Stinging nettles work brilliantly as a wild alternative to spinach and we think these pakoras show off this abundant plant at its culinary best. Make the most of foraged spring greens by serving with a complimentary dip of fresh and zingy wild garlic raita.
It’s rare that a week goes by without us being asked about nettles on one of our courses. People are often intrigued to learn that such a familiar plant — with which many have only painful associations — is so versatile and nutritious. The stinging, or common, nettle (Urtica dioica) can be stewed, sautéed, fried, brewed and infused. In fact, the only thing you can't do is use it as a salad leaf, as nettle must be cooked or rubbed vigorously to de-nature its stings.
Nettle works particularly well as a foraged substitute for spinach — although there's a strong argument that this prolific spring green should be seen as less as a "substitute" and more of a first choice. For a start, it's easier to cook with than spinach as it's more fibrous and less watery. Nutritionally, it surpasses spinach, containing three times more iron, as well as significantly higher levels of vitamin A. Nettle also offers the highest source of protein in a wild plant (containing between 24% and 42% protein) and is the richest in anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Incredibly, it also contains three to four times as much calcium per 100g as milk.
So, if you want to add some protein punch to your pakora, look no further. Nettle is a perfect fit for this recipe, adding the right amount of texture while also having enough body to carry the Indian spices, fresh ginger and chilli.
You will need to use the tender tips and leaves of the nettle for this dish. Make sure to use gloves while picking and preparing them. Nettles should only be picked before flowering, as after this they produce cystoliths, which can irritate the urinary tract.
For the pakoras (makes approx 10-12):
100g nettle tops
100g chick pea flour
¼ large white onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice (or cider vinegar)
1tbsp fresh ginger
1 pinch chilli flakes
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds or cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp baking powder
Approx 100ml tap water
Vegetable oil for frying
For the wild garlic raita:
1/4 small cucumber, grated
100g natural yoghurt
1 tbs fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbs wild garlic leaves, chopped
1 pinch sea salt
- Slice the onion into fine strips, place in a small bowl, add the lemon juice and salt and toss to coat. Set aside and leave to macerate for around 15mins.
- Plunge the nettles into hot water for 1min to blanche. Remove, run under cold water and then squeeze to remove excess moisture. Roughly chop or tear the nettles.
- Add the fresh ginger, garlic and macerated onion to nettle, stir in spices and baking powder
- Continue to stir and gradually shake in the chick pea flour. Add water a little at a time until the mixture forms a sticky dough
- Heat the vegetable oil in pan on a medium to hot heat. Wet fingers and shape the dough into small balls and then flatten. Cook in small batches for about 3 or 4 mins until golden, turning once. Place onto kitchen towel before serving to absorb any excess oil.
- To make the raita simple combine the yoghurt, grated cucumber, coriander and wild garlic in a bowl.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!