Category Archives: CSA

Fresh Green Bean Casserole: Look Ma, No Cans!

right out of the oven, the sauce is pretty loose, but it thickens as it sits or after being refrigerated

CSA 2010 Epilogue

I made this a couple of months ago when I was still getting pounds of gorgeous, fresh, gigantic green beans from Needle Lane Farms every week. However, it would be tasty even with far less gorgeous beans. Really, the entire point of green bean bean casserole is to disguise green beans that have been rendered essentially flavorless by canning by drowning them in a mushroom-infused béchamel and topping them with crispy fried onions (a combination that could make just about anything taste good). I threw this version together one night when I had some milk and mushrooms on hand, and I was sick of eating all those gorgeous, fresh green beans sautéed with garlic or steamed and dressed with oil and vinegar. I wanted something less summery, less virtuous, and frankly, a little less like green beans.

The title of the entry isn’t meant to imply that the can-based version is bad. I love the recipe Dorcas Reilly came up with when she was the head of Campbell’s Test Kitchen in the 1950s. It may have been a naked ploy to get people to buy more Campbell’s products, but marketing alone couldn’t have turned it into a holiday you can deep-fry your own shallots, or if you have access to an asian market, you might be able to get them in large quantities for cheap; also great for topping bagels and encrusting basically anything savoryclassic. Reilly and the test kitchen came up with dozens of recipes, most of which would now be candidates for the Gallery of Regrettable Food. But even though green bean casserole is a quintessential 1950s mush-from-cans kind of recipe, it’s also essentially a classic gratin. I can’t think of a better way to make lifeless canned vegetables not just edible but delicious than to submerge them in a savory, roux-thickened milk sauce (which is all Campbell’s condensed cream soups really are). The basic formula—condensed cream soup + canned vegetable + crunchy topping—would probably be pretty tasty no matter what flavor of soup, kind of vegetable, or crunchy topping you used. Cream of onion with canned peas topped with bread crumbs. Cream of celery with canned succotash topped with crushed saltines. It may never be a culinary revelation, but it’s hard to think of an easier, faster, or tastier way to make a vegetable dish from a handful of ingredients that keep indefinitely in your pantry.

The one real benefit to making a dish like this from scratch—aside from trying to use up CSA produce—is having the ability to customize it. Personally, I like just enough nutmeg in my béchamel to make it a little spicy. I like my mushrooms minced so finely I will never have to bite into one. I like my green beans with a little structural integrity but soft enough to cut with a fork. And for the topping, I’ll take fried shallots over French’s onions any day.

Have It Your Way

Some other variations you might consider, especially if you’re catering to a restrictive-eater this holiday season:

Vegan/Lactose-free: Use a non-dairy milk (Chocolate & Zucchini reports having good success with oat milk in a similar casserole) and substitute vegetable oil or shortening for the butter.

Gluten-free: Substitute rice flour for the wheat flour OR instead of starting with a roux, heat the butter and milk to a simmer and then whisk in a slurry made from 2 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 2 T. milk or water and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Mushroom-free: Leave out the mushrooms. Instead, add an onion cooked to a deep golden brown in 4-8 tablespoons of butter over low heat (which should take 30-50 minutes to get it really deep French Onion Soup brown), or any kind of cured pork product (guanciale or pancetta if you want to be trendy), or 4-5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, or a cup of shredded, sharp cheese to the hot milk.

Lower-carb: Substitute cream and/or nut milk for the whole milk (1/2 cream and 1/2 cashew milk might be good) and thicken the sauce with a cup of shredded cheese, 2 tempered eggs, or 1/2 t. guar gum or xantham gum sprinkled over the heated milk while whisking.

Lower-fat/lower-calorie: Omit the butter and flour and use skim milk instead of whole. Heat the milk almost to a simmer and then add a slurry made from 4 T. arrowroot powder or cornstarch combined with 4 T. milk or water, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes, still stirring, until thickened.

Pork It Up: Fry up about 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork until the fat is rendered and the meat is browned. Drain the meat on paper towels and use about 4 T. of the rendered fat as the basis for the roux (reserve the rest for another use). Dice or crumble the cooked meat into small pieces and mix it into the casserole before baking.

