Nettles have been showing up on chi chi menus of late. These are growing along the roadside, giving them two strikes against them: 1) they are about to bloom. Nettles must be harvested before they flower. Once flowers form, harmful crystals form within the leaves that can irritate the urinary tract. 2) the roadside location means that they have been polluted by exhaust. We have plenty of nettles out in our woods, where they get less sun so are still early enough in their evolution to serve a culinary purpose. If you have ever tangled with a patch of nettles, you know that it can be a painful experience. The stinging hairs are on the underside of the leaves. Be sure to cover up and wear gloves if you want to harvest some nettles. Cooking removes the sting. Sauté, steam, boil or simply soak in water for 20 minutes and they are ready to be used just as you would spinach, chard or kale. The water left behind makes a good fertilizer.
I can’t say that the taste differential between a quiche made with nettles and one using plain old spinach is outstanding, but there is something sort of charming about harvesting foodstuffs in the wild. The chefs around town obviously think it adds cachet to the whole “NW Style” thing.