soup

One Pot Bean Dinner

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This one pot bean dinner is like chili without the chili, meat and beans are the main ingredients with a few other things added for a rich smoky flavor. Maybe you could call it BBQ beans, but it’s not so dark and vinegary, it’s smoky and sweet, with only a touch of vinegar and three types of beans.

For the general public I call this dish one pot bean dinner, among old boat friends it’s vinegar bean stew but at home it’s known as Oma bean dinner because the recipe originates from my Oma. I don’t know where she got the recipe, but it has the feel of something you’d find on the back of the box. When I was first cooking on boats I made a lot of things from my childhood even if I didn’t have the recipes, when I made this I winged it and it ended up a bit sharper than I intended and a bit BBQy so it was dubbed vinegar bean stew. So even though this is a family recipe and I love the way it is written I’ve tweaked it to more of my style but still holding to the real feel of the original. This recipe doubles really easily and makes for great leftovers, so make a big batch of this and dive into your pantry staples.

 





One Pot Bean Dinner


Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb bacon, chopped
  • 1 lb ground turkey or beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 28 oz pork and beans with juices
  • 15 oz can kidney beans, drained
  • 15 oz can white beans, drained
  • ¾ c ketchup
  • 6 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 c water
  • 1 ½ tsp. liquid smoke
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt

Directions

  1. In a large pot add the chopped bacon and cook until crispy, remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
  2. Remove most of the bacon grease and save for later, if you are using ground turkey leave a a few extra tablespoons. Brown the ground meat and remove from the pot.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of bacon grease back to the pot and caramelize the onions.
  4. When the onions are cooked to your satisfaction add the cooked ground meat and bacon back to the pot along with the remaining ingredients.
  5. Simmer the pot of beans for 1 hours stirring occasionally to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom.
  6. Serve while hot with steamed brown bread.

The post One Pot Bean Dinner first appeared on Seasoned At Sea.

Lemon Mezzaluna Egg Drop Soup

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52 weeks of cooking – Citrus

As spring slowly starts to creep in and push winter out I still want to eat my fill of soups. Winter soups and stews can be heavy and don’t put me in the mood for spring, but if you lighten them up with a few spring vegetables they’ll still hit the spot. Citrus is a great way to bring out fresher flavors and push earthy aromas aside.

This soup starts with mirepoix, carrot, onion and celery for the base and then more flavors are built off of that. I used mezzaluna pasta stuffed with pesto for the starch and for the protein I used eggs, not fried or poached but scrambled and dropped in. To finish off the soup I whisked together two eggs with a little parmesan and black pepper, swirled the soup and poured in the egg, the egg congeals as it hits the stock and forms golden threads. Last but not least that citrus hit that the soup is truly craving, the zest and juice of a whole lemon finished it off and gives so much flavor to the soup.

 




Lemon Mezzaluna Egg Drop Soup

 

Ingredients

Soup

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 c chicken stock
  • 2 c dried mezzaluna stuffed with pesto
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice

Egg Drop

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Directions

Soup

  1. Dice the onions, carrots and celery into uniform pieces, sauté in a pad of butter and pinch of salt until the onions are opaque, add the garlic, cook until fragrant.
  2. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, cook the mezzaluna or pasta of choice until al dente.

Egg Drop

  1. Scramble the eggs, parm and pepper together in a bowl. Stir the soup and slowly pour in the scrambled eggs, they will cook on contact with the simmering soup.
  2. To finish zest and juice a whole lemon into the soup.

Pho

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52 weeks of cooking – Stocks and Broths

There are two parts to a good Vietnamese pho, a rich flavorful stock and the toppings.

Let’s start with the stock. Lots of people use the term stock and broth interchangeably, but there is a difference. My food hero, Alton Brown, defines a stock as being made with bones while a broth is made from meat and vegetables. This means that a stock is packed with collagen, this has an impact on it’s texture, it ends up being heavy and velvety on the tongue. On the other hand, broth is just a flavorful liquid and lacks the weight of a stock. I believe in stocks, specially for a soup like pho when there are minimal components, you want every player to count and stand out on their own.

