Sunday, June 17, 2007

Estonian soups: nettle soup with eggs & herbs (or more wild food)

My mum has obviously realised that her older daughter (that's me) is 'into such things' - wild food & edible weeds, I mean. So when she saw stinging nettles growing in her vegetable patch, she left them there for me instead of throwing into compost pile like they have done for the previous decades. When popping by for our weekly cup of coffee last Thursday (I was at my high school reunion this weekend, so we went to see her a bit earlier), she gave me a bunch of chives, some beautiful pink peonies, and a large handful of stinging (and very much so!) nettles.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is widely available in Estonia - though not in the shops. You'd find it growing in your back garden, on the meadows and fields, and alongside your fence. Contains plenty of vitamin C, carotine, vitamin K, and considerable amounts of E- and B-vitamins. Practicioners of herbal medicine know many uses for stinging nettles, but there's also a culinary aspect to this weed. There are 17 pages of recipes and tips for various culinary uses of stinging nettle in the book of wild weeds (see left). Another cookbook I've got, Soome-ugri kokaraamat alias a cookbook of Finno-Ugric people that includes recipes of Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Livonian, Karelian, Votic, Vepsian, Sami/Lappish, Mansi/Vogul, Udmurt, Komi, Mari/Cheremisic, Ingrian/Izhorian, Mordvinic, and Khanty/Ostyak culinary heritage, also contains a number of recipes using nettles. Nettle leaves can be added into soups, stews, salads, omelettes and meat dishes (add chopped nettle into the meatballs or meatloaf, for example); they can be used as a pie filling (like my ground elder hortapita) or even to make nettle wine. I opted for a simple green soup, which in one form or another appears in quite a few Estonian sources.

Eesti keeles võite nõgestest lugeda veel Thredahlia blogist.

Nettle soup with eggs & herbs
Serves 2-3 as a starter

100 grams of stinging nettle leaves*
500 ml water
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp plain flour
500 ml vegetable, chicken or beef stock, hot
salt & black pepper

To serve:
2 boiled eggs
finely chopped fresh dill & chives

Bring the water to the boil, add the nettle leaves and blanch for 2 minutes (THIS ELIMINATES THE STINGING PROPERTIES OF THE NETTLES, SO YOU CAN FREELY TOUCH THEM). Rinse quickly under cold water and drain lightly. Puree in a blender and put aside.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and saute on a medium heat for 7-8 minutes to soften slightly. Add the flour, mix thoroughly and fry for 1 minute (do not brown!). Add hot stock, a little at a time and mixing thoroughly to incorporate the flour & onion mixture. Boil for about 3 minutes, then add the pureed nettle and heat through. Season with salt & pepper.
Ladle into small soup bowls, add a halved or chopped boiled egg and garnish with chopped herbs.

* Use a pair of rubber gloves to tear off the leaves from the stalks, as stinging nettles do really live up to their name at this stage.

WHB: This is also my entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging, this time hosted by Rachel of Rachel's Bite.


Bonnie said...

I was determined to get through the list of ethinic regions/cultures, some of them very familiar to me, others completely new! I had no idea that the Finno-Ugric group included so many cultures. I will have to get to know it a bit more!

Katie Zeller said...

I have a back garden full of them and I keep telling myself I'm going to make soup but when it comes to doing it... I get such a reaction from touching them that I can't imagine swallowing them. But yours looks so good...
Maybe next spring - I think they're too mature now.
You're inspiring!

Valentina said...

I have had bad encounters with them but never had any culinary ones. You might have thrown a little curiosity seed in my mind..

Tea said...

I brushed up against some of these recently, while out walking near my house, but I'm a bit nervous at the idea of eating them. Perhaps this will help me take the plunge.

Triin said...

Wow! What a pleasant surprise! Being an avid Epicurious user, as well as a fan of international potlucks, I can definitely appreciate all you have done here. I think I'm going to save those nettles from the compost pile next time, and might even try to brush up on the know-how gained last year in Võrumaa, where we made a delicious salad out of fresh burr shoots and such.

You go girl! Maybe I can have an invite for dinner one day? :-)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Goodness -- I've always thought of nettles as a nuisance in the garden; I had no idea you could make something delicious out of them!

Kalyn Denny said...

Very interesting. The soup looks just lovely with the boiled eggs. As I read this, I'm realizing I don't know quite what stinging nettles look like, so perhaps they don't grow here where it's so dry? Not sure.

Trig said...

I remember working with nettles during my one day in the kitchens at the Japanese restaurant Zuma. They used a single leaf as decoration on one of the dishes I was responsible for, I thought it was great

Jeanne said...

My onoy experience with stinging nettles is of the ouchie-ouchie unhappy kind... so I can't say that eating the damn things appeals very much! You make them soudn quite tempting though. Maybe I can persuade Nick to do the picking, heh heh!

Sarah said...

Mmm nettle soup :) I love it! I love the idea of adding a boiled egg at the end. A really yummy free food recipe!! :)

Pille said...

Bonnie - that list above is not exhaustive, i.e. not all Finno-Ugric people seem to have made it into the book I've got.

Katie - use gloves & blanch the leaves before adding to the soup. Then you'll be able to eat these without any trouble! (I've read that older French men are quite partial to nettles? LOL:)

Valentina - I'm not saying culinary encounters are pain-free:) I got few stings even this time, as I grabbed the bunch without gloves in the beginning. But as long as you use gloves and blanch the leaves first, you should have a rather pleasant encounter with nettles:)

Tea - as I said, blanching kills all the stinging properties of nettles, so they're perfectly safe to handle and eat. I promise, there's no tingling feeling in your mouth when you eat them!

Triin - who knows, you live indeed close enough for dinner invites:) PS Burr shoots- kas sa pead takjalehti või takjajuuri või takjapallikesi silmas?

Lydia - I've only made soup, and added them to pie fillings. Another Estonian blogger makes nettle buns, using dried nettled. But it seems to have loads of different culinary uses.

Kalyn - you may be half-right, actually. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, then the one I get stung by here in Estonia, is U. dioica subsp. dioica alias the European stinging nettle. And then there's U. dioica subsp. gracilis alias American stinging nettle. I don't know if they look any different or sting differently:) We'll take a picture this weekend, so you can see it..

Trig- interesting to hear that they used nettle leaves. I thought that shiso-leaves were the usual single-leaf-garnishes in Japanese places!?

Jeanne - you're a cheeky girl!! Even if Nick does the picking, you should provide him with a pair of gloves. Otherwise he'll be sulking afterwards, refusing to eat:)

Sarah - indeed! Thanks for the comment!

Swede said...

Hey! This soup is Swedish not Estonian! It's a lovely soup, btw.

Swede said...

Oh, I'm sorry. i checked the recipe now and realized the Swedish one is slightly, slightly different from this one. The Swedish one uses no onion for example. So i guess, THIS soup is Estonian and a very similar one which I'm talking about certainly is Swedish. My apologies.

smart cell phone said...

I have a back garden full of them and I keep telling myself I'm going to make soup but when it comes to doing it... I get such a reaction from touching them that I can't .....