Monday, May 17, 2010

Harmony Valley, Are You Trying to Kill Me?

Harmony Valley Farm has never before given me any indication that they wanted me to be sick, hurt, or dead. So then why did they fill my CSA box with stinging nettle? We’re talking about a noxious weed that, when touched, retaliates with pain, itching, and blisters.

OK, OK. I know that Harmony Valley just thinks weird vegetables are fun. They like to grow new things. They like to try feeding these things to their customers—their newsletter even has handy tips on how to make pesto and pasta and soup with their new little friend. Hmmph. Next I suppose they’ll ask me if I want to play fetch with their pet alligator.

Well I want revenge. The only way I’ll be satisfied is to invent a more exciting recipe than what they came up with–and I have done it! I thought and thought until I realized this problem may have been solved before. My idea comes from an area of vague overlap between Mexican and East Asian cooking. The magic solution is, indeed, a solution: I will quick-pickle these little demons.

A Mexican cook would probably wait only an hour or so before serving this nettle recipe. A Japanese, Korean, or Chinese cook might wait one to three days. Any of those people would have put in hot peppers, garlic, ginger, or other seasonings, too; but I was interested in the pure nettle flavor. It’s a surprisingly complex taste: an initial pleasant pickle sourness broadens and mellows into a flavor that’s slightly nutty, slightly musky, slightly minerally. These would make a great taco with queso blanco, or a condiment for black bean soup, or for plain rice, or even for sushi.

Take that, Harmony Valley!

Pickled Stinging Nettles
They won’t sting anymore after you do this to them.

⅔ c vinegar – I used rice, but you could use white or apple cider too
1 T salt
2 T sugar
2 qt stinging nettle leaves – the bundle from a Harmony Valley CSA is just right

Pick the nettle leaves off their stems (wear gloves unless you like weeping sores), wash them, and spin them dry in a salad spinner.

Put the vinegar, salt, and sugar in a 2-quart saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Stuff the nettle leaves in the pan, clap the lid on, and return to a boil—this will only take a few seconds. Take the pan off the heat and stir the nettles so they all get dunked in the vinegar. Put the lid back on and allow them to stand for a few minutes until they have reduced in volume and are covered with the liquid.

Pack the nettles into a clean half-pint jar, pour on the vinegar, and screw on the lid. (I wrap the lid in plastic wrap to keep the metal from corroding.) Store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. I wouldn’t keep them more than a week or two; I don’t think long-term storage is going to be a big problem. Because, you know, yum.