French It Up: Waste some pricey Use haricots verts and call it “haricots verts gratin” instead of “green bean casserole.” (That’s AHR-eee-ko VEHR GRAH-tin).

Quicker: If you want homemade taste without having to fuss with fresh green beans, use frozen green beans—steam them on the stovetop or microwave just until thawed while you’re making the white sauce.Happy Thanksgiving! 

Recipe: Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:green beans seem so simple, but all the trimming is such a pain in the ass; this is the main argument for using frozen/canned: it is so much quicker

  • 4 cups fresh green beans
  • 4 T. butter
  • 4 T. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 8 oz. shitake mushrooms (or cremini, portabella, porcini, morel—if dried, rehydrate)
  • 1/2 fresh nutmeg (or 1/2 t. ground)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup fried shallots or onions
  • 1/4-1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat 1-2 cups of water in a large pot with a steamer basket if you have one (if you don’t, it won’t make a big difference).

2. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Add to the prepared pot and cook: 2-3 minutes, or just until they’re a bright green (if you want them to be crisp), 5-7 minutes or just until you can pierce them with a fork (if you want them to be tender-crisp), 8-12 minutes or until you can pierce them easily (if you want them to be tender).

steamingdrainingrouxbechamel with mushrooms  

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the flour and stir to make a smooth paste (or “roux”). Cook for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to brown slightly.

4. Gradually whisk in the milk, starting with a few tablespoons at a time and mixing until the liquid is fully incorporated before adding more.

5. Slice, dice, or mince the mushrooms and add to the flour-thickened milk mixture (i.e. a béchamel). Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

6. Butter a casserole dish, combine the milk mixture and green beans and add them to the dish, and sprinkle the fried shallots or onions and the almonds, if using, on top.

7. Bake 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is thick and bubbling and the onions are beginning to brown.

beans & bechamel, ready to top & bake This is comfort, reborn as sophistication. But without losing the comfort part.

CSA 2010 Files: Kale Chips, Chard Chips, Kohlrabi Top Chips

Green Chip Trifecta, clockwise from the bottom left: kale, kolhrabi greens, chard Another victory in the war against greens fatigue

Every week, we get more and more non-leafy vegetables in our subscription share from Needle Lane Farms—now we’re getting cucumbers and string beans and lots of summer squash along with things like cabbage and fennel that might be technically leafy vegetables but aren’t in the interchangeable-cooking-greens category. However, we still get at least one bunch of cooking greens every week too. Left to my own devices, I would probably buy non-spinach cooking greens once or twice a year. And after 9 straight weeks of eating cooking greens every week, I kind of hit a wall. It turns out there’s only so much kale I can take, even if it’s cooked in bacon fat or a cheese-infused béchamel.

And then, I remembered the kale “chips” that I started seeing on blogs last winter. They all alleged that if  you just toss kale with some oil and coarse salt and maybe some vinegar, and then you bake it, it crisps up and becomes crunchy and delicious. It sounded a little too good to be true. After trying it, I’m declaring it half-true.

before baking after about 12 minutes in the oven

Greens treated this way do get crisp—you could easily crumble them to dust if you wanted to—and they taste mostly like the oil and salt you coat them with. But they do still have a lingering bitterness, which could be either a positive or a negative depending on your palate. I like them enough to eat them, and if I had a bowl within arms’ reach, I’d probably snack on them idly until they were gone. I might even pick at the crumbles at the bottom of the bowl. Brian, who is not generally a fan of kale, has eaten them willingly and says they seem like something he’d expect Japanese people to like, probably because they’re a bit reminiscent of dried seaweed. In general, I feel like this a good thing to do with cooking greens if you’re sick of eating them wilted and dressed or stuffed into every frittata or soup or casserole you make, but you’re compelled for some reason to keep eating them anyway.

However, they’re not so good that I’d encourage anyone to run out and buy some greens just to try it. I definitely wouldn’t expect kids to enjoy them, and if you really just don’t like the taste of kale, this probably won’t redeem it for you. 

