FreshTartSteph: Nettle Salt
As someone who spends a lot of time in grocery stores, it's hard to deny the primal thrill of foraging for edibles in the great outdoors. It's similar to the pleasure in picking tomatoes I've grown myself, except a bit more powerful. There is, in fact, a Hierarchy of Food-Gathering Satisfaction, which exists completely in my own mind, and goes something like this: foraging (hunting, fishing), gardening, farm stands, farmers markets, co-ops, grocery stores. The thrill of the chase apparently persists even in the soul of a city girl.
Especially when you can forage right in the city! There are stinging nettles to be found in almost anyone's yard, which you well know if you've ever grabbed one to yank out of a flower bed (ouch). Next time you see them, put on some gloves, pull them up, then save them to make salt—an idea I'm stealing from my friends Kathy Yerich and Scott Pampuch, who both made and shared nettle salt in the last couple of weeks.
Nettle salt is easy to make and deliciously savory, with a slightly grassy flavor that is lovely with corn, eggs, butter, and bread. Kathy made hers by pulsing fresh nettle leaves with sea salt in a food processor, then spreading the mixture to dry on a baking sheet. Her salt was bright green and pungent, a gorgeous topping for the pizzas we Minnesota Food Bloggers made at our recent gathering at Kitchen in the Market with Zoe Francois. Scott made his by first drying the nettles before pulsing with coarse sea salt. His version had more texture and a softer flavor, which was amazing sprinkled on the popcorn tossed with brown butter he set out at his In Search of Food party at Fulton Beer.
Make it both ways! Either way, figure a large bunch of nettles—enough to cover a dish towel—per cup of salt. Wearing gloves, remove the leaves from the plant, then wash and dry them.
For the bright green, pungent, finer salt: Pulse fresh leaves a bit before adding the salt, then spread the mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet to dry. Sprinkle on top of pizza, into a grilled cheese sandwich, on top of an omelet, on sauteed mushrooms... The grassy flavor is a lovely foil for rich, fatty foods.
For the softer green, coarser salt: After washing and drying the leaves, spread them out on a baking sheet and let dry at room temperature for a couple of days. Crumble the leaves into a food processor, add salt and pulse briefly, just enough to combine. Serve tossed with popcorn and brown butter, sprinkled on flat bread or grilled bread, on the rim of a margarita glass, over softly scrambled eggs, sprinkled over warm corn bread with butter (just had that for breakfast, rock and roll). The savoriness and crunch of the salt beautifully enhance but don’t overwhelm the rounder, softer flavors of corn, eggs, and butter.
Store both versions in an airtight jar. And of course, only forage if you are confident you can identify nettles!