Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stinging Nettle-kopitas

Recently I was lucky enough to join a friend and some other local foodies for a spring ritual- nettle picking.

Last year this same friend brought me a big bag full of nettles and suggested that I add them to a basic potato soup and treat them like spinach. I tried that and I also tried it in rice pilaf.

She also reminded me to wear gloves as they can produce quite a sting until they are cooked. I forgot. The sting persisted in my left thumb for just short of 48 hours. Needless to say, I won't ever forget again. 

That experience taught me two things: nettles may require some special treatment but nettles are also delicious. They are worth the hunt. They are a free source of food and super nutritious- full of vitamins and high in protein. Nettles can be used in any recipe to replace cooked spinach. They really are a locavore's treasure.

I've since read that nettles can be used as a tea, a hair rinse (for shiny, dandruff-free hair), a treatment for arthritis and have potential to help those suffering with eczema. 

Last week I was at a local food talk where the speaker brought in nettle spanokopita. It was amazing! I didn't even think to try that with the nettles! I asked for her tips on making it and she said to use fresh dill and use cottage cheese in place of some of the ricotta. I went home on a mission to replicate her tasty nettle-kopitas.

If you attempt this recipe, be sure to use gloves while harvesting, washing and chopping the nettles. Please learn from my mistake...and it isn't that bad as I am planning the next nettle excursion soon!

P.S. Stay tuned for how to use up leftover phyllo pastry.

Nettle Spanokopita
If you can't harvest some nettles, use spinach in this recipe and it will be just as tasty! This recipe works well in phyllo pastry but I imagine it would be great as a pasta filling as well (you may want to add an egg for a pasta filling though). I prefer to use olive oil for brushing on my phyllo as it is easier to work with (doesn't harden over time) but butter gives it a tasty crust. Also, you can make any shape of phyllo you prefer (use the phyllo box as your guide!) You can make the large ones that you often see in restaurants, or make small appetizer-sized ones like we do. I usually freeze some for later use.

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups washed and chopped nettle leaves (use your gloves!) or spinach
2 tbsp minced fresh dillweed (or 1 tbsp dried)
1 lemon, juiced
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used 2 %)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Approximately 1/2 package of phyllo pastry, thawed in fridge or room temperature for 4-6 hours
1/4-1/2 cup Olive oil or melted butter, for brushing

1. In a large saute pan, heat 2 T oil and 1 T butter over medium heat. Add onion and saute for approximately 6-8 minutes, or until onion is softened and golden. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two.
2. Add nettles, dill and lemon juice and saute until nettles are cooked (i.e. wilted) and the moisture evaporates, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. In a bowl, combine cheeses, salt and pepper. Add nettle mixture. Stir to combine.
4. Prepare workspace for making phyllo- get a large cutting board (or countertop if you can cut on it), a pastry brush, a damp kitchen towel and your oil or melted butter.
5. Open the box of phyllo and unroll the dough. Place one sheet of pastry on the cutting board and brush lightly with oil. Place another sheet of pastry over top of the other and brush that one also with oil. (Cover the remaining dough with the plastic wrap included and a damp towel over top to keep it from drying out.)
6. Decide what shape you want your phyllo by following directions on box. If you like small, appetizer-sized triangles as we do, cut the pastry into 5 equal pieces lengthwise. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling at the bottom of each piece and fold up triangle-style until you get to the top. Fold over (or cut remaining pastry at the top) and place on lined baking sheet. Brush top with oil.
7. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.
8. If desired, these can be refridgerated or frozen at this point until ready to use. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15-17 minutes or until puffed and golden.
9. Serve with tzatziki or yogurt dill sauce (see Zucchini Pancake post).