Working on the assumption that most cooking greens are basically interchangeable, I also tried it with a bunch of kohlrabi greens and a bunch of rainbow chard, and indeed, they all turn out pretty much the same. The kohlrabi tops are a little more bitter and retain a tiny bit more chew, and the chard is a little more delicate, but I wouldn’t want to have to distinguish between the three in a blind taste test. In the future, I’ll try adding a little vinegar or lemon juice or zest along with the oil to counteract/complement the bitterness, and perhaps some chili powder or garlic powder and nutritional yeast or msg. This actually seems like a perfect nootch vehicle and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think of that sooner.

Since this counts as a “win” (if not a complete trouncing), I think the official record for Me vs. Greens is 9-1-0 in my favor. I’m counting one mediocre batch of bacon kale as a “tie.” Ten more weeks to go.

not to imply that I'm looking forward to the CSA being done; I'm really enjoying it, and one of the main reasons I joined was to be forced to eat vegetables I wouldn't otherwise eat. I'm just...done with kale for a while. if we get more next week, I'll probably blanche it and freeze it.

Recipe: Kale Chips (originally from Dan Barber on Bon Appetit, via about a million other food blogs many of which are listed on Kalyn’s Kitchen)

clockwise from the bottom right: a bag full of kohlrabi greens, a bunch of kale, and a bunch of rainbow chardIngredients:

  • 1 bunch cooking greens (kale, chard, kohlrabi tops, etc)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1-2 t. coarse or flaked salt (I used kosher)
  • 1t.-1 T. vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, msg, or other spices (optional)


1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line several baking sheets with foil.

2. Strip the greens off their stems—I do this by holding the stem in one hand, and making a circle just below where the leaf starts with the thumb and index finger of my other hand and pulling up. The leaf naturally breaks off right about where the stem gets small enough to eat.

3. Tear the leaves into pieces, roughly 2”-3”.  kohlrabi greens and chard on deck, waiting for the kale to get out of the oven

4. Rinse and dry well. I dunked them in a big bowl of water, spun them in a salad spinner, and then sort of patted them down and scrunched them a few times with a paper towel.

5. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and the vinegar and spices if using. Toss to coat.

6. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

7. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until very crisp and just browning in the thinnest spots. 15-18 minutes was about right for the kale and chard in my oven, and the kohlrabi greens took about 20 minutes.

The CSA 2010 Files: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

I can't get over how pretty the kohrabi we've been getting is, even though they'e been a little woodier than would be totally ideal

Needle Lane gave us our first summer squash of the season last week, and I decided to try the simple sauté with sliced almonds that the Amateur Gourmet had raved about, originally from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a restaurant called Red Cat. More of an idea than a recipe: toast some sliced almonds in a pan and then add some summer squash cut into very thin pieces and cook for no more than a minute. I like toasted almonds and tender-crisp zucchini well enough, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten my attention if Deb from SK hadn’t called it “My Favorite Side Dish.” Anytime someone lays a superlative down like that, especially for something that doesn’t involve garlic, cheese, or bacon, I’m intrigued.

I used about 2 oz. almonds for the amount of vegetable shown above

I fussed with it a bit—I added garlic because I reflexively chopped some while I was heating the fat in the pan, and I added a kohlrabi bulb diced into matchsticks and steamed for a few minutes in the microwave because I felt like I needed to use that up at the same time. I didn’t cut the squash into matchsticks because I don’t have a mandoline and didn’t want to take the time. But I could still kind of see where Deb was coming from. It was simultaneously exactly what I should have expected from sautéed almonds and summer squash, and somehow better than I could have expected. I won’t go as far as “favorite side dish” but it is a delicious and dead simple way to use the squash that’s just about to become so excessive that some people have  designated August 8 official Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night.

The kohlrabi is definitely optional—it added a little cabbagey bite, but I don’t melted butter--foam still subsiding, milk solids beginning to brownthink I would have missed it. I used butter instead of olive oil and let it brown a little, by accident not by design. It may have enhanced the nuttiness. Or maybe what puts Deb’s version over the top is the whatever olive flavor survives the cooking process intact. My suspicion is that any kind of fat will work and that it would be a waste of really expensive olive oil, but expectations probably come into play here: if you want to use a pricey oil and you think you can taste the difference, then you will.

