Nettle Soup Recipe

Orties

[Nettle Soup]

How often do you get to cook with a hostile ingredient? Sure, you could hurt yourself with pretty much anything — drop a head of celeriac on your toes, rub your eyes after chopping chili peppers, stab yourself with a carrot — but nettle leaves are actively belligerent. Stinging you is their life calling, it is what they were meant to do, and you can hardly blame them. Wolves will be wolves, nettles will be nettles.

And so it is with extreme caution that I handled the bunch I got from the market on Saturday morning. The lady who sold it to me said that holding your breath lessened the effect, but I find breathing to be a pleasurable activity and I am reluctant to give it up, so I opted for the pink rubber glove strategy instead. I did follow her advice of storing the bunch in a glass of water in the fridge door, but I covered it with a brown paper bag on which I wrote “Attention: Orties!”, in case an innocent victim opened the refrigerator before I had time to use the nettles.

Since this was my first time cooking, or even tasting, anything nettle, I decided to make a very simple soup, figuring it was the best way to discover the flavors, unadorned and unmasked. As the soup gently brewed, I was very surprised by the smells wafting up from the pot: I was expecting spinach, but it was seaweed I smelled, like a Brittany beach at low tide. (Not all that puzzling perhaps, since stinging nettle is a weed too, albeit an earthy one.)

We had this deep green, velvety soup for lunch, and the marine impression was confirmed: if you closed your eyes you could imagine yourself sipping on a soupe de poisson — fishy in a pleasant way, and mildly iodized. We liked it very much, and reflected that it would do well with a bit of rouille stirred in: rouille* is a sauce of garlic and chili peppers mashed with olive oil and crustless bread (or simply a garlic and chili pepper mayonnaise), traditionally served with fish soups and bouillabaisse in Provence.

This was quite a flavor encounter, and it makes me wish I had a garden that I could neglect, so stinging nettles would thrive in the back. Since I don’t, I had to buy mine, but if you want to pick your own, here’s what I’ve read: you should avoid nettles that grow too close to a road, you should pick the tops of young plants only (older ones are tough and bitter, poor things), and you should rinse them well. Oh, and they’re very good for you, too, full of vitamins and minerals and stuff.

* Literally: “rust”, because of the color.

Soupe aux Orties

- A dab of butter
- One medium onion, peeled and sliced
- Two small potatoes for mashing (or one large), peeled and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- One bunch of young stinging nettles
- Freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onion, and cook for five minutes, until softened, stirring regularly to avoid coloring. Add in the potatoes and salt, and pour cold water or stock to cover by about an inch. Cover with a lid, bring to a simmer, and cook for ten minutes, or until the potatoes are soft (test this with the tip of a knife).

In the meantime, put on your best-looking rubber gloves (I don’t usually wear any and could only find two left-hand pink gloves, but that worked okay — my right thumb was a teeny bit uncomfortable, but he’ll live) pluck the nettle leaves from the tough, fibrous stems (discard the stems). Rinse the leaves in cold water thoroughly.

When the potatoes are cooked, add in the nettles, and cook for five more minutes, until the leaves are soft and wilted. Purée with an immersion blender (or in batches in a blender). Grind in some pepper, taste, and adjust the seasoning.

  • Silvia

    Hi clotilde!
    I’ve been reading your site for a while, and I find it truly amazing and inspiring (I’ve tried a handful of recipes!)
    I’m now commenting for the first time because of a funny coincidence- just yesterday I did my first nettle risotto! :) I could post the recipe if you’d like, it’s one of my faborite ways to eat the hostile leaves ;)

  • http://daydreamdelicious.blogspot.com Bonnie

    That sound scrumptious!

    I think we have a great big nettle plant growing in our tiny front garden that I’ve been meaning to pull out! Now I have a good excuse!

    I made Spring Greens soup the other day, I just love the though of green soup… it just looks so healthy!

