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Nettle Pesto Recipe - Plant-based, Homemade

Most of us have heard of nettle leaf tea, but did you know that you can (and perhaps we even should) actually eat nettles?! I found that out a few years ago and decided to learn all about their fantastic nutritional benefits. Ever since then, each spring I collect stinging nettles from my garden and make this yummy pesto to use with pastas, in tortillas, sandwiches and in many other ways. If you're never eaten nettles the taste may be a bit unexpected at first, but it's actually delicious. There's definitely some resemblance to spinach but the texture is not a soft, it's a bit more hardy and wholesome, almost meaty, and the taste is a bit nuttier, punchier, with a small note that resembles a cucumber-like flavor.

In your cooking, you can use the nettle leaves just as you would spinach. You can steam them by themselves or with just a few herbs and spices, you can use them in stir-fries, one-pot dishes, pastas, risottos and so on. You can also make a beautifully green and delicious nettle pesto. And in case you're wondering- no, this pesto doesn't sting your mouth:) neither will the leaves in any of the other nettle recipes as long as you steam or cook them first.

What are some benefits of stinging nettle leaves?

Well, they're basically a superfood, being packed with protein (right there at the top along with kale and spinach) and fiber (of which nettles have even more than kale or spinach). They're rich in iron, calcium and magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. And they're also a great source of antioxidants, vitamin C, A, K, carotenoids and the B vitamins.

How to harvest nettles?

You want to pick your nettles anytime from the very late winter/early spring, right as they're very young (and some of them don't even sting yet) to April/May when they're all grown up but haven't developed flowers yet.

Apparently when you pick the leaves by touching them in a very specific way you don't get stung, I, however, haven't mastered that art myself so I choose to wear gloves to protect my skin and I recommend doing the same.

You can cut off the leaves with scissors of the growing nettles or you could pick the whole stem and then cut of the leaves in the kitchen, but either way we want to end up with just the leaves, no stems.

Depending on where you're picking your nettles, you may want to take a closer look at the leaves and pick the nicest ones and discard the ones with any weird dirt, bugs or growths on them. Also, if you're picking them in a more public area, I recommend staying away from the ones that grow right by pathways where people may be walking their dogs. I also wouldn't pick them anywhere close to a busy city center where there's lots of traffic and all the nearby plants inhale lots of polluted air. If you don't have a garden and can't go anywhere outside the city, I recommend finding a park and looking for your nettles as far away from the sounding streets as possible.

Once I gather my leaves I wash them (still wearing gloves), either using a strainer or a bowl. If I'm stir-frying the leaves I pat them dry with some paper towels or kitchen cloth. If I'm steaming them, there's no point in patting them dry, I just put them into my steamer straight from the strainer, (still using gloves or tongs).

Steaming or cooking the leaves deactivates the stinging, so the leaves should be okay to handle with your bare hands once they've been exposed to heat (they may be hot, though!).

Plant-based, Homemade Nettle Pesto Recipe


3 c fresh nettle leaves (measured before steaming) 1/2 c dry roasted hazelnuts (pine nuts or cashew nuts, would also work, as would other nuts, but I find hazelnuts compliment this recipe best) 1-2 cloves of roasted garlic or about 1/2 t of garlic powder 1/2 t sea salt or Himalayan pink salt 1/2 t of freshly ground black pepper 2.5 T of nutritional yeast (mostly for protein, B vitamins and the yummy, cheesy flavor) 1 t of herbs the Provence herb mix 1 T lemon juice 1/2c - 3/4c extra virgin olive oil (I usually add about 1/2 cup to the mixture and then drizzle a bit on top of everything once it's already in the jar)


Garlic: I recommend roasting your garlic along with some other veggies you may be roasting in your oven, for instance pumpkins, potato wedges, chickpeas, etc.- you just throw in a few garlic cloves (unpeeled) and use them as soon as they cool down or keep in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a few days. But it's totally fine if you use some garlic powder instead in this recipe, just be mindful of the quantity, as garlic powder is more pungent (due to the more concentrated flavor) than cooked or even raw garlic. Nuts: If the nuts you're using haven't been roasted you should roast them before you begin making the pesto. You can do it in the oven or, since it's a small amount I recommend using a small frying pan and dry roasting them for about 4 minutes. I sometimes like to crush the nuts into smaller chunks before I roast them, especially if they're quite big like hazelnuts, but you don't have to do this- you can let your food processor take care of that later. Food-processor: I like to use a manual food processor for this recipe for two reasons. One- I can easily make sure I don't over blend everything and end up with an oily smoothie instead of a pesto consistency. And two- this is quite a small amount of ingredients and I would need to double or triple them in order for my regular food processors to process them well. However, if you have a smaller food processor or one with a special spatula/tamper then perhaps you don't need to worry about the quantity. My manual mini food processor costed me the equivalent of $7 so it wasn't a huge expense and although perhaps it isn't the best quality, I've loved using it for things that doesn't require being blended all the way like pesto or guacamole, (I probably wouldn't recommend it for smoothies, hummus, nut-butters or other kinds of more paste-like spreads, though).

Step 1- Harvest your nettle leaves, see description above.

Step 2- Wash the nettle leaves. It's best to do it in a strainer, moving the leaves around with a fork or tongs. If you're using your hands, make sure you use gloves when handling the leaves.

Step 3- Steam the nettle leaves for a few minutes in a steamer, just as you would steam spinach leaves. If you don't have a steamer pot or insert, you could try steaming them with a little bit of water on a frying pan covered with a lid, you could also boil them for a minute or so, just until they soften, but I do recommend steaming for this recipe.

Step 4- Drain the excess water and allow the nettle leaves to cool down a bit. Once they do, squeeze them with your hand or using a paper towel or a clean kitchen cloth (the fabric can stain, though!) to release more water. We want the leaves to be soft and as dry as possible.

Step 5 option A- the simple way: Throw all the ingredients into your food processor and pulse until you've reached your pesto desired consistency. And you're done. (Or follow the steps below). Step 5 option B- the way that works best for my food processor: 1 - Begin by adding about half of the nettle leaves to your food processor first. 2 - Now add in the garlic (roasted cloves or powder), salt, pepper, Provence herb mix and nutritional yeast. 3 - "Cover" that with the second half of the nettle leaves. 4 - On top of it all, pour the lemon juice and about half of your olive oil. 5 - Run the food processor, either manually if you use what I use, or by gently pulsing it a few times. 6 - When it seems like there aren't any whole nettle leaves left anymore, add the roasted nuts and the rest of the olive oil. Pulse again until everything mixes well and the nettle leaves are shredded to little bits. See my picture for reference, use your imagination or simply google "green pesto" and try to match your consistency to what you see. Taste the pesto and decide whether or not you need to add a bit more salt at this point. Keep in mind that the garlic flavor will usually intensify quite a bit the next day. You may wish to add some more olive oil while blending or do what I do, (see the next step).

Step 6- Transfer your pesto to a glass jar. If you find that it could use a little bit more olive oil, add some on top of it. I find that it helps preserve it better- whenever my pesto is covered by olive oil like that I feel like it lasts a day or two longer in the fridge this way. You can also skip adding any olive oil all together. I recommend consuming this pesto within 2-3 days. Alternatively, you can also freeze some of it for later. If you do, I recommend defrosting it naturally- not in a microwave- simply let it thaw at room temperature. Note: I divide my nettle leaves in half as described because I find that everything incorporates better this way, especially all of the dry ingredients that they way don't go and stay all the way at the bottom of the bowl. I also add in the nuts a little later because I like them to not get as finely chopped as the greens here.

You may also like: Parsley Pesto Recipe, Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe.


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