Conversely, the browned butter and almonds might have been a lovely way to finish steamed kohlrabi matchsticks on their own. The kohlrabi greens are edible, too. I threw some in cupboard-clearing bean soup, and they worked just like spinach but a little chewier. The ones from this bulb are still sitting in the fridge, waiting to be cooked in some bacon fat or baked until crisp like kale chips.

Recipe: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

  • 2 small-medium summer squash
  • 1-3 oz. sliced almonds
  • 1 T. butter or olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium-large kohlrabi bulb (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1. Remove the leaves from the kohlrabi (if using), and peel away the tough outer layer. Dice into matchsticks, place in a bowl with 2-3 T. water and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, boil/steam the matchsticks in a small saucepan.

I halve the bulb, cut it into thin slices, and then cut the slices into thin strips. not a perfect matchstick, but close enough ready to steam in the microwave

2. Heat the butter or oil in a large pan. Mince the garlic, if using, and add the almonds and garlic to the fat.

3. While the almonds are toasting—or before, if you’re a stickler about having your mise en place—slice the squash into thin pieces. Matchsticks if you want to, or little half-moons like I did. You want them to be thin enough to just cook through in about a minute in the pan.

4. When the almonds are turning brown, add the squash. Toss gently to coat in the fat. After about a minute, remove from the heat.

served alongside brined and broiled shrimp with drawn garlic-butter; a perfect summer meal

The CSA 2010 Files: Swiss Chard Gratin

This is kind of "greens for people who hate greens."

Greens Fatigue

Since greens are one of the first crops you can harvest, the first weeks of most CSAs involve lots of them. In addition to the nettles, we’ve had lambsquarter (another “weed”), collards, chard, a variety of chois, and 1-2 bunches of kale every week.

I usually just sauté them with some garlic (and sometimes ginger or onion or a hot pepper) until they’re wilted and then I dress them with something acidic (lemon, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar) and something umami (tamari, crumbled bacon, grated parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste. That varies from great to mediocre. Sometimes the mild bitterness of the greens marries perfectly with the salty, rich, bright, savory accompaniments and it seems like exactly the kind of fresh, simple, delicious, nutrient-rich food that I joined a CSA to enjoy. Other times, it doesn’t matter if the greens are cooked in rendered bacon fat and topped with msg, it just tastes virtuous, and I mean that in the pejorative sense. I think chard definitely wins for "prettiest" of the cooking greens.

So this week, faced with two bunches of chard—one we didn’t manage to eat last week and another from the new box, I decided to try a classic preparation I’d heard of but never tasted.

Nothing Garlic, Butter and Cheese can’t fix

A gratin is just a casserole. It usually involves vegetables, pasta or meat tossed in a classic béchamel or flour-thickened milk sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. According to Wikipedia, the name comes from the French verb “gratter” meaning “to scrape,” which refers to the scrapings or gratings of bread or cheese that form the upper crust. Fun food idiom trivia: le gratin has the same metaphorical significance as “upper crust” in English. 

Baked mac & cheese is a gratin. So is the classic green bean casserole people make for Thanksgiving, even though most people let Campbell’s make the white sauce (which is basically what any flour-thickened cream soup is). But ironically, potatoes au gratin isn’t—or at least not the ones I’ve had, which are basically just potato slices in white sauce, or like a gratin without le gratin.

Chard gratin is about what you’d expect if you substituted the pasta in baked macaroni and cheese or the green beans in green bean casserole with cooked leafy greens—it’s creamy and savory and rich. It seems like a winter dish, especially because it requires that you turn on the oven, which I admit is sort of a drag in July, but it turned out to be exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to mix up my summer greens routine.leftovers for breakfast the next morning. daytime lighting is just so much nicer, even though it's less gooey and oozing because it's cold here

You could use any cooking green you like (epicurious has a nice visual guide to some of the more common ones). I can’t tell much of a difference between them after they’ve been wilted. Sure, some of them are a little more or less bitter and some stay chewier after cooking, but I wouldn’t want to have to identify them in a blind taste test. I assume the reason chard gratin is so much more common than spinach gratin (798000 google results compared to 164000) even though the latter is the more popular green by far is because casseroles are a handy way to use the stems as well as the leaves, and that’s just not an issue for spinach. Sadly, the stems don’t retain much of their spectacular color after cooking, but they are tender and mildly-flavored so it’s a shame to throw them away. They melt right into the casserole along with the softened onion and leaves.

