The unexpected burst of spring here in Madison has unleashed a premature, though verily welcomed, bounty of stunning local produce. My last excursion to the indoor farmers market ended with a canvas tote bag full to the brim with early season vegetables including crisp thumb-sized cucumbers, peppery watercress, over-wintered spinach, super sweet yellow carrots, baby kale and collard leaves, and mild-flavored medleys of gorgeous mixed salad greens—all light, refreshing fare as compared to the hearty root vegetables of winter.
With each seasonal shift offering an exciting array of earthly edible gifts, I often find myself overwhelmed and immediately yearn to remind my tastebuds of every reappearing fruit and vegetable that they had forgotten over the past year. Thus, I often return home from the farmers market with a cornucopia of produce, but not the slightest idea of how to culinarily implement it. Indeed, this weekend I found myself holding a bunch of stinging nettles in one hand and a pound of knobbly sunchokes in the other—both rather obscure ingredients.
Stinging nettle is a green leafy herb covered in fuzzy hairs (some of which “sting” and some of which do not). Thought to reduce the amount of inflammatory chemicals in the body, doctors employ nettles to treat a wide range of ailments from joint pain to eczema to urinary tract infections. Foragers and wild herb enthusiasts, however, consider the plant a gourmet cooking ingredient. Nettle soup often appears in recipes, while the Greeks add them into spanikopita and the Italians puree them into pesto or pasta fillings. Supposedly nettles require a quick blanch in boiling water before considered edible, but the recipe with which I experimented featured them raw and chopped up fine in the food processor.
Sunchokes, aka jerusalem artichokes, resemble disfigured, striped potatoes in appearance, but do indeed taste vaguely of artichokes with a crisp crunch. From a nutritional standpoint, sunchokes contain rich amounts of inulin, promoting intestinal health, as well as ample iron, vitamin C, phosphorus, and potassium. I adore the unique flavor of sunchokes in pureed soup—exactly the recipe featured in this post.
Without further ado, I present unto you a springtime edition of recipe experimentation.
Recipe One: Raw Chocolate-Nettle Cupcakes with Pistachio Crust—Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories.
- Divided the entire recipe in half to yield five cupcakes instead of one large layer cake.
- In chocolate fudge layer, used a mixture of dates and prunes.
- Substituted carob powder for cacao.
- Omitted salt.
- In nettle-mint layer, substituted 1 cup of coconut flour for the shredded coconut (the recipe calls for grinding the coconut into a flour anyway).
- Didn’t juice the spinach or powder the nettle—simply added them to a food processor in their whole leaf forms.
- Used 1/4 tsp peppermint extract for the “peppermint essence.”
- Substituted date paste for the agave.
- In frosting, omitted the coconut butter, used a whole vanilla bean instead of vanilla powder, and substituted prunes for dates.
- Playing with different types of dried fruit imparts subtle flavor nuances and interest in any recipe. The pure sweetness of the dates mingled well with the tart prunes.
- The addition of cacao nibs to the chocolate fudge layer should certainly not be optional, as the original recipe suggests. I utterly adored the textural contrast of the crunchy nibs to the smooth fudge and would have quite missed their presence.
- I completely botched the “super-infused mint layer.” Overestimating the amount of coconut flour yielded by grinding 1 1/4 cups shredded coconut, I ended up with a light green powder rather than a cakey dough. The layer certainly still tasted good—I quite enjoyed the cool peppermint flavor playing off of the snickerdoodle-reminiscent coconut flour and the grassy greens—but the texture certainly required a vast improvement. Next time, I’ll either vastly reduce the amount of coconut flour or start with shredded coconut, as per the original recipe.
- Coconut butter is completely unnecessary in the frosting since a whole avocado offers an ample amount of fat, not to mention that a banana provides extra creaminess, to produce a silky smooth pudding-like layer with a rich mouthfeel. I fear that with coconut butter, the frosting would prove much too rich and perhaps cloying.
Recipe Two: Green Tea Sunchoke Soup with Lemon and Rosemary—Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories.
- Instead of using only sunchokes, I implemented a mixture of complementary vegetables, two pounds in total: a generous handful of sunchokes, two large carrots, a large bulb of fennel, and two medium parsnips.
- Substituted 1 tbsp dried rosemary for fresh.
- Omitted the fennel garnish.
- What a wonderfully complex soup! The artichoke-y sunchokes, sweet carrots, bold parsnips, and anise-y fennel combine to produce a harmonious, refreshing flavor perfectly complimented by the rich matcha green tea and rosemary with a lovely dash of lemon for necessary acidity.
Comment Provoking Questions: Have you ever cooked with nettles or sunchokes before? If so, how did you use them? Has spring sprung early in your town as well?
Until next time, Ali.