Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Stinging Nettle Saag


Green gunk spiked with spices. That may not sound, or look the most appetising of things, but saag is one of my favourite Indian curries. Saag is most often made with spinach, in which case it's also called palak, though purists would insist it be only made with mustard greens (read this brilliant, if slightly intimidating post by Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen on the difference). I didn't grow up in an Indian household, so I perhaps get a bit of leeway and flexibility here. For me, saag is a delicious way to use up a lot of fresh greens in something other than soup. I remember the first time I made saag was last spring, when I went a bit mad and overboard with the spinach. Spinach melt down beautifully when cooked, saving me a fair bit of fridge space.



I guess I just don't learn my lesson because I went a bit mad again when I saw stinging nettles. I don't have an insane love for them, in fact I had never tried them before (nettle tea made by infusing dried leaves don't count right), but curiosity had me excitedly loading more nettles than I realise into the bag. I blame the gloves.

Once back, I had to figure out how to deal with these stinging monsters. Google, ever reliable, says that nettles lose their sting once cooked, so the second thing I did was to plunge them into boiling water. The first was to get them out of the bag using heavy-duty fluoresecent yellow gloves (the only ones I could find in the house). I had a bite, it tasted kind of similar to spinach but with a stronger taste of iron, which I quite like. What I didn't fancy though, was the rough, furry texture, which got me to blend/pound it up into a puree, which then got me thinking about saag. Saag can be made with mutton or whatever meat, but since it's also National Vegetarian Week, I made the curry with crispy cubed new potatoes, a cross between saag aloo (with potato) and saag/palak paneer (with fried cubes of Indian cottage cheese).


STINGING NETTLE SAAG ALOO
(inspired by two of my favourite Indian chefs on youtube, Vahchef and Chef Harpal Singh)

Ingredients
4-6 new potatoes, depending on size (jersey royals at their best now that it's spring)
4 large bunches of stinging nettles
1 handful fresh coriander 
8 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 onion, minced
2 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup organic, whole (full-fat please) yogurt
squeeze of lemon
unrefined sea salt
2 tbsp of ghee 

Method
1. Cook potatoes in boiling salted water for about 5 min, or cooked till just tender. Drain then cut into fairly equal-sized cubes. Over medium heat, add half the ghee, and fry the potato cubes, flipping till crispy on all edges.
2. Blanch nettles in boiling water for 1 min, uncovered. Drain. Refresh with cold water. Puree with the fresh coriander.
3. Over medium heat, add the ghee. Toast the whole spices. Add the onions plus pinch of salt, garlic and green chillies, and saute till the onions turn translucent, but aren't browned, before sauteeing the ground spices till fragrant. 
4. Add the pureed nettles, season and bring to a boil, before adding the yogurt and simmering gently for a couple more min. Return the fried potatoes to the pan, remove from heat, and gently toss to coat. 
5. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon (granny says that helps in the digestion of greens, and grannies are always right;) ) and a a pretty drizzle of yogurt if you remember to save some.



Cooked this way, the stinging nettles melted into a lush green sauce, rich with flavour and fragrance from the spices. This curry isn't creamy enough to run off the spoon, instead it has a slight body and thickness to it that allows it to cling nicely to the surface of the crispy potatoes. You could very well do this with spinach, or most leafy greens, if you can't get hold of stinging nettles (indeed, I did it a long time ago very much more simply with spinach and boiled jersey royal babies). There's also an earthier note to this saag; and for lack of a better word, a certain "weedy" taste from the nettles.

I do recommend people try it, or any so-called weed, really. I got these free but I didn't exactly go picking them myself, though I've always loved the idea of eating these unloved wild plants and eating off the land. (According to that same Google search haha) Stinging nettles are rich in iron and have a history of being used medicinally for women's health, and as a herb for all sorts of inflammatory diseases, so it's even more reason to get past your fear of stings and needles. And it's free food, come on!


43 comments:

  1. That's such a good idea! It looks delicious. I don't really know where I'd get stinging nettles around here so I'll have to research. I'm actually having palak paneer at one of my favourite restaurants tonight, yay!

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    1. Like dom said below, you probably just need to travel to a more remote area with a pair of gloves! ah, jealous of your palak paneer dinner tonight, I love indian food!

