When I tell people in the Czech Republic that we don’t use stinging nettles as a vegetable in the UK – I’m met with incomprehension – “don’t nettles grow in Britain” was one response. When cooked correctly it’s almost indistinguishable from spinach in appearance, with a nice flavour, a natural organic – those stings protect it from most bugs, so pesticides are unnecessary, and zero food miles if there is any patch of unused ground close to home! However, most people in the UK have in mind an image of the deodorant eschewing as typical consumers of nettles. The nettle marketing board has a way yet to go.
You use the top couple of inches of the plant as a vegetable, so when you’re weeding next time, put this part of the plant aside for dinner, rather than on the compost heap.
Of course, you need to wear protective gloves while picking, and wash them thoroughly as they grow close to the ground. The best method for cooking I’ve found so far is to put them in a covered pan on a high heat in as much water as sticks to the leaves after washing. Within about 5 minutes (heating from cold) they will have wilted down – take them off the heat as soon as they look like cooked spinach – you don’t want to destroy nutrients by cooking longer. Use them in place of spinach in any recipe.
Sekanice is a local Easter recipe here which, according to my students, requires between 30-50% nettles. In my version of the recipe I substitute smoked tofu for bacon and soya for boiled pork – much to the chagrin of my Czech students. I have tested the recipe on non-hippie meat lovers, it didn’t last long despite the perceived weirdness of the ingredients. Traditionally Sekanice is made for the Easter weekend. You can eat it hot, straight from the oven, and then cold, cut into slices over the next few days.
Sekanice uses nettles as the green because in the old days before we had vegetables flown in from Kenya, it was the first vegetable to come up after the snow. The word Sekanice means sort of “Cut thing” – because you can harvest baby nettles using a scythe, and then you can cut the Sekanice into slices when it comes out of the oven.
Vegetarian Sekanice (pronounced Set can it say)
- 8 eggs
- 1 block of smoked tofu, chopped into small squares
- 1 pack of soya chunks – soaked for an hour in vegetable stock, then fried in a generous amount of butter or olive oil
- a handful of chopped chives
- 3 bread rolls torn into chunks
- 2-3 large handfuls of stinging nettles
Prepare the soya – once it holds the same amount of fat and salt as boiled pork, it loses it’s holier than thou taste.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. & grease a large ceramic baking dish (if you use oil to grease with, it’s really easy by the way).
Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks with the bread chunks. Whip the egg whites into a frenzy (in Czech, they say whip it into snow – when the egg whites are fluffy and form peaks).
Chop the tofu, bread & chives. Combine all the ingredients apart from the egg whites, mixing well. You will need to add quite a lot of salt and pepper as tofu and soya are not salted when you purchase them, like pork and bacon are. Finally, fold in the egg whites and turn the mixture into the baking dish. Cook for 40 minutes or until the top has gone a nice baked brown.