Back yard dinners: Recipes for which the main ingredient is growing just outside your door.

I really like the idea of becoming more self sufficient, but really, this requires foraging skills.  You know, the ability to wander down a path in the wood and know which berries will be tasty if you put them in your mouth and which plants will kill you, those kinds of skills.  The whole idea scares me as I’m certain that the first thing I decide to chew will lead to a painful and embarrassing demise.  Fortunately I do recognize a few edible plants, and those are growing only a few steps away.  Some of these recipes I’ve been making for a few years, others have been suggested by equally self-sufficient-minded friends.

Nettles, aka stinging nettles

flowering nettlesCredit: wiki commons

These seem like the best choice for the first plants in the series as they are coming up in my yard now, and I need to do something with them.  If you don’t have any experience with nettles, there are some precautions to take before handling them.

These hurt like a **** if you grab them with your bare hands accidentally thinking you’re just grabbing a fern.  They love to grow in an environment rich in nitrogen, which I just happen to have, being replete with chickens.  Look for them in shaded areas along the road or a short way in to wooded areas.  Once they began showing up in the garden, not just along the edge of my lawn I realized I’d need some serious tactics to try to reclaim my space so I fell back on the strategy that’s worked for generations; I decided to eat them.

Harvesting nettles without hurting yourself

Nettles’ defense is strong, but not insurmountable.  With a sturdy pair of gloves and a large bowl you can collect enough for a meal or two.  The best time to do this is early in the spring when the plants are small and the leaves are tender.  Choose smaller plants, or only take the smaller tops of larger plants.  If the stem looks thick, I sometimes pull of the top and a few leaves lower down, leaving the tough stem there to be dealt with later.  Only take younger plants, since once they’ve flowered it’s all over; you’ll have to take them out with the mower.

I break off the tops leaving the roots in the ground.  Yes, they’ll grow back, but they grow back anyway so I don’t waste a lot of energy worrying about it, and I save a lot of time by not having my wash water turn to mud.  Pick a very large bowl full as they shrink down quite a bit when you cook them.

Blanching and inactivating the sting

stinging nettlesCredit: wiki commons


Every part of the plant is covered with hollow hairs that will inject histamine, formic acid and other painful chemicals in to your skin.  Even a slight brush against a leaf is usually painful, and accidently grabbing a plant leaves the skin on my hand buzzing and numb for about a day.  Luckily just a little bit of heat inactivates the sting, and blanching your nettles renders them easily handled without gloves.  A simple way to do this is to rinse your bowl of nettles under water, hold them in the bowl with tongs to empty out the rinse water, then dump the bowl into a pot of boiling water.  They only need to blanch for a few seconds, just about the amount of time it takes you to rinse out the bowl, put in a strainer, then grab the nettles with the tongs and plop them in the strainer to drain.

Transfer your drained nettles to a towel, wrap them up and squeeze out the remaining moisture.  Choose an old towel unless you are aiming for a new green design on your kitchen fabric. Having your nettles a bit dryer makes the cooking easier.


Bowl of NettlesCredit: flickr, vauvau

I know, the big thing to do with nettles is always nettle soup, but I don’t like it.  I think nettles taste a lot like spinach, only stronger, and I wouldn’t eat spinach soup either.

Instead I like them sautéed and added to something else. I throw a handful into my scrambled eggs in the morning, or go for something a little more invloved if I have the time, like this:

Easy quiche recipe

  • Cook 6 slices of bacon, drain and crumble
  • pour off most of the bacon grease, but leave about a teaspoon in the pan
  • Dice ½ an onion and start cooking it in the bacon fat.
  • Chop 1 cup of blanched nettles and add them to the onion. 
  • Cook for a few minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool

In a mixing bowl put

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • 1 cup sour cream (yogurt won’t work as a substitute, but cream cheese will)
  • Mix these together with some salt and pepper

*You can use a crust if you want, I don’t*

Put your onions and nettles into a nine inch pie plate.

Sprinkle with ½ cup of swiss cheese

pour half of your egg mix over this

Sprinkle the bacon and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese over the egg mix

Pour the rest of the eggs on top

Bake at 425 until the filing is set, about 25 minutes.  I like to sprinkle a bit more parmesan on top about five minutes before I think it’s done to get a toasted cheese top on my quiche.

Not only is this an awesome breakfast right out of the oven, it also keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days for a quick breakfast.

As a variation, try mixing all the ingredients together in the mixing bowl and pouring it into muffin cups.  Baking time will be less, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, and you have a breakfast you can eat in the car while heading off to work.  I have to admit, this isn’t my variation.  I have a friend with a busy schedule who will make up a batch of these “muffin quiches” almost every weekend so she has something high protein for breakfast that doesn’t require her to get up early and cook.