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  2. SO Funny. Today (today!) I was eying some stinging nettles (I think) growing wild at my son's school. (My mom said they were a popularly used ingredient in Siberia and I've been wanting to get my hands on some.) While I was peering at them a friend came up and I asked her if she thought they were indeed Stinging Nettles and she said she didn't know, but she thought Koreans cooked SN with garlic and other spices. I thought, this sounds like something Shu Han would be good at. Weird! This looks Yum-mo!

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    1. Aw what a coincidence!! Haha, I'm glad you immediately thought of me when you saw a weird edible weed.

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  3. Man! I love the caramel like color on the potatoes, looks really delicious. I'm going shopping today and will get some stinging nettles, never used it in cooking before but after seeing your photos I know it's worth the try :)

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    1. I don't know if you'd be able to find them in shops though.. you probably would have to make do with spinach. good luck!

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  4. OOh got to try this one. A big fan of stinging nettles...I hardly by any spinach these days. And even bigger fan of saag dishes...definitely one to try.

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    1. It's funny! I was just thinking the same! I used to really really love spinach but now I hardly ever buy spinach , there's just too many more exciting greens around waiting for me to eat them.

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  5. you bought stinging nettles? come ON now, they grow for free everywhere you look... just hop on a tube, any tube and travel to the end of the line and go picking!... I must say, I really look forward to your posts, they are so beautifully presented and always inspiring... I love Saag, so this is a definite must for me.. lovely x

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    1. *hangs head in shame*
      *goes to top up oyster card*

      Well, I didn't exactly pay for them though, I got them for free, if that helps, heh!

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  6. Wow. Honestly, I never tasted nettles before. That seriously needs to change! The saag aloo looks fantastic.

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    1. thanks michael! I also haven't tried them before this! It's kind of like earthier, tougher, and furrier? spinach, or kale than spinach actually.

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  7. I also love this dish, but the only one they serve here in restaurants is with spinach too! Now I know what to do next time I buy or grow mustard leaves (very easy to grow on a balcony!). I love your nettle twist. I have never cooked nettle although in France some people make nettle soup.
    Beautiful illustrations!

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    1. really?? mustard leaves are very easy to grow on the balcony? maybe I can give that a go for my windowsill 'garden' i.e. a row of potted herbs.

      nettle would be great in soup I imagine, basically as long as it's pureed, I guess i'm just not that big a fan of its furry texture when it's left whole!

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  8. Love this post. :) Please invite me for dinner next time. haha.

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  9. Genius, I have been thinking about trying nettles and this way sounds like a delicious intro. And spinach always goes soggy in my fridge, would much rather go and pick a load of nettles for free. I might serve it up and not tell my boyfriend they are nettles and see if he notices...

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    1. That was how I first got started with saag actually, I got so much spinach and didnt want to throw them all into the fridge to end up gettinG soggy and unusable. Do try it with nettles, he might not notice it with all the spices HUR HUR

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  10. Wow, such an interesting dish - you always have something new and fun! I'm going to be in London for two weeks in June - we should meet for coffee or something......

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  11. Hahah.. Yup, it's a delicious weed I must say & even better when it's free provided by mother nature! heheheh Over here we used them in quiche , pie & soup! It just happened that near my house there's a lot of these stinging nettles weed & would love to try this recipe! Sound delicious full with wonderful spices! Now I have to find a glove before attacking them! LOL Have a nice day, Shu Han! :)

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    1. wow I see you've definitely been using them a lot more than me! love your many ideas too, ooooh nettle pie sounds yum!

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  12. I can't believe it, had picked a few nettles down at the allotment the other day but never used them . Good intentions but got no further than that. I can imagine them tasing very irony but then I love nettle & peppermint tea so am hoping to appreciate some nettles in a dish like this curry before too long!

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    1. Haha what a coincidence. I finally did get out of the city for a while, and found a field just overflowing with these weeds. But alas, I had no gloves or bag or anything with me, urgh. Hope you get to put the ones you picked to delicious use (:

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  13. Love your version.

    I was at my Dads Allotment today and picked some stinging nettle, I was going to make some soup with it, but I may - just may change my mind. Thank you so much for your kind words and the link. Really appreciated. You are so talented, not just a cook but an artist too.

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    1. No way, shaheen, I really loved your post. It's taught me a lot about saag, a dish I thought I knew! One day, one day, I will track down an authentic saag, made the traditional way by loving Indian mothers (:

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  14. This is so interesting! I would love to try stinging nettle but I think i'm too intimidated. Do you have a recipe for Saag with spinach? I'd love to try it!

