Nässelsoppa is a well-known sign of spring in Sweden with hard-boiled eggs and crème fraîche as traditional accompaniments. Packed with nutrition and flavour, nettles have high quantities of iron, calcium, vitamin A and K. In medieval Europe they were used medicinally as a diuretic and to treat joint pain. Early nettles are tender and perfect for cooking. Maia Brindley Nilsson
• 2 litres of nettle shoots is about 250 g (8 oz), or half a carrier bag full.
• Only use nettles less than 30 cm (1 foot) high because otherwise they will be fibrous and tough.
• Avoid nettles that are flowering: they are too old.
• In the UK the nettle soup season is from mid-February until late April, unless the nettles have been cut down in which case you can enjoy a second crop!
• For the best flavour, pick only the top four or six leaves on each spear.
• The soup freezes well, but you can also freeze the nettle tops.
• It is important to pick over the nettles carefully to remove grass, tree leaves and any dirty nettles because otherwise you will need to discard the vitamin-rich water.
• For an even better flavour, use good quality vegetable stock rather than bouillon cubes.
|2 litres||(8 cups)||stinging nettle shoots|
|250 ml||(1 cup)||water|
|45 g||(3 tbsp)||butter|
|25 g||(½ cup)||chopped chives|
|1||chicken bouillon cube*|
|1||vegetable bouillon cube*|
|1 tsp||dried thyme|
|800 ml||(3½ cups)||water|
|1-2 tsp||cornflour (cornstarch)|
|4||hard boiled eggs|
|120 ml||(½ cup)||crème fraîche|
*For vegetarians, use 2 vegetable bouillon cubes.
1. Rinse the nettles well by swishing them around in a sink of cold water and letting them float for a couple of minutes so any dirt will sink to the bottom. They will still sting at this stage so work carefully. Gently remove the nettles from the water trying not to disturb dirt in the bottom and keep an eye out for any unwanted bugs that need to be removed.
2. Place the nettles in a 2 litre (2 quart) stock pot. Add 250 ml (1 cup) water and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt over the top of the nettles. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low boil and let the nettles cook for 5 minutes.
3. If you are comfortable with the cleanliness of your nettles, strain off the cooking water and save it, pressing gently on the nettles to release more of their liquid. Otherwise discard the cooking water.
4. Place the cooked nettles on a cutting board. Strain off the cooking water and save it, pressing gently on the nettles to release more of their liquid. Place the cooked nettles on a cutting board and chop finely.
4. Melt the butter in the same stock pot over medium heat. Add the chives and cook for 1-2 minutes. Crumble the bouillon cubes into the mix, breaking them up and stirring to dissolve them into the butter.
5. Add the chopped nettles to the stock pot along with the saved cooking liquid, a further 800 ml (3½ cups) of water, thyme and a pinch of white pepper. (If you weren't able to save the cooking liquid add a further 250 ml (1 cup) of water.)
6. Dissolve the corn flour (cornstarch) in a little water and stir it into the soup.
7. Bring to a boil and cook until the soup thickens slightly.
8. Serve hot with halved hard-boiled eggs for garnish (see below), some crème fraîche and bread. (Our svartbröd, a wonderful sweet black bread, goes really well with this soup.)
Hard boiled eggs
The eggs should have hard yolks, but with a little creaminess in the middle so that they have a bright yellowy-orange colour. To achieve this, place the eggs in a saucepan of cold water, bring them to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 6 minutes for medium sized eggs and 7 minutes for large eggs. As soon as they are cooked removed them with a slotted spoon, cool them under running water and then leave them to cool completely in cold water. (The running water is essential to prevent the eggs cooking further and a dark ring developing between the yolk and the white.)
Once the eggs are completely cold, peel them and trim the ends slightly, so that eggs can be stood up, and then slice them in two crossways. Place the egg halves in a soup bowl and then carefully ladle the soup around the eggs.
• Smoked salmon instead of, or as well as, the hard boiled egg and crème fraîche.
• Hard boiled eggs, watercress and croutons.
• Quail eggs instead of hen's eggs.
• Crispy bacon with a poached egg.
• Use shallots in place of chives, but purée in a liquidiser after step 6 and then return to the pan to reheat.
• Add a large potato, finely diced, along with the shallots or chives, but boil for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are really soft. Afterwards, purée in a liquidiser and then return to the pan to reheat. The potato will provide the starch for thickening the soup, so the cornflour can be omitted.
• Adding some fresh or frozen peas will give the soup a little sweetness.
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