Monday, April 26, 2010

Steam and Freeze

Our CSA box still won't start up until June, but from our small urban backyard comes a surprise early season edible - weeds!

Stinging nettle is far more common around woods in Europe than I though it was in Massachusetts - but last year I discovered a single plant while trying to pull up another giant weed. (Me: "dear, can you go pull up that 6 foot weed with the purple berries? I can't quite seem to get it loose." Him, from the back corner of the yard: "Weird! Did you know we have a stinging nettle plant back here?" Me: "Ohhhh! That's why my hand is tingling.") This year, in the same corner of the yard, there's a small patch of it. It stings when you touch it with bare hands, but after cooking the stinging is gone.

Stinging nettle is a fairly versatile green, high in iron, and tasty in things like lasagna, scrambled eggs, spinach pie, etc. My wild edibles guide says to harvest it directly into a large pot, rinse thorougly in the kitchen sink with tongs, and then steam thoroughly and use the cooked greens. I chose to remove the greens from the stems after steaming so I didn't have to worry about stinging. And since it'll only be good for harvesting and eating for a few weeks and I don't really need to be having stinging nettle every 2 or 3 meals, I'm using one of my favorite tricks from when bulky greens are in season : steam and freeze. Once it's steamed, I squeeze it down to some fist-sized dense balls, put those in a plastic bag, and freeze them for later use. If your tastes run to more conventional vegetables and you don't have a patch of stinging nettle in your yard, this is a convenient way to wind up with handy frozen spinach, chard, or kale when you have access to more of it than you can fit in your fridge or eat in a particular week.