  • http://dirtpusher.blogspot.com Judith Umbria

    In Italy we make a pasta sauce with ortica, as well. Saute galic in oil, then cleaned nettles and spinach and turnip tops until cooked. Salt to taste, mix with pasta and add raw oil. Yum.
    You can also fill ravioli with nettles and ricotta stuffing. Yum-yum.
    I think the flavor depends on the soil in which they are grown. I leave a patch at the end of the garden and use them both for food and for fermenting in water to make the best plantfood ever.

  • http://amesheures.canalblog.com a mes heures

    C’est dingue !!! Les grand esprits se rencontrent ! Je viens moi ausi de poster à l’instant une recette de soupe d’orties !

  • http://www.cavolettodibruxelles.it Sigrid

    Hey! That’s weird!! This morning I was cleaning the far too neglected terasse of my ‘new’ roman appartment (well ok, I live here since a month but I just haven’t got time to do it earlier) and I gathered a whole bunch of young nettles (others are about one meter high but I’m affraid the’re no edible use… and believe me or not but I was just thinking of making some soup out of it … :-))) So now I also got a receipe ti do so!

  • http://porcinichronicles.blogspot.com Susan in Italy

    What a seductive description. I’d love to try this soup. Evidently nettles are plentiful here in Italy but I haven’t found them yet. Are there any Italian residents out there w/o yards or weeds who have bought these? If so, where?

  • Sylvie

    Mum has been making nettle soup for ages, and it’s delicious!
    In some restaurants, you can also find fried nettle leaves, and here again it’s pretty good.
    People are always surprised once told but it’s worth a try.

  • Erin

    OH! I love/hate nettles!!
    They are everywhere in Washington, as a kid I was thrown off a horse into a nettle patch. As an adult I have enjoyed eating them in ravioli. They are a great staple of PNW cusine.
    Your sounds sounds wonderful!

  • Gwyn

    Could you add a pic of what the soup looks like ?
    Pretty please ?

  • http://www.clivias.blogspot.com Clivia

    Mmmm, nettle soup is one of my absolute favourites in spring. Try it with a boiled egg, cut in half lenghtwise, “swimming” in the dark green soup. Beautiful and tasty!

  • http://www.cuisine-campagne.com Lilo

    my grandmother did that recipe when I was young… It smelled like sorrel and sea, that’s true. In the Loire Valley, it’s a typical soup ! And I read somewhere that the King LOUIS XIV lovered it.

    I make a sort of pesto with nettle too, it looks like green caviar, delicious on toast.

    Sorry for my bad english :( !!

  • http://www.cavolettodibruxelles.it Sigrid

    @susan in italy: nettles can usually be found at the mercato… rather in spring and often you have to ask for them a few days in advance… otherwise you just as well can pick them on your own in the countryside…

  • http://inpraiseofsardines.typepad.com/blogs/ Brett

    Nettles have become so popular with chefs in the SF Bay Area that a few organic farms have actually started growing them as a crop which they then sell to restaurants and at our farmers market. The nice thing about these less wild nettles is that the farmers harvest them when they are young and tender. Fortunately they retain the intriguing flavor of their wilder brethren. In my experience, our local nettles are more reminiscent of the forest floor, with a distinct wild mushroom flavor, than of the ocean. They taste great with in egg dishes or, as Judith mentioned, as a pasta sauce.

  • iamchanelle

    very brave, clotilde!
    i love how you described the nettles as “full of vitamins and minerals and stuff” :) you are too funny!

    do post a pic of the soup if you can!

  • http://absolutegreen.blogspot.com Virginie

    I worked in an organic farm in Tiree (near Skye Island) a few years ago, and most of the work included weeding and pulling out nettles in a meadow. Days and days pulling them out… But these nettles were too old and strong to cook them. I prefer the young ones, like those you use, to make a wonderful soup or herb tea. Pleople in the island were laughing at me, because for them, nettles were bad herbs. I’m glad to notice not all british cookers think the same. Best wishes.

