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Spring Nettle Pesto with Roasted Yams

It's safe to say it's just about Springtime here in the west. The birds are singing their songs, the days are stretching out before us with natural ease, and everything seems to be waking up from a long deep sleep. Everything seems (just a little) lighter, and anything that doesn't feel light suddenly feels, well, heavy and burdensome. So I'm ready. So ready! Ready for flowers, and ready for outside time. Ready for lighter foods, and long walks in the sunshine. Aaaaaaah. Soon.

Today's recipe reminds me of this time when I was young, growing up just a few minutes walk from a deep lush forest. My mom picked nettles every spring and sometimes would take me. Yes, those same nettles you may have heard of that grow on the forest floor and sting when you touch them. They are free, they are wild, and they are very nutritious - full of iron and chlorophyll to start! You might be thinking 'what the heck is she talking about here?' but rest assured I am not off on a crazy tangent...nettles are pretty interesting and have been around for a very long time.

You might not find them in your local grocer, but have a peek around through any foraging resource and you'll be able to find info on them. It's amazing what the earth provides if we only know what to look for! They are called 'stinging' nettles and are found wild all over the world - read here for a little bit of quick info....hint: my mom and I never ventured into the woods without yellow rubber gloves as these guys aren't called stinging nettles for no reason! Of course, if you can't find nettles where you are, this simple pesto can easily be made with lightly steamed spinach or kale too. I just happened upon a bag of these in my CSA bag last week and couldn't help myself from making this pesto (I adapted a recipe given with the bag of nettles) - it had been probably 25 years since I'd had them! It was amazing with this fun and sophisticated take on yams - here topped with a cube of feta but you could do worse than throw a few roasted chickpeas on top or roasted cherry tomatoes if you are vegan or avoiding dairy. You could even top a steamed veggie bowl or brown rice with this. Perfect, easy protein.


Spring Nettle Pesto:

  • (1) packed cup cooked fresh stinging nettles (about 3 cups uncooked)*
  • (1/2) cup fresh parsley
  • (20) toasted whole hazelnuts
  • (1/2) shallot, raw
  • (2) tbsp olive oil
  • (1) tsp salt
  • (1/4) cup fresh lemon juice
  • (1/4) cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

*Feel free to sub in an equal amount of lightly steamed kale or a mix of spinach and kale for the nettles - the result will be similar just watch the water content on the spinach. If you like, use this idea with Broccoli Pesto as well.

Start by rinsing the nettles under some fresh water - being careful not to handle them with bare hands! I received them in a wrapped plastic bag and dropped them into the veggie steamer. Steam them for 4-5 minutes until wilting them - at this point, they are safe to touch with your hands. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a clean jar or container and refrigerate until ready for use.

Roasted Yams:

  • (1) large orange yam, washed
  • (2-3) tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and slice the yam into half-inch rounds and oil a flat baking tray with the olive oil, spreading it around well. Place the yam slices on the oiled tray and rub each side with olive oil (use your hands) before placing in the oven to bake. Cook for 15 minutes on one side until nicely browned. Turn over and cook on the other side for 5 more minutes or so until perfectly cooked and brown on both sides. remove from the oven and allow to cool. This is also a great time toast the hazelnuts for the pesto while the oven is on. It's great to make the pesto while the yams cook and while the nuts are still warm (this facilitates good blending). About 8-10 minutes will be perfect.

To serve, arrange the cooled (or still just warm) yam slices on a plate and top with a spoonful or two of the fresh green pesto. As I mentioned before, this was delicious topped with a cube of fresh goat feta, however, for vegans I can easily picture a beautiful selection of roasted cherry tomatoes or roasted & spiced chickpeas to top this lovely little side or appetizer. Sprinkled with a handful or two of fresh micro-greens or sprouts and you are set.


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