Vension with Nettles Chimichurri and Twistedstalk Avocado Salad

Last year one of my biggest failures was nettles. Considering that this is one of the most commonly foraged greens, this failure particularly stung (haha, get it?). So I vowed that I was going out as soon as I heard even the slightest hint of nettles.

Nettles

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The first time I went looking for nettles, I wasn’t sure I had found the right plant, until I got stung. I was wearing Carheart work-gloves that were mostly leather with a cloth patch on the back. They stung me through the cloth. I would highly recommend wearing full leather gloves when picking both nettles and devil’s club.

Nettles tend to grow in fields and sunny slopes. You can pick the full plant when it’s five to eight inches high, after that, like many foraged greens, you only pick the top part of the plant, the newest growth. Last year I went out and picked nettles in mid-May. I also recommend rainpants, so you can sit down in your nettles patch, and a pair of scissors to make picking easy and to make sure you’re not ripping out the full plant (unless you’re wanting to harvest nettle roots). You can pick nettles up until they are about to begin flowering.

When handling your nettles back in the kitchen, be careful to always use tongs (it’s easy to forget that these babies sting once you’re out of the field). Rinse nettles twice in a cold water bath. When using your nettles for anything, they’ll need to be either blanched or roasted. The moment the nettles wilt, their sting is gone, so when blanching, no need to dunk them in boiling water for much more than a minute and then immediately into an ice-water bath. Part of why my first experiment with nettles last year was such a failure was that I overcooked them out of fear of stinging our mouths.

Twistedstalk

Twistedstalk is one of the common names for what we more regularly refer to, at least around Juneau, as Watermelon Berry. This green has a beautifully delicate flavor, slightly sweet with a hint of cucumber. I made a really yummy Cream of Twistedstalk Soup last year which I’m planning on making again.

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A patch of twistedstalk on the left with three tall false hellebore sprouts in the back on the right.

I was actually going out in search of devil’s club, but as I discovered last year, devil’s club and twistedstalk are good buddies, so even though devil’s club wasn’t quite ready, there was plenty of twisted stalk to pick. In some ways this plant is one of my favorites to pick as it covers your hands in that clean, bright, sweet cucumber smell.

I’ve read that twistedstalk can sometimes be confused with false hellebore, which is quite poisonous. This honestly confuses me because even as young sprouts, these plants look very different. You can see in the photo to the left, that even from a distance, these two sprouts are distinct.

Twistedstalk can also be picked for a good month, and like nettles, when picking the older plant, only pinch off the top-most leaves to ensure that you’re picking the newest growth. But once the plant flowers, twistedstalk time is over and watermelon berry time is beginning.

 Nettles Chimichurri with Venison & Twistedstalk Avocado Salad

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Chimichurri is similar to pesto in that it’s a sauce made from fragrant greens. Primarily from Argentina, chimichurri is often served with steak and usually made from parsley and cilantro.

Nettles Chimichurri

  • 1/2 pound fresh nettles
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make your chimichurri ahead of time, preferably an hour and a half, but you can make it a full day ahead. This recipe makes a fair amount and can be kept in the fridge for a week or frozen for later use.

Bring a large pot of water with a pinch of salt to boil. Place a bowl of water and ice in your sink. Once pot is boiling, dunk three large tong-fulls of nettles into boiling water. Stir and ensure all nettles are submerged for 1-2 minutes. Using tongs or a skimmer, remove nettles and place in ice water, stir until nettles are cool. Place nettles in strainer, and using papertowels, press out water. You want your nettles as dry as possible, extra water will make your chimichurri runny. This should measure out to about two cups packed cooked nettles. If you have more, save them to add to omelets tomorrow morning.

Toast garlic cloves, still in their skins,  in a small skillet over medium heat until each side of each clove is browned, about 6-7 minutes. I do this when making my pesto and it lends a deeper, warmer garlic flavor.

Remove garlic and in the same pan place oil and red pepper flakes. Heat for five minutes and then remove from heat.

Place nettles, garlic, and cumin in a food processor and blend until uniformly chopped. Add vinegar, blend again. Add oil and pepperflakes slowly, either while the food processor is running, or in small batches, until chimichurri is emulsified. I use my hand-blender attachment for this. If you don’t have any gadget to use, chop your nettles and garlic as finely as you can and then hand blend everything else in. You won’t get the fully emulsified texture, but it will still be yummy.

Salt and pepper to taste. Tightly cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Pull out about twenty minutes before you use so that you’re not adding a cold sauce to hot meat.

Cook your venison roast according to the instructions I outlined earlier in my post on the Perfect Venison Loin with Red Wine Reduction.

You can also make this chimichurri without nettles, instead sub 1 cup parsley and 1 cup cilantro.

Twisted Stalk Avocado Salad

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  • 1 large english cucumber, de-seeded & cut into large chunks
  • 1 large handful washed twistedstalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 large avocado, cut into large chunks
  • 1 small handful sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Like most salads, mostly you’re just assembling here. I like the cucumber and avocado cut into about half-inch cubes. For the dressing, take the time to emulsify by adding all the ingredients into a small bowl or a small measuring cup, place your whisk upright and run it between both your hands, like you’re trying to start a fire with a stick. It shouldn’t take more than a minute and the dressing will both hold together better and do a better job of coating the salad.  This is a nice light, bright salad that could go with just about anything.

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