I scanned a few recipes and then basically improvised based on what I had on hand. Precise instructions available below the jump, but here’s the short version you should feel free to adapt/improvise on at will: Blanche 2-3 bunches of chopped greens in boiling water, stems first for 2 minutes if using and leaves for another 1-3 depending on how hearty they are (spinach only needs a minute, kale or chard will take 3 to soften fully). Drain well. Then, sauté a fistful of chopped onions and/or garlic in some kind of fat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour and then gradually whisk in about a cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, stir in some grated cheese if you want it, and add the well-drained greens. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with buttered breadcrumbs mixed with some herbs and grated parmesan, and bake (350-400F) until golden and bubbling (about 20 minutes).

To make it more like a main than a side, add some cooked pasta or a protein like leftover cooked meat, diced seitan, reconstituted tvp, or canned crab or tuna along with the cooked greens. You could also throw in some other vegetables, steamed or blanched unless they’re tender enough to eat raw. Following from the Thanksgiving classic, you could make a semi-homemade version by using a can or two of cream soup (probably onion and/or mushroom) instead of making a white sauce. Actually, with the green bean casserole in mind, I might try adding some crispy fried shallots to the topping the next time I make this. Which, if the CSA keeps up the current pace of the greens, will probably be very soon. 

Recipe: Swiss Chard Gratin


  • 2 bunches Swiss Chard, leaves and stems (or another hearty green)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 T. fat, divided plus more for greasing pan (butter, lard, or your preferred oil will all work fine)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic scapes (seasonally-available green curly garlic tops) or 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup milk (may sub oat milk or another vegan milk if desired—per Chocolate & Zucchini)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded cheddar (or gruyere or fontina or emmenthaler)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley (or another herb or combination of herbs)
  • salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Put the water in a large pot with a pinch of salt, set over high heat, and cover.

2. Remove the leaves from the stems of the chard by holding the stem in one hand and stripping the leaves upwards with the other. The stem should naturally break off where it’s small enough to include with the leaves.

check out how much vegetable matter you have to toss if you don't cook the stems 

3. Chop and rinse the stems well and add to the water, which should be boiling (if not, either you’re speedy or your stove is slow and either way, wait ‘til it is boiling before putting the leaves in). Cook the stems for about 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Then, boil/steam the leaves for about 3 minutes more (less if using a softer green like spinach—you just want it to just wilt, not dissolve). Drain the greens well.

4. Heat 2 Tablespoons of fat over medium heat in a large skillet or pot while you dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sweat the alliums until translucent and beginning to brown (5-10 minutes).

scapes! browned onion and garlic

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 T. fat if solid and combine with the breadcrumbs, 2 T. parmesan, the parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

flat-leaf (Italian) parsley breadcrumbs, butter, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper

6. Sprinkle 2 T. flour over the onions and stir. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown.

onions sprinkled with flour after the first addition of milk--stir well after each addition to make sure the flour blends in smoothly so the sauce isn't lumpy

7. Add the milk a few tablespoons at a time, stirring well after each addition. This should form a very thick, creamy sauce.

8. Grate some nutmeg over the mixture (or add pre-grated nutmeg), and add the cheddar, 2 T. parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

basically a condensed version of onion soup; with cheeses and greens

9. Add the drained greens to the white sauce and stir well to combine.

10. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Spread the greens evenly in the dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.

11. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown.

I started with 1 cup breadcrumbs and that was too much--I put 3/4 cup above, but 1/2 cup would probably be plenty hot out of the oven, still bubbling at the edges

Cream of Nettle Soup: Introducing the 2010 CSA Files

about 1/2 lb; perhaps 3-4 cups of leaves

CSA 2010: Needle Lane Farms

For the uninitiated, Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are like subscription plans for local food—usually vegetables, but in some regions, you can get CSAs for meat, seafood, dairy, frozen produce, or even prepared foods. Generally, you pay for the whole year or growing season before it begins and then every week, you pick up a pre-packed box that contains a selection of whatever’s in season. After an extraordinarily helpful consultation with Kim Bayer of The Farmer’s Marketer (which I highly recommended to anyone in the Ann Arbor area who’s interested in exploring their options for buying locally-produced food; for $25, she will distill her vast knowledge about the dizzying number of options and all their idiosyncrasies into an hour-long “matchmaking” session tailored to your wants and needs—it probably saved me 15+ hours of research), I decided to get a “single” share from Needle Lane Farms for the 2010 growing season.