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    1. Yes I do amy! It's linked up in the post above too, below the last photo. You could very well just follow this recipe, using spinach in place of nettles too.

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  15. I would probably use the green parts of Swiss Chard..... sounds delicious.

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  16. I LOVE how authentic your spice choice is here. I love to add potatoes to saag at times too. Using so many kinds of greens makes this all the more nutritious!

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  17. Hmm .... I've been stung by nettles many times but never eaten them. Your recipe looks great.

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  18. I've never cooked or prepared nettles - though always wanted to. Just never got around to it. I think I had them once and I agree - it's like a very strong, iron-y spinach - what a great use for them in this dish. I'm feeling inspired - I live next to a big forest with no shortage of nettles. Just need to find a patch where I'm sure dogs haven't been tiddling all over them and I'm good to go :D

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  19. What a great culinary adventure you took. I, too, have only had stinging nettle tea..once. I think that was an inventive way to use these wild greens in a delicious and healthy dish. Also, we LOVE Indian food so it always appeals to me.

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  20. This post made me laugh out loud :) The addition of the coriander in the lovely drawings and the appearance of the Marigold glove was hilarious!
    I've never ever cooked with stinging nettle before, had them before in a foraged pie but wasn't a massive fan. Saying that it's mainly due to the lack of taste in that pie (no seasoning). I might have a go at it next time and brave the 'sting'.

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  21. I've heard of the medicinal quality of the stinging nettles, esp. the tea for women's health. The problem is they're nowhere to be found in the eastern US (yet when we were in Norway they were just everywhere)! Great use of nettles in the saag!

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  22. Cro: Chard sounds perfect, any greens really!

    Tanvi: I wouldn't call it authentic... but it is delicious!

    sybaritica: Hah! now it's your turn to get revenge!

    Charles: Go get your free food now charles! A great excuse to take a summer stroll through the forest too, ah you lucky one!

    Sarah: Thank you! I love spices, be it from my southeast asian heritage, or Indian, so i can't resist always throwing some spices into my cooking.

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  23. I recalled watching Bob Blummer eating a whole lot of this stinging nettle for some competition.. I don't think I am adventurous yet to try this, but I suppose I should right? ;P.. have a good week ahead and amazing drawing!! ;)

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  24. Ouch!!! That sounded spikey!!:-P
    I love vegetables...and this looks good, and I am impressed with the medicinal qualities too...hmmm, I am not sure whether I have seen this anywhere here...

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  25. I've never tried nettle before, but I was surly bitten by it not once not twice when I was a child. I still have a lot growing next to my parent's house, so I'll try to cook it. Lovely post, and I just love your ideas and presentation :)

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  26. This looks great, and what a brilliant idea to use stinging nettles. If you make your own paneer as well, this is a proper budget dish. Like you, i am a saag-addict and have cooked up saag dishes using spinach, radish leaves, turnip greens or any combination of the three. It's a great way to use up leftover stuff that would otherwise end up in the bin.

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  27. I use nettles a lot when they are in season and the furry taste disappears when they are properly cooked. I make saag aloo and all sorts of other things and the only time I ever puree them is when I make soup. I much prefer their flavour to spinach. Interesting that this should be made with mustard greens, I didn't know that.

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  28. Mouthwatering Shuhan! I've had mixed experiences with nettles but usually use them in soup -- like Grubworm I've made saag using turnip greens and even chard but this is pretty brilliant.

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  29. chic&gorgeous treats: raw?? is he still alive? thanks for liking the drawings(:

    christy: it really is like a miracle herb! I'm not sure if nettles grow outside the uk, need to google.

    marta: you can get your revenge on them by eating them haha.

    the grubworm: I didn't even use paneer I used potatoes, which is beyond budget haha. I've been less adventurous with my saag, but definitely going to do that with other greens now for sure!

    chocolette: hmm, maybe I should try cooking them even further before resorting to pureeing so quickly. yup, I didn't know about the mustard greens too until I read shaheen's blog, it's a great entry, now I feel liek I;ve been missing out on the real deal..

    susan: thanks susan! I need to try it with turnip greens and chard now ;)

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  30. Clever twist to a classic and favourite Indian dish!

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