Part two, the toppings, which is pretty much everything else, herbs, crispy bean sprouts and barley cooked beef all covering a bed of noodles. These things can’t be skipped, of coarse you can go vegetarian and substitute the beef with tofu or a different preferred protein. Thai basil and cilantro add a pop of freshness to balance the richness of the stock and the bean sprouts add a needed crunch of texture. A sprinkle of mint, sliced chilies, green onions, squeeze of lime, a dollop of chili paste and hoisin sauce are also welcome additions.

 




Pho

 

Ingredients

Broth

  • 1 gallon stock
  • ginger
  • onion
  • star anis pods
  • fennel seeds
  • cinnamon stick
  • clove
  • coriander
  • fish sauce
  • sugar
  • salt

To Serve

  • thin rice noodles
  • flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
  • Thai basil
  • cilantro
  • mung bean sprouts
  • mint
  • chilies, sliced
  • green onions
  • lime wedges
  • chili paste
  • hoisin sauce

Directions

Broth

  1. This recipe is all about doing things to taste, start off light with the spices and let the stock simmer for about an hour, taste and adjust. If there is a spice you like more than others add a bit more. The stock should only be at a bare simmer so it doesn’t become cloudy, the stock should cook 2-3 hours.

To Serve

  1. In a large bowl place cooked rice noodles, slices of beef and pour over the hot stock so it starts to cook the raw beef. Then put as much or as little of the toppings as you like.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

When I taught myself cook I went through old recipes that my mom used to make, one of our favorites was roasted red pepper soup. It takes a lot of peppers and patience so I don’t make it often; but when I do I’m generous with the cayenne to slow the eaters down, otherwise it can be gulped down in seconds. Patience comes into play when you have to spend at least 15 minutes roasting peppers over an open flame or under the broiler and when you have to wait for them to steam so you can feel off their skins. I never follow an exactly measured recipe, just a list of ingredients and adjust to how my taste buds are feeling in that moment, but I can give a rough amount needed.

This soup is velvety smooth with a medium weight that slides over the tongue. Cream adds sweetness while smoked paprika adds depth and the cayenne contributes the heat to slow you down. I finish off the soup with a blob of sour cream to cool the tongue and make it that much more decedent. You could go for a fancy swirl of sour cream, but I like the blob so I can swirl it in as needed and taste the difference of the soup without it. I recommended making this to go along with something else, today I made a grilled cheese with two kinds of goat cheese, red onion and pulled chicken.

 



Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup


Ingredients

  • 6 red bell peppers
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 a head of garlic
  • 1-2 c chicken stock
  • smoked paprika
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • red or white wine vinegar
  • sour cream for garnish

Directions

  1. Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the steam and seeds and place cut side down on a baking tray. Broil for about 15 minutes until the skin is blistered and black, rotate every few minutes and move the peppers around to get them evenly blackened. If you have a gas stove grill them whole over the flames.
  2. When the peppers are thoroughly black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, let steam for about 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.
  3. While waiting for the peppers to cool roughly chop the onion and garlic, sauté in pot with a little olive oil and pinch of salt.
  4. Remove the skin from the peppers, do not do this under running water as some recipes instruct, I feel that washes away a lot of flavor. Add to the pot with the onions.
  5. Add enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables, bring to a simmer and add the seasonings, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  6. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the onions are soft. Pour the contents of the pot into a blender and add the cream, blend until sooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings, add a little vinegar if you want your soup to have a bit of tanginess.
  7. Serve with sour cream.

Growing up Italian: My American Family Part 2

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Here is what I learned from life: Diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friends. FRIENDS are.

I know, truth can hurt, and don’t get me wrong…I like the bling bling, too. When it comes to real life, though, everybody needs a very close friend. A BFF as they call them now.

I have only  a few very close friends, but I know I can count on them. Next week we will be celebrating the biggest “family holiday”, and I wanted to acknowledge some of the people I consider my adopted family here. Take MJ for instance.