  • NancyR

    Here is my spring tonic soup using ingredients found in the American midwest:

    Cream of Weed Soup

    2 T olive oil
    1 bunch ramps, whites coarsely chopped and greens slivered
    1 pound sunchokes, peeled and coarsely chopped
    3 cans low sodium, no fat chicken stock
    1 bunch nettles, watercress leaves, arugula, sorrel, or other greens
    lemon juice to taste
    salt and pepper to taste
    heavy cream (optional)

    1) heat oil on med. heat. Add white parts of ramps and saute until tender. Add sunchokes and broth, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until sunchokes are soft (about 15 min.)
    2) Add greens, cook just until they are wilted
    3) Blend soup with hand blender, stand blender or food processor (if using stand blender or processor, strain solids out, add 1-2 C liquid, blend, return to liquid in pot) and reheat
    4) Add lemon juice, salt and pepper
    5) Spoon soup into individual bowls
    6) Pour a dollop of heavy cream into center of each bowl, swirl with spoon

  • http://www.albioncooks.blogspot.com Catherine

    You are brave! I’ve seen nettles at our farmer’s market but had no idea what to do with them. Thanks for the tips!

  • Dan

    This is the soup I have been making for a few years from whatever is most rampantly weedy in the patch of yard out back. Works well with sorrel, nettles, and since there is always a lot of it, mallow. Unfortunately the mallow seems to give me a mild allergic reaction, but I recommend the soup to anyone who has it growing wild or tame nearby.
    I discovered accidentlally that putting the nettles in the refrigerator for a few hours neutralizes the stingers. As for all of the nutritional goodies, my sister had a magazine of dairy farm news that noted that cows graze first on young nettles. They know what’s good for them.

  • http://bread-water-salt-oil.blogspot.com june

    In France you SELL nettles? Why didn’t I think of that?

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com/ carolg@PB

    Clothilde, your writing just knocks me out! Alway surpising us with your original subjects, your approach, your point of view. And NEVER a cliché in sight. Thanks :)

  • http://www.sfphotorama.com San Francisco Photorama

    haven’t had it…sounds good though!

  • Rebecca

    I just had to tell you that after reading about the nettle soup I got the courage to go outside in my garden in Portugal, and with gloves on, pick some nice young nettles (ortiga) and then I brought them into the house where I washed them and made a tisane to see if I liked the taste. I really did and now I am so excited that I finally had the courage use the ortiga plant. Living in a village, I have tons. I now have plans of what to do with them. My Portuguese husband thinks I am mad, but I don’t care. I’m learning good things from the internet. Growing up in a large city in California, I never learned nettle cooking from my mother, but I’ll be telling all my 4 children about cooking with nettles. I enjoy everything you write about and I have tried many of your creations.

  • mary

    thanks so much for this recipe, clotilde! nettle soup is a favorite of my father’s, but i didn’t know how to make a batch for him. in california, where we live, the nettles are shooting up because of the spring rains. i’ll have to make a pot of soup! :)

  • http://www.tangoinhereyes.blogspot.com holly

    I feel so “healthy” after reading this. Hmmm I think I will go make some nettle tea, and build up my little red blood cells.

  • nicole

    how inspirational! I can’t wait to go see how many of those beasts are in my yard this year. I’ve never thought of using them for anything other than torturing my boyfriend :)

  • Darin London

    I have fond memories of some of the nicest nettle soups while living in England. There is also a wonderful cheese (well, almost as good as French cheese ;) ), made in Cornwall called Yarg cheese which is wrapped in nettle and aged until the nettle has taken on a nice layer of sweet mold. It is very nice.

  • http://www Kara

    Clotilde:

    I love your site!! I bumped into it by accident and have been reading daily. I made the Oatmeal Breakfast Clofoutis yesterday and my children devoured them! Yum Yum.

    We have nettles growing wild in the backyard and they are truly a treasure. Lots of nutrients; great daily tea for health; and tasty in the kitchen. If you pick them deliberately, they tend NOT to sting — try it. I make a nettle pie (sort of like a quiche — very good). They’re great for arthritis pain too! I’ll try the soup. Kara

  • http://www.carablack.com Cara

    so interesting that you smelled the beach and the tide….who would have thought that from such an earthy weed? brava on the book progress!

