In our urbanized and fast-paced world, many people have an instinctive tendency to seek a connection with nature. We go for walks, camp, hike - anything to get outdoors and into a space where we can pause and reflect. Although being physically present in nature is certainly one way to connect with it, there are other ways to integrate it into our daily lives. One such way is collecting and using some of earth’s bounty in the kitchen. Foraging and cooking with local, edible ingredients is a rewarding way to further strengthen our innate relationship with the land.
Our annual Nature’s Nourishment event embodies part of this concept by offering a warm and inviting community celebration of nature and all that it offers to us. Our upcoming 4th annual Nature’s Nourishment boasts decadent appetizers artfully crafted with local and natural ingredients, and is a superb way to get a taste of our region’s natural offerings while supporting EALT’s conservation work.
To expand this culinary connection with nature, a group of U of A students volunteered for EALT to design a recipe book with hand-selected recipes featuring wild and native ingredients. As a summer project, I decided to test out one of these recipes.
The recipe I chose to highlight from the book was a stinging nettle and mushroom pie with pine nuts. Stinging nettle is a herbaceous perennial plant characterized by tiny, sharp, stinging hairs that cover the entire plant, with dark green serrated leaves and clusters of tiny, fuzzy-like white flowers. Nettles thrive in moist woodlands, thickets, and disturbed areas, and are abundant in the Edmonton and area region. They are best collected in the spring, when young shoots are available. Take special care when collecting and preparing though - the hairs will cause stinging sensations if touched or eaten raw. However, it is worth the extra preparation work, as stinging nettle has a lovely flavour akin to spinach; bright green with a subtle peppery sharpness.
When preparing nettle in the kitchen, always wear gloves when it is raw - I found dishwashing gloves worked great. It is best to first rinse the nettle several times in cold water, making sure to swish with a pair of tongs or your hands, and rub the leaves of any lingering dirt or organisms. To dry, throw in a salad spinner or rub down with paper towel, inspecting the nettle once more. Once the nettle is clean and dry, blanch it in boiling water for about 10 seconds, which will render the nettle harmless to the touch. For this recipe, I used just over a pound of nettle and chopped it up finely after blanching.
Next, I combined cottage cheese, lemon zest, fresh nutmeg, finely grated Parmesan, an egg, and feta cheese, seasoning it all with salt and pepper and blending until it was a smooth, creamy consistency.
In a pan, I sautéed some onions, pressed garlic, and assorted mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil, adding in some fresh dill and thyme from my garden at the end.
Once both of those were finished, I added the chopped nettles and cheese mixture to the pan before pouring it all into a pie shell, sprinkling with pine nuts, and baking it. The result was absolutely divine, with the subtle notes of bright lemon and warm nutmeg shining through the smoothness of the cheese, mushrooms, and nettle to create a mouth-watering dish full of flavour. This recipe is the perfect comfort food, easy to make, and would be an incredible addition to an autumn menu.
Including natural and local ingredients in your home cuisine is a terrific way to reconnect with nature and the land. Our Nature's Nourishment recipe book offers many excellent recipes, and we encourage everyone to not only get outdoors to enjoy nature, but to sustain that relationship in other unique ways, such as from your very own kitchen.
Stinging nettle has been used historically by First Nations for medicinal and practical purposes. High in iron, carotene, and vitamin C, it was used to treat various ailments and for general health. Preparing the nettle as a tea was very popular, and used especially as an aid by aboriginal women. Further, the fibrous stems of stinging nettle were effectively used to make rope and fishing line, and known to have lasted a long time.
Please note: Foraging for wild plants can be dangerous, and this blog is not meant as an identification tool. Always ensure you are certain of the species, and do not pick anything if you are unsure, as some plants are poisonous and can look similar to safe ones. You can learn to distinguish edible plants by leaf shape and size, flower, and berry colour. Use a plant identification guide to ensure you do not eat anything you shouldn't. When in doubt, ask an expert to correctly identify a plant for you.