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Vacationing in Roatan. Spring Break 2004

I’ve been friend with MJ since 2002. Before then, she was just an acquaintance of mine, whom I had met through a common friend. Then, my life changed.

There was a point where I was “broken”, coming out of an abusive relationship.

With no loving place to be, no home, no self esteem, no positive outlook on life, I remember those days as just “surviving” not “living” days.

MJ offered me help and shelter, and a solid shoulder to lean on. Now, isn’t this better than what ANY diamond would have done for me? I think so! :)

MJ is the kind of person that helps people leading them to solve their own problems. She doesn’t just give you the fish (one time solution) she teaches you how to fish (long term solution). A mentor would be the appropriate term, I guess.

Probably, I won’t be the same person as I was before my divorce, but it’s ok. I’m a better person! I don’t take so much for granted anymore, and my “needs” have replaced my “wants”.

MJ taught me that success is the best form of revenge, and the most empowering, and polite, too!

MJ is a self-made woman herself. Raised as a non-working housewife, she can cook, clean and crochet. Then, as life takes funny twists, she was also left alone, raising a child.

She put herself through major schooling, and she became a well known Realtor  and Property Management guru in town.

To this day, even though “semi-retired” her passion on “recycling” houses remains, and she is really good at it. She has vision and a determination that won’t quit! With that she has been able to provide awesome rentals in town for the last 30 years.

When we take day trips to Portland, chances are we won’t stop at Nordstrom’s, but Rejuvenation Hardware, or the RE-Building center on Mississippi Ave  are a must!!

MJ’s philanthropic nature goes back to those days “when she didn’t have two dimes to rub together” but she decided to help other women so they wouldn’t have to go alone through the same hardship. She is one of the founding members  of WOMENSPACE!

Now, her list of accomplishments goes on and on; while she remains  untouched by her personal success, she doesn’t shy away from wanting to help others constantly.

MJ also enjoys life and a semi-retirement. She loves to travel, and she is a great travel companion!

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Cruising the Mexican Riviera, 2006

Road trips, Caribbean cruises, Europe…we have done it all over the years. Loads of fun.

When Mom came to visit in 2003 MJ hosted a welcome dinner reception for her. Needless to say : a friendship was born that night, and  a greater bond between the two of us.

My favorite memory though, is of the summer we went to Italy together in 2005. While I had to come back for work a week earlier, she stayed with my mom for a few extra days.

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Visiting with mom on the balcony of our house at the Coast . Senigallia, Italy, 2005

Now, my mom did NOT speak English, and MJ did NOT speak Italian. I would call on a daily basis to check in with those two, and see what they were up to.

I would talk to mom who would say “MJ told me that….” and MJ would say “..well…your mom told me that…” ???? apparently a little French, a little Norwegian and a lot of hand gestures can  make the difference. They had a blast!

The connection MJ made with my Mom was something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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MJ and my Mom shopping in Assisi. Italy, 2005

Afterall, she is the closest thing to a mother I have. Someone who lets you make mistakes, but doesn’t judge you based on the outcome, and loves you no matter what. She encourages self-improvement through higher education, and she is there “cheering” all the way. Like when I got a second degree in baking. Also, MJ is the one who brings you chicken noodle soup when you are sick, or comes to the attorney with you to make sure you ask the “right” questions.

When our friendship developed, we started having “dinner and a movie” nights at her house.

She would cook, I would bring a movie. Then the nights evolved to “girls nights in” since I could not afford to go out to restaurants. Eventually, we settled for “pity parties”.

Oxytocin building gatherings, that involve a lot of gourmet food, and -of course- antioxidant grape juice! At the beginning it was just the two of us. New year’s eve lobsters Thermidor, or Thanksgiving take out when she was bedridden because of a back injury.

Now, our parties are well sought-after and we don’t seem to be able to manage to have less than 6 or 8 guests! Maybe is the food, but I like to think it is our shining personalities!!

As I said MJ is a great cook. Our impromptu get together, though, imply that there is no time for grocery shopping. Not a problem,as long as there is Martini on the rocks. Also, there is always something in the pantry we can work with…or the freezer.

