For some, the idea of eating the infamous stinging nettle may not sound appealing. Although, true to its name, it makes for an unpopular common hedgerow plant, the stinger is actually packed with nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins A, C and several B vitamins, and magnesium to name a few. It tastes not unlike spinach, but with a bit more punch.
And before you let the mental image of your tongue, throat and oesophagus throbbing in pain put you off reading further - once cooked, the stinging nettle can sting no more. Picking nettles is the trickiest part of this recipe, but I promise you it is so worth it. Foraging not only gets you outdoors for some fresh air and a walk, but is also fun and immensely rewarding - particularly for those who aren't able to grow their own. Best of all, it's free!
By using coconut milk instead of cream, and tofu instead of paneer, this take on the classic Saag Paneer is made vegan. It is mild, creamy and comforting and such an easy dish to prepare once the foraging has been done.
If you don't already know the knack for picking these leaves without protection (and even if you do, it's really not worth the faff), then a pair of thick or rubber gloves will work just fine. Aim to pick the top of the shoot, where the leaves are smaller and tastier, and avoid picking when they are in flower (early summer). You'll need to forage enough for roughly 3 cups of blanched nettles, so think two-thirds of a bag of spinach, as it will wilt down a lot.
The foragers code: Although nettles are abundant in the UK, try to pick leaves from a few different plants, eg. from along the length of a hedgerow rather than just one whole patch of plants. This helps to maintain the habitat for any wildlife and the balance of the immediate ecosystem.
Nettle "Saag" Paneer
3 cups blanched nettles or spinach (immerse in boiling water for 30-40 seconds, squeeze and drain thoroughly)
One pack tofu or paneer, cut into 1-by-1-inch cubes
1 large white onion, sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 cloves of garlic paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste (1cm fresh)
1 chilli, finely chopped, or one teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
2 tbsp coconut milk or single cream
salt and pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil, coconut oil or ghee
First, if you don't have garlic or ginger paste, put the garlic cloves in a small blender along with the fresh ginger and blitz until smooth. It doesn't matter if this seems a bit lumpy. Chop the blanched, drained nettles/spinach roughly on a chopping board (nettles won't sting now that they've been cooked!).
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over a medium flame and fry the tofu or paneer, turning over after about 2 minutes, or once browned, and brown the other side. Once crispy, set aside, leaving as much oil in the pan as you can.
If there isn't much oil left, add another tablespoon before heating up over a medium heart, then add the onions. Once translucent, add the turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilli and stir. Fry for two minutes, then add the chopped blanched nettles/spinach. Stir to combine.
Add the paneer or tofu to the pan and combine amongst the nettle spice mixture. Heat through well, letting the spices infuse the paneer/tofu, then add the cream or coconut milk.
Serve with chopped coriander and brown rice or fluffy naan bread.