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Halgrimson: Nettles earn a place on the menu

When I read in a culinary mystery about a chef using stinging nettles in his repertoire, I was surprised. My experience with nettles had not been in the kitchen but rather in the woods where they stuck to my trousers and shirt sleeves, to say nothing of stabbing my fingers.

But the first time I ate nettles I was convinced that they had a place on the menu.

A nettle soup was served at a lunch that was included in one of Noreen and Even Thomas’ wonderful farm tours. Noreen picks them from the woods on their fifth-generation farm in Kragnes, Minn. She uses rubber gloves to harvest them, and cooking makes them edible. They may also be dried by hanging in bunches in a well-ventilated area.

The following recipe is adapted from “Orginal Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest,” by Heid E. Erdrich. I got the dried nettles for this dish at Tochi Products, a health food store at 1111 2nd Ave N., Fargo.

Mushroom-Nettle Pate

1 package (12 ounces) firm tofu

Sunflower oil

½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted sunflower seeds, toasted

2/3 cup chopped green onions, white parts only

6 cups sliced mushrooms

1 whole mushroom, sliced and reserved

1½ tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of sweet paprika

1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

¼ cup reconstituted dried nettles, well drained

Place unwrapped tofu in a flat-bottomed strainer, put a plate on top of it plus a heavy can or jar, and press for 10 minutes. Generously grease a loaf pan with oil. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a pan full of water to a boil.

In a food processor, grind walnuts to a coarse meal. Set aside. Then process sunflower seeds with 2 teaspoons oil until a thick paste forms. Set aside. In a heavy frying pan set over medium heat, cook onions in 1 tablespoon oil until translucent. Add sliced mushrooms, toss to mix, cover and cook for 10 minutes until mushrooms are softened. Uncover and cook for five more minutes.

While mushrooms cook uncovered, prepare tofu by placing it in the boiling water for five minutes. Remove and return to press. Add soy sauce to mushrooms, stir it in, then add herbs and spices and stir again. Reduce heat to low, and simmer five minutes and turn off heat.

Stir in sunflower paste and walnuts, thoroughly mixing then into the liquid. Crumble in tofu, stir and add bread crumbs, stirring to combine. Working in batches, puree in processor until smooth.

Arrange reserved sliced mushroom in bottom of prepared loaf pan. Spoon nettles over and between mushrooms slices. Spoon pate mixture into loaf pan on top of nettles, cover pan tightly with aluminum foil, and bake 50 minutes. Uncover and allow loaf to cool for at least 45 minutes. Turn out onto a serving plate and cool another 30 minutes before slicing.

Note: To toast nuts and seeds, spread them in a shallow baking pan in a 350-degree oven until golden for about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch closely so they do not burn.

Readers can reach Forum Food Columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at