The recipe I’m sharing today is one we perfected during our several get- together over the years. It is as simple as it it delicious.

Life’s accomplishment and successes need to be celebrated of course, but  some  “Blahh” days need too!

So, next time you feel down, call up a friend, have a “pity party”. Life is good! Just like that!

[gn_box title=”MJ perfect BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (aka Pity Party soup)” color=”#253″]

598557_3946803864028_1658855151_n Creamy and delicious: Butternut squash Soup!!

– Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 Med. Butternut squash, washed, cut in half, seeds removed.
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2 T oil and 2 T butter
  • 1/2 C white wine (plus more for drinking while you cook :) )
  • 2 cartons of prepared broth (chicken, or vegetable)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Sour cream to garnish, balsamic reduction or croutons or….whatever you like!

Directions:

Pre heat oven to 400F

Cut the squash in half and fill the cavities with thyme, rub the cut side with oil.

Place the two halves face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or-better-a silicone pad if you have one.

Bake for 1 hour. The skin of the squash will blister and will become dark or even black. It’s ok.

Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the base to the soup.

Alternatively you could roast the pumpkin the day before and finish the soup a day later.

In a 4 qt saucepan, heat the butter and the oil. Add the onion and sweat it until translucent.

Add the celery. Cook until soft about 10 minutes on med-low heat.

Deglaze with wine.

Carefully scoop the pulp out of the butternut squash and into the saucepan. If the squash has created a crunchy film on the cut side, use that too.

Add 1 Carton of the stock or more if needed. Enough to cover the pumpkin. Also depends on how soupy you want the dish. Only one carton will make the soup really thick,

Add some thyme and simmer the soup on gentle heat for about 30 minutes.

Adjust tasting for salt and pepper.

Remove soup from the heat, and with an immersion blender (if not available puree in batches in a regular blender) puree the soup. Taste one more time and serve warm.

Garnish with sour cream, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction

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Until next time, mangia! and Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

Eugene Food Scene: Not Your Ordinary Soup Kitchen

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A wise man once said, “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.” That wise man was Ludwig van Beethoven. Now, I don’t know that Beethoven was as talented in the kitchen as he was in his study, but it sounds like he was certainly a soup enthusiast. After tasting a variety of different soups from Soup Nation, I feel like I was filled with the same glee Beethoven had just after first humming the melody that would soon become his 5th Symphony. I momentarily felt I had the ability to compose a symphony devoted to a warm, salty pork broth. Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little, but that doesn’t discount the amazing quality, depth and heartiness owner Mark Stern has developed in his over 80 soup recipes he purveys at his two locations; Soup Nation Café located at 525 High Street and his Soup Carte at E. 14th and Kincaid at the University of Oregon Campus.

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I recently featured Soup Nation on the 5th Street Public Market Dishcrawl. Soup Nation was our first stop, and Mark served up a “soup flight” of 9 different varieties of soup, with a piece of house-baked bread. That night, the first soup we tried was the ‘Bleu Velvet’, a smooth and creamy combination of cauliflower, bleu cheese and Yukon gold potatoes. The flavors were layered and subtle, the bleu cheese was both the first and last thing I tasted, with a buttery finish. The Bleu Velvet was definitely one of my favorite soups of the night, and I’m not even a bleu cheese fan.

There were two other soups that were my favorites, The Green Chile Chicken Chowder and The Coconut Ginger Carrot. The Green Chile Chicken Chowder was a complex fusion of chilies and creamy chowder as it features roasted poblano chilies and corn combined in milky chicken chowder. I’ll definitely be ordering that one again. As for the Coconut Ginger Carrot, this soup was a heavenly cross between a curry and dessert. The coconut and carrot give this soup a savory sweetness and is followed up by the curry spice. It was thick and packed with so many flavors I tasted even after my bowl was empty.