  • http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/ Dianka

    Wow! What an interesting ingredient, never heard of it!

    ~Dianka
    http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.woolwood.blogspot.com Brooke Heppinstall

    I’m so thrilled to see that the nettle is such a cultural universal! Yes, it gets in the garden, but, it’s an indicator or rich soil. It makes good compost if you dry it first and can make a compost tea as rich as comfrey. It’s delicious in soup, stir fry, mashed in potatoes, or just steamed in butter. A nutritious side dish for any salmon, cheese souffle, or chicken. Alaskans have been eating this ‘free’ vegetable for over a millennia. Brooke

  • http://threelayercake.com/content/view/235/26/ Three Layer Cake

    Don’t like nettles, but loved the book Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki!!!

  • http://kishko.blogspot.com kishko

    you have an amazing writing style, brava! i can’t wait to buy your cookbook!

  • http://inmolaraan.com eve (the chocolate lady)

    Thanks so much for this. I sometimes use dried nettles (or pokrzywa as I first knew them) for tea, but have not yet cooked the fresh ones. I am resolved to try this season.

  • Daniela

    Hello Clotilde!
    Congratulations for your really nice, healthy and interesting food blog…..
    I read many blogs, and investigate all new ones, and yours is one of my favorites. Also you are favorite of a lot of other people, of course, haha.
    Now that I realize, I live quite near to you here in Andorra, but I come from Galicia in Spain, so if you ever have any question to do with Spanish food, I would be most happy to help you.
    Thanks for sharing your writings!
    Have a nice time!
    Dani

  • http://www.pagehalffull.com/humanyms/ Pearl

    I’ve seen a nettle soup recipe before. Thanks for giving a report on the taste. I was curious but not enough to don gloves.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    Isn’t it funny?–I just can’t get passed the point that they are weeds. I remember when I was a child that a baby sitter sent us out to get dandilion leaves for a salad. I had never heard of such a thing. I love spinach soup so I may get over my weed horror and give nettle soup a try.

  • http://www.theoldfoodie.blogspot.com/ The Old Foodie

    Nettle beer was popular in the old days too. Here is a recipe from Mrs. Grieve”s herbal at http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nettle03.html
    [how do I make that link?]

    She gives one for nettle pudding too – “pudding” in the old English sense of a savoury dish.

    Nettle Pudding
    To 1 gallon of young Nettle tops, thoroughly washed, add 2 good-sized leeks or onions, 2 heads of broccoli or small cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, and 1/4 lb. of rice. Clean the vegetables well; chop the broccoli and leeks and mix with the Nettles. Place all together in a muslin bag, alternately with the rice, and tie tightly. Boil in salted water, long enough to cook the vegetables, the time varying according to the tenderness or otherwise of the greens. Serve with gravy or melted butter. These quantities are sufficient for six persons.

    Nettle Beer
    The Nettle Beer made by cottagers is often given to their old folk as a remedy for gouty and rheumatic pains, but apart from this purpose it forms a pleasant drink. It may be made as follows: Take 2 gallons of cold water and a good pailful of washed young Nettle tops, add 3 or 4 large handsful of Dandelion, the same of Clivers (Goosegrass) and 2 oz. of bruised, whole ginger. Boil gently for 40 minutes, then strain and stir in 2 teacupsful of brown sugar. When lukewarm place on the top a slice of toasted bread, spread with 1 oz. of compressed yeast, stirred till liquid with a teaspoonful of sugar. Keep it fairly warm for 6 or 7 hours, then remove the scum and stir in a tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Bottle and tie the corks securely. The result is a specially wholesome sort of ginger beer. The juice of 2 lemons may be substituted for the Dandelion and Clivers. Other herbs are often added to Nettles in the making of Herb Beer, such as Burdock, Meadowsweet, Avens Horehound, the combination making a refreshing summer drink.

    If anyone tries these, please let me know!

