On 8 February about 1.3 billion people will be celebrating Chinese New Year. Half of my own family are Chinese so to honour this festival and the oriental penchant for making tasty food using any ingredients available, I've made up a stir-fry dish using nettles. Hopefully my grandma aka Popo would approve!
This recipe might sound like an acquired taste but, the flavour of nettles is so mild, little ones who are fond of stir-fry as a rule will enjoy this too.
The unusually mild December has meant there are tasty young nettle leaves growing everywhere (or there were when I wrote this).
I've only ever eaten nettles as part of a well blended soup so I wasn't sure this would work, but it turned out nicely.
Collecting and preparing
Even young nettles sting so use gloves or a sturdy plastic bag to pick them. But do only pick the smaller young ones, older leaves aren't as tasty.
Strip the leaves from the big stems, you can leave the very young stems in. Submerge them in a big bowl of water.
Wash thoroughly and drain using a sieve.
You can then use these like you would with any other green veg eg spinach. Please note that they will shrink to almost nothing but the nutrients are still there.
I used an onion, a sweet pepper, a clove of garlic, chili (optional) and some ginger as the base for this stir-fry. The noodles here are udon, which are Japanese, but they taste good and that's all that matters.
Fry these ingredients - except the nettles and noodles - on a high heat. You can leave the chili to the last minute so it doesn't make you cough. Boil and drain your noodles while that's happening.
For protein you can add eggs or whatever takes your fancy, I went for fish.
Add some soy sauce or oyster sauce (I added a splash of shaoxing rice wine but it's not essential).
Now mix your nettles in. When they've wilted add your noodles.
Mix well and turn the heat off, add a few drops of sesame oil to stop stuff sticking together and because it smells great.
Here's the finished thing (shot in the style of a 1980s Chinese take-away menu):
I probably overpowered the nettles a little bit with all these flavours, but it tasted pretty good.
The texture of whole nettles is a little unnerving when you first start eating them, you're half waiting for a sting, but I promise it won't happen as long as they're cooked.
Going for a nice walk to collect healthy food from nature. What could be more in keeping with New Year's fitness resolutions than that?
Winter seems to have come a bit late, but now it's here it's providing some spectacular crisp morning sunrises. Here's a picture of one I took by the side of the road on the way to work:
The lack of leaves may make things a bit stark, but it makes it much easier to see any birds still around.
There are amazing flocks of starlings to be seen around the country. Here are a few spots where you can still catch them if you're quick:
Kung hei fat choy!