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Soup Nation crafts most things in-house. They bake their own sourdough bread from a years old starter; they smoke their own meats and make their own beef, pork and chicken stock. They also utilize local fishmongers such as Newman’s Fish Market and some local farms for meat and produce.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Mark grew up on Long Island and made the move to San Diego, California where he began high school as well as his restaurant career. He started, as a sophomore in high school, as a dishwasher at a steak and seafood house in San Diego. He embraced the frantic life that is working in a restaurant. His first line-cooking job was at a brand new Denny’s in Rancho Bernardo. He quickly became the kitchen supervisor, Denny’s corporate equivalent to a head chef.

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The Soup Carte was his first attempt at introducing himself into the restaurant industry and selling his own personal culinary creations. Using money he’d been saving up from his hobby, selling recording equipment, he was ready to take the risk and invest in his desire to feed others his soup. Why soup? Its versatility is appealing. One doesn’t have to dedicate oneself to a particular cuisine; most cultures have one form of soup or another.

Clearly, he’s been successful. 16 years later, Mark is extremely satisfied with his Soup Carte, Soup Nation Café as well as proudly supplying local establishments such as 16tons, Broadway Wine Merchants, Vero Espresso, The Hult Center, Noble Café, Viva Vegetarian and Erb Memorial Union with his very own soup. His favorite part about being a restaurant owner, other than tackling the complexities that are marketing, budgets etc. is being able to step out of the kitchen and meeting and speaking with the people who eat his food. Mark says he gets a “warm and fuzzy feeling all over” when people tell him how amazing his soup is.

Soup Nation Flight

He and his kitchen develop new recipes as frequently as a handful a week. Always toying with new ideas, seasonal changes and spin-offs of older recipes, he and his team are always gauging which recipes stick and which don’t. Frozen quarts are sale in the Café. Mark made sure I left with a quart of Bangkok Sweet Potato soup.

Though he is content with his two locations in Eugene, Mark aspires to open more locations in the future.

“It’s not called ‘Nation’ for nothing” he said.

Taking Soup Nation nationwide, or at least Eugene-wide, could certainly be a possibility for his company Carte Blanche. The flavor is there, and I personally would like to see Carte Blanche soups in stores all over the country. Selling his soup on a large scale should only escalate the “warm and fuzzy feeling” he gets when he see’s another happy customer.

Soup Nation: Far From Being Soup Nazis

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Kevin Baird, EDN

Soup Nation Is Located At 525 High Street

You may recall the Soup Nazi shouting, “No soup for you!” at George Costanza before confiscating his soup. While watching that episode of Seinfeld you may have wished for a restaurant that made incredible soup—sans Soup Nazi. Soup Nation has that amazing soup you’ve been dreaming about without the fascist rules and Gestapo employees.

It all started for owner Mark Stern with a soup cart in 1997. Since then Stern has grown his business and added a full service catering company, Carte Blanche Catering, and most recently Soup Nation. Stern has wanted a storefront to peddle his soups from for a long time, and on May 5th Soup Nation was born.

Stern’s passion for making soup stems from its versatility, “Soup gave me a culinary flexibility to do whatever it is we were looking for in terms of international flavors. It can be smooth, chunky, or brothy. It runs the gamut.” He finds that people will move out of their comfort zone and try new foods through soup. “I love turning people on to cauliflower. Blue Velvet, which is a potato, cauliflower, and blue cheese soup—I’ve gotten more people to eat cauliflower just because it’s a delicious soup.

Greek Chicken Orzo Soup

Soup Nation boasts an arsenal of over 80 soups, which continues to grow as Mark creates new recipes. They serve 6-10 soups daily. Whether it’s a common soup like 3-Cheese Tomato or something on the wild side like Thai Coconut Veggie, there’s a soup for everyone. Dietary needs are also considered with gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and omnivorous soups available. “One thing I’m most proud of,” Manager Stacy Jo Armstrong said, “is we make all our stocks from scratch, which in my opinion makes the soup.”

Located at 525 High Street near the 5th Street Market, Soup Nation offers a relaxing atmosphere. You can listen to records from their collection, which has a wide variety of music from Billie Holiday to AC/DC and requests are encouraged. You can also look at books from their small library, which covers subjects such as gnomes, beer, and birthdays. Soup decor hangs on the walls featuring pigs wallowing in soupy mires and vintage style soup posters.

