Chefs and farmers are talking up stinging nettles at the Santa Monica farmers market this week. Stinging nettles thrive in damp areas. Bunches of the prickly green will also be sprouting up from sidewalk cracks in Los Angeles in the coming month.
You may think the nettle, with its heart-shaped leaves, is an unassuming weed that can be easily pulled up by hand. But if you’ve never felt the plant’s sharp sting, beware. Nettles have tiny sharp hairs that easily break and release acid that can irritate the skin of hungry foragers and herbivores alike.
Take it from Brandon Kida, the exec chef at Hinoki & The Bird. He got his first taste of stinging nettles as a kid after being smacked by a stalk of them at summer camp. Still the stinging nettles made a lasting impression: they are now one of his favorite ingredients to cook with.
To separate the leaves from the stems, Kida wears thick rubber gloves before blanching the leaves to remove the acids that cause the sting. He plans to serve stinging nettles in kimchi and in a purée this week at the restaurant with cold buckwheat soba noodles. Since the leaves taste a bit like baby spinach, they also go well with cheese on pizza or pasta.
At Flora Bella Farm, Dawn Birch doesn’t bother with gloves. She says stinging nettles have helped ease the pain of her arthritis for years. A few smacks of a stalk across her knuckles stimulates a rush of blood that makes her joints less stiff, “like turning on a faucet full blast to unclog a drain.” Birch also drinks stinging nettles in tea to help clear up her skin. You can pick some up from the farm stand at the Santa Monica farmers market through the end of summer.
We think we’ll stick with the gloves when we try stinging nettles in Kida’s recipe below.
Hinoki & the Bird’s “Cold Soba Noodles, Nettle Kimchi & Purée”
You can also substitute store-bought dry soba noodles if you don’t have time to make them from scratch.
2 cups all-purpose flour (1½ cups for dough and ½-cup for dusting)
3 large eggs
1 tbsp sesame oil
Water, only if needed
Salt, a pinch
Nettle Purée (recipe follows below)
Nettle Kimchi (recipe follows below)
Hon shimeji mushrooms
Roasted nori (seaweed), shredded
Prepare the soba: Combine all of the soba ingredients in a mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix on low speed until a smooth dough forms, approximately 10 minutes. Alternatively, the soba dough can also be mixed by hand, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
If mixture is dry and refuses to form a dough, add 1–3 tablespoons of water to mixer. Remove the dough from mixer and transfer to a bowl. Cover with a damp towel for 20 minutes.
Use some of the remaining flour to dust your work surface. Roll the dough out to approximately 1/16-inch (or to desired thickness). Using a knife, slice the flattened soba dough to ⅛-inch thick noodles (the length of noodle can vary). Dust the noodles with flour to prevent sticking.
Cook the soba: Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and salt the water till it similar in salinity to light sea water. Boil the noodles until they float and then transfer to an ice bath. Reserve.
To serve: On a plate or in a shallow bowl, assemble the soba and hon shimeji mushrooms on top of a thin bed of the Nettle Purée. Top with Nettle Kimchi and garnish with shredded nori.
Nettle Purée Ingredients
1 lb stinging nettles, leaves only
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp white soy sauce
½ cup dashi or water
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat a sauté pan on high heat. Add the oil and sauté the garlic and shallots until golden. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Next, add nettle leaves, soy sauce and dashi. Sauté until the nettles have wilted (similar to spinach).
Transfer the ingredients to a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Pass this mixture through a chinois into a metal bowl placed over an ice bath. Stir the stinging nettle mixture until the temperature cools completely. Reserve until ready to use.
Chef Brandon Kida’s Nettle Kimchi
Remember that the longer you allow the kimchi to ferment, the stronger the flavor.
Nettle Kimchi Ingredients
1 lb stinging nettles (leaves only)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
½ cup water, filtered (not tap)
4 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar or honey
3 tbsp Korean gochugaru (red pepper powder)
1½ tbsp sea salt
1 Mason jar, large
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, using your hands to evenly mix everything together.
To store: Transfer the ingredients to a large glass jar. Cover with cheesecloth and refrigerate the kimchi for 1 to 4 weeks.