they have a chance to keep growing (at which point you can go back and pick more yumminess!) and snip off the leaves to cook with.

Unable to avoid curiosity, we cooked up that first batch immediately. Oh.So.Tasty! You cook them for a minute (which will disable the sting), then however your recipe calls for your leafy greens to be cooked.

It cooks down almost exactly like spinach, in the fact that it loses as much water.

Since then, we have gone back again and again and have picked many more bags full. Boy-oh-boy we have discovered a whole new world and have had so much fun experimenting with it in different dishes. Stinging nettle and garlic homemade deep dish stuffed crust pizza, anyone?

Or, simply tossed into boring old spaghetti sauce? Or, perhaps a semi-foraged version of delicious Indian Palak Paneer? The possibilities are endless. Thank God for these simple delights of nature.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sweet Potato Latkes

I love latkes. Regular potato latkes. I have also never met a sweet potato we didn’t like. Stay with me, I have a point.

All of a sudden, a craving for crispy potatoes hit. Easily fixed. A quick glance in the pantry confirmed only one small lonesome Yukon Gold potato, BUT…an ample supply of plump sweet potatoes. So...Sweet Potato Latkes here we come!

The following isn’t so much a recipe, as a suggestion of directions. The key is to squeeze all moisture from the grated sweet potatoes, otherwise they will not crisp up and turn golden brown as beautifully as they should. Other ingredients you might include with two grated sweet potatoes: ¼ cup finely chopped onion, scant 1/3 cup all purpose flour, 2 eggs, salt and pepper, and of course some oil and a cast iron skillet for frying.

Peel. Grate. Squeeze. Mix. Fry. Eat.

Sweet Potato Latkes

I like that this dish is not as heavy as sweet potato casserole or as greasy as fries. Rather, they end up some happy place in between. And fairly light if you only eat one or two – which may be challenging given how tasty they are! Plus, they just look special and different. Perhaps fancy enough for an appetizer, or to add a crisp element to a meal if you need that. Enjoy!

Wishing everyone a beautiful Spring.