Home-style Meatloaf Sandwich, "It's Complete Comfort Food."- Mark Stern, Owner

Soup isn’t the only thing they can do right. Among other sandwiches, they offer a Home-style Meat Loaf Sandwich, which features thick slabs of meatloaf, lettuce, and sweet onions, all on top of a fresh baguette. It’s absolutely delicious. Soup Nation also offers salads, baked goods, and a full service espresso bar

Soup Nation Offers Quarts Of Frozen Soup To Go

Over the last couple years or so I have become infatuated with soup. I think it was the long cold winter I spent in Minnesota that got me hooked on it. Soup has the ability to warm a person from the inside out. Ever since I saw “The Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld I’ve been hunting for the perfect soup shop. I’ve been to Soup Nation five times now and every time I’ve left with a full stomach and a satisfied palate. I plan on spending a lot of time there during the upcoming rainy season warming my bones with soup.

Soup Nation will be extending its hours of operation in the fall.

Check out Soup Nation on Facebook to see what soups they’re serving

For Catering visit www.carteblanchecaterers.com

Spring Greens: Stinging Nettles

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When it comes to experimenting with mysterious green foods, some people need more than just a hearty nutritional profile for persuasion.  Because besides being very, very good for you, food should taste good, right? Finding that balance of nutritious and delicious, the foods described as “wholesome” by folks from all different food persuasions, is part of the joy of cooking.  While some people may turn their nose up at cooked spinach, others swear by the health benefits and taste of a well-cooked green.  (Have you ever tried collard greens cooked with bacon?)  But sometimes the greens that flaunt the most outstanding nutritional profile may not be found in the produce section at the supermarket – you may be able to find them right outside your own back door.  With springtime finally here (at least officially), one such green we can count on to be growing in abundance in our area is stinging nettle.

Photo courtesy of Uwe H. Friese/Wikipedia

Most people are familiar with nettles, either because of their infamous sting or for their valued status in herbal medicine.  Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) vaguely resembles the mint family.  Sometimes reaching human proportions, nettle has a square stem and opposite, serrated leaves that taper to a point.  This time of year, you won’t find the greenish flowers, which hang in drooping clusters and drop ripe seeds in late summer or fall.  But you are sure to find the spiny hairs covering the stem and leaves, which release formic acid when handled.  Nettle’s fiery sting earned it the first part of its Latin name, which comes from the root uros (to burn).  Nettle’s sting, which can cause redness, burning, and even welts, may last anywhere from an hour to a day.  While stinging nettles may intimidate the more cautious harvester, it’s hard to say no to a little green that’s packed with all the nutrients nettles have to offer.

Mary Preus, herb grower and author of A Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook, writes that nettles cooked as leafy greens are “exceptionally high in chlorophyll and contain vitamins A, B complex, C, E, and K1.  They also supply iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, silica, manganese, and trace minerals, pus folic acid, high-quality protein, tannins, and dietary fiber.”  Where can nettles go wrong? Herbalist Christopher Hobbs writes that “nettles keep us young” and David Hoffman, author of The Holistic Herbal, notes that they are “good for everything”.  The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook author James Duke lists arthritis, hay fever, kidney stones, prostatitis, urinary infections, allergies, asthma, bedwetting, bronchitis, osteoporosis, and rhinitis (colds) as some of the many conditions remedied by the use of nettle as a medicinal herb.  In Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Michael Moore notes nettle’s properties as an astringent and diuretic, and useful in addressing excessive menstruation and nosebleeds.  This is by no means a comprehensive list.  The countless possible uses of nettles include herbal teas and medicines, nettle fibers, and even nettle beer and wine. (An excellent reference to the history and old European uses of nettles can be found in Carol Grieve’s A Modern Herbal.  While we could talk for days about the many wonders of stinging nettle, here we’ll look mainly at the culinary uses of fresh nettles as spring greens.