The evidence about the environmental impact and health benefits of local, organic agriculture vs. industrial-scale conventional is mixed, so I’m not subscribing to a CSA because it’s morally or nutritionally superior. And I’m not convinced the stuff tastes better either—I’m still learning how to get all the grit out of the lettuce and acclimate myself to the occasional worms and bugs that are inevitable in unsprayed produce. My main motives are 1) to try things I can’t get from a normal grocery store and 2) to be forced to eat a lot of fresh vegetables while they’re in season, which improves my well-being whether or not the veggies are healthier than their conventional analogs. Kim recommended Needle Lane because they grow a lot of novel things, unlike farms that focus more on producing mostly familiar, popular crops. True to form, the first box of the season included the package of stinging nettles and handy warning/info sheet pictured above.  a simpler preparation would be to simply shock them in an ice bath after blanching and then dress them with a simple vinaigrette or some soy sauce or tamari and sesame seeds or butter and parmesan cheese

Plant Bigotry

Nettles are often considered a “weed,” but that’s a troublesome term. Like “dirt,’” it refers less to any inherent properties of the object than to the context where it appears. If dirt is “matter out of place,” meaning what might be dirt in one context (sand in your clothes) is totally appropriate in another (sand on the beach), weeds are essentially plants out of place—e.g. grass may be the only thing many people want growing in their lawns, but when it shows up in their flower beds, it’s a weed, and often an especially tricky one to remove. But there are also things—like soil—that count as “dirt”  no matter where they are, and nettles are that kind of weed, along with plants like thistles and dandelions. Even when the New York Botanical Garden deliberately grew dandelions for their recent tribute to Emily Dickinson, NPR reported that they had to “keep the staff gardeners from uprooting the tiny yellow flowering weeds.”

It’s not an issue of the usefulness or prettiness of the plant—many “weeds” are edible and beautiful, like the flowering “invasive species” that park services staff and volunteers do battle with. And it can’t just be an issue of thorniness, because obviously: roses. The main thing that seems to make something inherently weedy rather than contingently weedy seems to be whether it’s cultivated. Not the specific plant—many people welcome volunteer plants in their yards or gardens as long as they’re a species someone cultivates somewhere, but if the plan qua plant—i.e. not a nettle, but Nettle—isn’t deliberately grown anywhere, it seems to be a “weed” even if you eat it or sell it just like a “crop.” Nettles have been harvested for human consumption for centuries, but as far as I can tell, it’s almost always foraged instead of farmed. People don’t plant it or encourage it, it just grows… well, “like a weed.”

Sour Salty Bitter Sweet is brought to you today by Needle Lane Farms and the letter Q.  

According to an article in the Telegraph about last year’s Stinging Nettle Eating competition in Dorset, where people eat the leaves raw, even people who consider the plants edible tend think of them as an “infestation”:

The contest began more than 20 years ago when two customers at Marshwood’s 16th century Bottle Inn argued over who had the worst infestation of stinging nettles. "One of them said, ‘I’ll eat any nettle of yours that’s longer than mine"’ said Rory Macleod, 34, the pub landlord. "And so they had a competition. They’re both dead now.”

Making Them Edible

The Telegraph article goes on to explain why eating them raw has turned into such a big macho contest:

The plant properly known as urtica docia is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in iron, potassium, calcium and abundant vitamins. They have been used in traditional English stews, teas and beers for centuries, while the Italians cherish them for pesto and the Scandinavians make a knockout nettle soup called Nasselsoppa. The complications come with eating the things raw. Urtica is covered in thousands of microscopic hypodermic needles each filled with boric acid. On contact the needles break, causing the acid to flood over and burn the skin.