  • Lisa

    Mmm, looks splendid. I ad nettle soup once a few years ago, in France, lovingly prepared by a friend who was very fond of foraging (and is now studying medicinal herbs in Peru). I loved that we were eating almost straight off the floor of the woods behind the house, but his version was quite buttery, too much so for me to really love the soup. I’m traveling now but when I get home I’ll give yours a try!

    peace
    Lisa

  • http://eatingforbrooklyn.blogspot.com/ efb

    only ever had nettle tea, but i love the sound of the soup. there’s nothing more i than a utilitarian approach to cooking. why throw those weeds away when you can eat them!

  • Ondi

    Finally someone who eats these things…it’s very common in Romania, where I come from, but not at all in France, where I’m living…here they use them just to make a hideous mixture to ‘feed’ the soil….

    I prepare them a bit like you would spinach…and add a handfull of rice the last ten minutes…it’s lovely and I llok forward to every spring for that reason also….and as there is no competition from the French, I can pick and choose :-D

  • Karen E

    Spring Nettle Casserole – delicious and simple from three ingredients.

    Steam a few handfuls of nettles, they cook down a lot, like spinach does. Separately, prepare brown rice, two cups before cooking. Layer in an oiled 9″ x 13″ casserole: first some rice, then some steamed nettles, then dollops of goat cheese. Repeat the three layers. Bake until done, covered, then broil the top. A splash of tamari or balsamic is optional upon serving.

  • pinoy

    nothing to do with nettle.

    i saw this site, while searching for a macaron recipe, that has your blog entries. are you aware of this? here is the url:http://cooking.wpmublogs.info/

    and by the way, i’m a fan all the way from the philippines.

  • leigh

    hi clotilde, i’m a long time reader, first time writer. your nettle soup sounds interesting, certainly makes me see it a new light. for health reasons, i drink stinging nettle tea every morning rather reluctantly – although its mild in taste, the smell is so incredibly pungant (in a bad way) that i have to hold my breath as i gulp it down. it is pretty stinky although the smell does decrease when the tea cools down. anyway yes its very good for you – bowel cleanser and a natural diuretic.

  • eileen

    clotilde,
    love your site but have been too busy to read lately…..
    coincidentally today was walking in the belgian countryside and eyed the plethora of nettle. and then i came home to visit your ‘house’ and voila!

    once, many years ago, we were served a very scrumptious nettle soup; now, i will dare to ‘d.i.y.’
    merci,
    eileen

  • http://www.genevestewart.com Geneve

    Hi Clotilde- your site is a recent discovery and I’m loving it! I was at a farmer’s market here in Santa Monica, CA a few weeks back and I came across stinging nettles – I had no idea how one would use them. Aside from being a very commical post to read, I now know what to do with stinging nettles and I’m interested to try your recipe. The farmer was telling me of all the nutritional and medicinal properties that this little plant contains but I was too intimidated to try them until now!

  • http://tascadaelvira.blogspot.com/ Elvira

    Cette soupe revient à la mode. J’ai bien envie de la tester!

  • http://willows95988.typepad.com/ tongue in cheek

    Oh forgive me…I keep reading what you wrote, and reading the very positive comments…but I cannot for the life of me image eating this type of soup…I can’t. I trust it is good…but each time I image sipping it I start to scratch!

  • pip

    Hi Clotilde, just a quick tip to save your poor right thumb – next time you have two gloves for the same hand, turn one inside out! Works like a charm.
    Nettle soup sounds interesting, I will give it a try if I can find some nettles – unfortunately its still a while to go until springtime down here in New Zealand.
    Thanks, Pip

  • http://www.sfphotorama.com San Francisco Photos

    I once had pasta made with nettles and it was really yummy!

  • Aliyah Prontaut

    You know I have very fond memories of falling into this stuff when I would my bike down the alleys in England – who know you could make a soup out of it!!! It was the ultimate trick to ride down the middle without getting stung all over the place!!

  • Michal

    Fantastic Soup! Served it this evening with a dab of sour cream. To my husbands relief it was delicious!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Happy to hear it, thanks for reporting back!

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