Photo courtesy of Heather Arndt Anderson/Culinate.com

If the amazing nutritional benefits of nettles have persuaded you to give them a chance, what’s next?  Where do you find them, how do you harvest them, and how do you whip them up into a delicious dish?

Most herbalists agree that the best time to pick nettles is in the spring, when the shoots are still less than about 8 inches tall. You’ll need so me gloves, a gathering vessel, and some protective clothing so nettles don’t grab those bare ankles or wrists.  Pinching off the tops (with just two or maybe three sets of leaves) gives you the most delicate greens while encouraging new growth and allowing for multiple pickings as the plants grow taller.

To find nettles, begin by exploring near your favorite riverside trail s.  Nettles prefer wet soil and are often found near rivers and streams.  We won’t name any specific gathering grounds here in order protect patches from being over-har vested.  Besides, the joy is in the hunt, and nettles are ubiquitous enough to be found by even the novice plant gatherer.  If you wander long enough near a river or stream, you’re sure to find your own patch of stinging nettles.  As with all wild harvests, watch where you pick: avoid roadsides and all areas that might be chemically sprayed.  It’s also very important to keep our impact on the plants and their habitats to a minimum.  This involves keeping a distance from trails, finding large, healthy stands, and only picking a small percentage from any particular spot.  Check out Columbine’s School of Botanical Studies Wildcrafting Checklist for some things to keep in mind when gathering wild plants.  Also on the site is a great article called Wildcrafting for Beginners, which delves deeper into the art and stewardship of wildcrafting.

Photo by Sarah Nicholson

Once you’ve harvested your nettles, you get to decide what to do with them.  Eugene’s Howie Brounstein, well-known herbalist and founder of Columbine’s School of Botanical Studies, says that nettles can be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for spinach. He describes them as “greener” than spinach, and not as bitter as kale or chard.  He says they are delicious steamed, and can be made into soups and even pesto.  For variety, Mary Preus suggests flavoring steamed nettles with lemon juice, soy sauce, butter, salt and pepper, nutmeg, garlic, cayenne, sesame seeds, or pine nuts.  I would also add balsamic vinegar to that list.

If you are a fan of frittatas, Preus includes a great recipe for nettles in her book, The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook.

 

Nettle Frittata (serves 4)

Photo by Sarah Nicholson

2 cups fresh nettle tops

½ cup water

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped onion or leek

1 clove garlic, chopped

½ cup chopped red bell pepper (sun dried tomatoes make a nice substitute here)

6 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, drop in the nettles, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the nettles are tender and no longer prickly.  Drain, reserving the liquid, and chop them coarsely when they are cool enough to handle.

Heat the olive oil in a medium-size (oven-proof) skillet and sauté the onion or leek, garlic, and red bell pepper over medium heat until tender, stirring occasionally.  Beat the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid from the nettles and pour into the pan.  With a spatula, draw the egg mixture from the sides of the pan toward the center as it begins to set and lift the bottom, allowing the uncooked egg mixture to run underneath.  When the egg mixture is nearly firm, arrange the drained nettles and crumbled feta on top and grind pepper over all as desired.  Set the pan on the top rack of the oven under the broiler for a few minutes until the frittata is set and the cheese is slightly browned.  Serve hot with toast or fried potatoes.

Photo courtesy of Heather Arndt Anderson/Culinate.com

Other nettle recipes can be found on the web.  Culinate, a community food blog, includes a recipe for Nettle Pesto, prepared in the traditional pesto fashion by substituting nettles for basil and adding a touch of mint.  While pine nuts may be the pesto gold standard, feel free to substitute walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts.  They are considerably cheaper, and they all make a great pesto.  Another great Culinate offering is a recipe for Scandinavian Nettle Soup, or Nässelsopa.  Heather Arndt Anderson provides a tasty recipe for a traditional Scandinavian staple, altering it slightly by adding a little fresh dill and topping it with a chive crème fraîche instead of the standard hard-boiled egg.  Nässelsopa is a perfect seasonal delight: green enough for a spring tonic, and warm and hearty enough for the still-cool nights and lingering rainy days.  You can also try nettles in lasagna, casserole, spanakopita, or (as mentioned earlier) as a substitute for spinach in any recipe with the word Florentine.