Wikipedia contests that explanation, claiming the nature of the toxins is still a matter of debate and may vary between species, but likely includes formic acid, serotonin, and histamines. So the “stinging” effect is either an acid burn, serotonin-induced dermatitis, an allergic reaction, or some combination of the three. Whatever the cause, cooking eliminates it. Most of the I think I let this steep a little too long--the part I drained immediately was pleasant, but I combined that with the part that sat for hours and it was sort of bitter and weirdly buttery. But initially, it was sort of reminiscent of barley I encountered called for blanching them in boiling water for a minute or two and then removing the leaves from the stems. At that point, they’re basically like any other hearty cooking green. The blanching liquid can be reserved and used in soup, consumed on its own as a hot or cold tea, or used to water plants. Some people even harvest nettles specifically to make tea and throw out the greens.

I decided to make a soup, and the first few recipes I found were all basically starch-thickened pureed cream soups—one using potato, one using oats, and one using rice. I didn’t have any potatoes or oats and didn’t feel like waiting for rice to cook, so I decided to improvise a flour-thickened version starting with a basic roux infused with a couple of shallots and a bunch of spring onions that also came in that week’s share. I also added a parcel of cooking greens because 1/2 lb nettles doesn’t actually yield all that much edible material (according to the CSA newsletter, the greens were a mix of Kale, Tat Soi, Bok Choy, Swiss Chard, Chinese Cabbage, and Lambsquarter). You could use more nettles, or substitute spinach, or use any combination of cooking greens. The recipe also works with other vegetables. I’ve made similar soups with a few cups of shredded zucchini or broccoli florets with great results, and I bet it would also be good with cauliflower or mushrooms or corn or maybe even root vegetables. It’s basically a nice way to turn a vegetable into something hearty and satisfying enough to serve as a meal, and the precise amount of vegetable matter—and most of the other ingredients—isn’t that important.

The msg and nutmeg are both optional. I tasted it without them, and it was good, but I felt like it needed a little extra boost. If you’re wary about msg (though I explain here why there’s no real reason to be), you could substitute nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese, or just leave it out.

Recipe: Cream of Nettle Soup


  • a couple quarts of water or stock for blanching nettles (reserve the liquid)
  • 4-6 T. butter
  • 4-6 T. flour
  • a few handfuls of chopped alliums—shallots, onion, garlic, whatever you like
  • 1/2 lb stinging nettles (weight includes the stems)
  • an additional ~3 cups of hearty greens (kale, chard, spinach, mustard greens, or more nettles)
  • 4 cups reserved nettle-blanching liquid
  • if using water instead of stock for nettles, 4 t. bouillon
  • 1 cup milk (or cream)
  • a pinch of msg (optional, or sub. 1 T.+ nutritional yeast or 1 oz finely grated parmesan instead)
  • 1/2 t. grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the nettles, using gloves or tongs or the container they came in to protect yourself from the needles. Blanche for 1-2 minutes, and then drain and remove to a cutting board (no need to shock them with ice water since they’re just going in a soup). Filter the blanching liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel and reserve.

like most cooking greens, they cook down considerably I initially used a knife but then found it was easier just to pull the leaves off by hand

2. Remove the leaves from the stems, which are tough and fibrous.

two shallots and a bunch of spring onions the blanched nettels and chopped mixed cooking greens

3. Melt the butter and sweat the shallots/onions/garlic until they’re golden. Add the flour, stir well to make a thick paste and cook until it begins to brown slightly. This should smell pretty amazing.

the onion roux after the first addition of the blanching liquid; it will get paler

4. Gradually add about 4 cups of the nettle-blanching water, which should still be pretty hot, stirring continuously. At first, the liquid will incorporate into the roux as the starches expand, creating growing mass of paste, but after about a cup, it should start to loosen into a creamy broth.

5. Add the greens, or whatever vegetable you’re using and simmer until tender (10 minutes for spinach, 15 minutes for heartier greens, up to 20-25 minutes for broccoli florets).

the broth, before adding the greens: just butter, flour, onions, and nettle water at this point after adding the greens 

6. Puree—I used an immersion blender, but a regular blender or food processor would work just as well.

pureeing; again if just using a softer green like the nettles or spinach, you might not have flecks of darker green left after pureeing stirring in the milk

7. Stir in the milk and season, heat for another minute or two or just until almost boiling, and then remove from heat. Season to taste.