It is early spring where I live. Such an exciting time! The natural outdoor world is beginning to take off for the season! As well, the stores in my freezer are beginning to run low. Last summer and autumn, I put away raw broccoli and cauliflower, grated fresh zucchini, blanched fennel, pureed squash, bags of produce ready to transform into soup stock, and much more. Not only is it time to start replenishing our stock, but also a wonderful moment to start adding more fresh greens to our meals. True, we are lucky enough to be eating arugula, kale, chard and lettuce that overwintered in the garden. However, there are even more exciting and plentiful spring greens out there!
Pepper Weed is the first wild green we added to our dinners this season. It is aptly named for its spicy flavor. I like it best as a fresh garnish, topping almost any meal. As our first wild green this spring, I ate it with great appreciation and enjoyment!
Right now is the best time to eat dandelion greens. As the spring progresses into summer, the leaves of dandelions will become bitter. Many of us will then find them unpalatable, and take a pass, choosing instead one of the other fresh vegetables that become readily available as summer harvests present themselves. At the moment, the leaves are tender without a touch of bitter at all. The other night at dinner, my kids were discussing how much they dislike dandelion greens...while happily devouring dandelion leaves. Recently, we have been eating them practically nightly: in tomato sauce, in curry, in soups and omellettes. You can add dandelion greens to pretty much any dish! To harvest, use a knife to slice off the whole rosette of leaves where the leaves meet the root. Dandelions are tenacious and will at once go to work, growing back a new set of leaves, so no need to worry about taking too much off of a plant.
Wild Dandelion Greens
Our very favourite spring vegetable has just begun to get large enough to harvest. We eat a lot of this plant this time of year, and we also put away quite a few bags worth for the winter. I believe that we just ate the last batch from the freezer last month. If you have guessed that I am talking about stinging nettles, you are correct! I know that my family is not alone in our love for nettles and that we are not the only people in our community to harvest these. Stinging nettles have so many culinary uses! In my opinion, they make a far better saag than spinach, and so saag is my favourite nettle dish. Nettles are also fantastic in lasagnia, on pizza, in a quiche and in soup and stew. Even in sushi rolls. Cook stinging nettles just as you would spinach. But don't eat them raw in salad! If you do, your tongue will probably be buzzing for days!
Wild Spring Stinging Nettles
To harvest, put on a pair of gloves and using scissors, cut leaves into a bag. Alternatively, you can cut stems back quite far down and remove the leaves at home at your own leisure. Just make sure not to bring home seeds! Although they are tasty, nettles already take up their fair share of land and we don't need to give them any more space! Nettles grow far too easily from seed.
Stinging nettles are easily stored in the freezer for use in the depths of winter. We have found that the best way is to make a stack of fresh nettle leaves several inches tall and place this stack in the steamer. Once the nettles are fully steamed, remove them from water and heat. Place the cooled nettles in a zip lock bag and throw them in the freezer. Easy as that!
Soon enough, we will be happily eating all the harvest from our summer garden. Until then, nature is plentiful and we don't have to wait for the garden is mature before eating lots of fresh veggies!
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