If you’re already a nettle believer, try them out in some new recipes this spring. If you still need a little shove in the nettle direction, I’ll turn to Dr. Seuss for some borrowed inspiration: “You do not like them, so you say.  Try them!  Try them!  And you may.  Try them and you may, I say.”

Editors Note: Clean and chop nettles wearing rubber gloves.  Once you’ve cooked them a little, a brief  blanching is all that is required, the stingers are deactivated and the plant becomes wonderfully edible.

How Not Sweet!

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Pumpkin Soup for the Rest of Us
reprinted with permission from Culinaria Eugenius

I’m particularly proud of this creation, a squash soup made with one of our giant heirloom ‘Oregon Homestead Sweetmeat’ squashes, onions and leeks, and celery leaves.  I was seeking a way to make pumpkin soup without the sweet flavors that always dominate.  I wanted a hint of sweetness and more body than just fiber.  That usually means UMAMI, the battle cry of the meat eater.

Umami is, as we’re probably all well aware by now, the “meaty” fifth taste, alongside its frat brothers, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.  Think mushrooms, nuts, soy sauce, cheese.  Sauteed onions, too, add some umami to a dish.

The garnishes keep the soup fascinating, another risk one runs with monotone squash soup.  I roasted the squash seeds after only a quick rinse to retain some of the squash fibers clinging to the seeds for more flavor.  Topped with black pepper, truffle salt, and a bit of argan oil, they were gilded like gilded lilies. But even better, I broke apart pickled chive blossoms and floated them on top of the bowl of soup.

I urge you, gardeners, to make chive blossom vinegar this spring.  It’s a wonderful dressing, colored rose pink, and you can use the pickled blossoms in all kinds of ways.  Here, it provides the sour balance to the sweet, salty, bitter (from the celery leaves), umami soup.

Don’t omit the celery.  It provides an important taste component (see above), and the soup really needs the mirepoix of onion-leek-rutabaga-celery to add complexities to the flavor.

I’ve been using Marissa at Food in Jars‘ suggestion to take soups to work in mason jars.  I’m a bit leery of using my canning jars for daily eating, since they tend to break more easily when they’re redeployed in canning after being banged about, but portable soup is such a messy proposition, I recommend the nice, tight seal canning lids can provide.

Here’s my basic recipe.  The delight of soups is that you add as you go, so I don’t have measurements for this one.

Savory Sweetmeat Squash Leek Soup

  • A healthy chunk of sweetmeat, or butternut, pumpkin, or similar squash (estimate 6-8 cups cubed)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small rutabaga or a few carrots or parsnips
  • 2-3 leeks
  • 2 stalks of celery, with leaves
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter or bacon fat*
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 1-2 teaspoons of winter savory or thyme
  • enough chicken stock to cover squash by a few inches
  • a cup or so of half-and-half
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the squash in 1-inch cubes and dice the other vegetables.  Add all vegetables to a stock pot with the butter/bacon fat and some salt and pepper, and sweat on medium low heat with the lid on until everything softens up, about 20 minutes.  Add stock and herbs, and mash the vegetables.  Bring to a simmer, then let cook down for 45 minutes or more on medium low heat.  Puree the soup with a hand blender, then add the half-and-half.  Mix well.  Let flavors combine and liquids cook down even more, about 30 more minutes, on low heat. Adjust seasonings and garnish before serving with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chives, or other herbs.

Another option is to roast the squash first, in large chunks, at 325 degrees for about an hour, then scoop the flesh off for the soup. It adds more flavor.  Plus, you can roast the squash seeds at the same time.

* I have the luxury of having a tub of wonderful bacon grease from local pigs, so it adds loads of flavor to my soups and pot roasts.  You might consider browning some pancetta, minced, in oil and using that for the fat.

via : how not sweet! pumpkin soup for the rest of us « Culinaria Eugenius.