Last week, I wrote about my new found friendship with nettles, the one that after years of antipathy now sees me stuff them in my teapot. But drink-schmink, people. Now I like them so much, I'm eating them.
Since launching our #DoingYourBit campaign two years ago, we have reported on groups and individuals from all over the world who are coming up with the most ingenious ways of helping to protect our planet. And because we've been repeatedly inspired by their contributions, we've decided it's time to take a leaf out of their green books and explore the endless practical ways that we too, can do more.
So in our new series, #DoingYourOwnBit, we will be looking at how, in practical ways, we can make a difference. And we'll be giving you blow-by-blow accounts of what worked for us and what didn't, not only to show what flawed human beings we are, but so you can try it out for yourself.
And thus it begins. With a hearty bowl of nettle soup. Yes, nettles. We've all read about foraging, about the many plants that grow in abundance in our midst, about how we could just walk out the door, into the local park and take our pick, quick literally, of untold green goodness. We could. But most of us don't. Not when there's a supermarket around the corner.
Yet having waxed lyrical about the brilliance of the ill-tempered nettle last week, I figured it was truly time to put my money, in this case some earthy-smelling green leaves, where my mouth is.
I'm going to have to come clean here and confess that cooking really exactly not my strongest suit. It's not that I can't do it, more that I just don't much like it, and I'm too much of an imperfectionist in the kitchen to follow a recipe from start to finish. So, as you are about to find out, I invariably, part-way through the proceedings go off at a tangent. The results are varied. So let me suggest that you take this recipe and inexact ingredient measurements with a pinch of whatever you think will make it work for you.
This much I can tell you with certainty: When foraging for your nettles, wear impenetrable gloves, look for young plants and only pick the top leaves. They're reputedly the best. And who am I to argue. Once you've got as many as you think you'll need - I had a medium-sized bowl full – keeping your gloves on, wash them and put to one side.
What you'll need:
Couple of cloves of garlic
A leek or two
Couple of sticks of celery
Whatever herbs or other veggies you want (I used spinach)
Stock – as much as you want
And, of course, the star ingredient: your lovingly picked nettles
Gently fry onion, garlic, celery and leek – or whatever else you have and fancy – and throw into the pot for about ten minutes. When it is all soft but not brown (a challenge to which I rarely rise with any success) add your chosen amount of veggie stock, chuck in your nettles and simmer for a few minutes. Then all you have to do is purée, season, add a splodge of sour cream if you like, and eat. Easy. It really is.
And the best thing is, it tastes great and is so impossibly green that it's almost luminous. I served it to my children, who tend to prefer sugar to weeds, but once we'd cleared up their concerns – and this took some doing – that I was going to force them to eat a bowl of stings, they all ate with enough gusto to convince me that it was genuine. They even came back for more. Oh, yeah.
I can hear a couple of you in the back row asking how a bowl of Urtica diocica soup is helping the environment. And it's a valid question. As is the answer. If we eat what we find around us, we're not buying potentially pre-packaged stuff that has traveled far to reach us. We're eating as locally as it gets and we have to start somewhere, right? Yes, we really do. And there are many worse places for that to happen than in front of a big bowl of bright green nettle soup.