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Recipe: nettle and fava bean soup

With the focus of this blog leaning more and more towards the nostalgic role that food plays in family life, I would like to introduce this post with a stream of beautiful recollection… Oh, the days I spent as a child, picking nettles for the pot, honing my skill for extracting the sweetest of spring’s new growth without a single sting. I would be lying though. The first time I tried eating nettles was barely a month ago, when I took my daughter to forest school and we ate nettle pancakes cooked over an open fire. It was a pretty profound experience mind, and one that I’m sure to relay to her in exacerbating detail when she is much older.

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My fava bean and nettle soup is a great dish to prepare outdoors, just substitute fresh stock for dried and spare the blender

We went to the woods again this week, but this time we enjoyed nettle soup cooked on the campfire. The soup was made with a base of Swiss vegetable stock, into which was thrown new potatoes, onion and fresh nettles. The children all lapped it up without any fuss, making me think that a lot of childrens’ neuroses about eating their greens can be overcome with a combo of ‘food theatre’, distraction, and hands-on fun. In spite of its novelty, there was absolutely no emphasis put on preparing or presenting this meal, and so from what I could gather, the children just ate because they were hungry. Clean bowls all round.

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My daughter and I took a stroll to Landport Bottom in Lewes to collect nettles

When I got home I found my samples from Hodmedod’s had arrived. Hodmedod’s specialise in supplying unusual, organic grains and pulses that are, quite remarkably, grown in Britain. Their current range features white quinoa, exotic Black Badger peas, Kabuki peas, and Fava beans in many forms: dried whole and split (split beans don’t require soaking), cooked tinned fava beans, tinned Vaal Daal and a new product still under trial, ready-to-eat roast fava beans. Hodmedod’s also produce tins of real British Baked Beans; now I think of it, the only widely enjoyed British dish that celebrates the humble bean.*

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Nettles washed, chopped and dried and remaining fava beans decanted into a glass jar to save until next time

I learn from the beautifully designed Hodmedod’s packet that fava beans are still grown in the UK for export but they haven’t been eaten regularly in Britain for centuries. Well, we are an odd bunch. Saying that, looking at my fava bean bounty I didn’t know quite where to start, there were certainly no family recipes to think of, but then I remembered the nettles, which are perfectly in season right now, and I thought combining these two native and overlooked British ingredients would be a jolly good idea. After a quick Google search, I also discovered that the Italians – more specifically the Venetians – got there first, so the pairing of flavours must be a fair bet.

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Recipe notes: Nettles are full of iron and vitamin c but they must only be eaten at times of new growth, in spring until the end of April and sometimes in autumn. You must obviously protect your hands before picking and take only the top shoots and first full leaves for the best flavour. To prepare the nettles, keep your gloves on and wash well under running water; you will be struck by the greenness of their perfume. Dry in a salad spinner and then snip the leaves from the stalks using scissors. The stings will be lost pretty much as soon as the nettles are plunged into hot water, they only need simmering for short while, as with spinach, so that they retain their vibrant colour and zippy flavour. The stock I used was made from a roast chicken carcass, cooked very gently overnight in plenty of fresh water, as recommended by Josh Eggleton.

Recipe: nettle and fava bean soup
Recipe Type: soup
Cuisine: British
Author: Gannet & Parrot
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2-4
Nettle and Fava Bean Soup
Ingredients
  • 25g butter
  • Small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 700ml good chicken stock
  • 150g dried split fava beans
  • 80g (prepared weight) nettle leaves, cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 200-300ml water
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Pick, clean and roughly chop the nettle leaves and set to one side while you make the soup.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and fry the onion and garlic gently for 8-10 minutes until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the stock, bring to the boil then add the fava beans and cook for 35 minutes until soft and falling apart.
  4. Add the chopped nettles and cook for 3-4 minutes until wilted.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat, add a little extra water and blend until smooth using a hand blender. Add a little more water as desired to create a looser consistency.
  6. Season with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

 

*If you can think of any other popular ‘British’ dishes that use beans and peas, please share, and let me stand corrected in the comments!

Disclosure: I received free samples of Hodmedod’s products for trial

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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18 comments on “Recipe: nettle and fava bean soup

  1. March 27, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    I love Hoddmedod’s Fava beans, although I have never eaten nettles!

    • March 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Give it a go! I’d love to hear how you get on 🙂

  2. March 27, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Hodmedods sound right up my street, though I’ve never heard of them. We’ve grown quinoa in the past, but it’s a bit temperamental in our climes and we gave up. I’ve been living up parsnip and nettle soup all week and haven’t got bored of it once. Nettles are just what you need at this time of the year.

    • March 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Too right! It’s true what people say, that nettles taste like they’re doing you some good. I’ll be out with me bags again next week I should think. A passer by seemed a little confused by me though, he said ‘the brambles aren’t ready yet dear’!

  3. March 28, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I have not tried nettles nor fava beans but your pictures make me want to try both. I love all the outdoor cooking pictures. I have no idea how I would get hold of nettles though. Are the one’s growing in the garden safe to eat?

    • March 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      Hi Tina! You should totally try this, really easy, although collecting the nettles is a bit time consuming, it is still enjoyable with adequate protection! The ones in your garden will be absolutely fine as long as you pick at this time of year when the leaves are fresh, just the top of the plant as well. You will need plenty so look around for a big old patch of them, they grow readily on roadsides and the quieter corners of parks and gardens. I try to pick those a little set back from the path to minimise the chance of a dog having peed on them! (Don’t let this put you off!)

  4. March 28, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I have not had nettles before. It is definitely something I am going to have to try.

    • March 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Dannii, thanks for commenting, you really should try, I’d love to hear how you get on 🙂

  5. March 29, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    I don’t have the best memories with nettles when I was a kid 😉 But fava beans are one of my fave 😉

    • March 30, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Thanks Sylvia, how do you like to eat fava beans? Looking for more ideas.

  6. March 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Lovely soup recipe! And fab you made it outside on a fire and got kids to eat nettles, you’re so right about a little theatre and occasion (and hunger) and kids will generally eat anything including greenery. I might just have to try this with my own monsters, outside too for added fun. I cooked with nettles a few times last spring, nettle pesto and a very tasty nettle risotto, but haven’t got around to any new experiments this season yet.

    • March 30, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks Lou, you should definitely I’ve it a go. I’m afraid I can’t take credit for building the fire, I just enjoyed it as part of the forest school I sometimes take my daughter to. Planning to dig a fire pit in our garden this year though because there’s not much quite so special as cooking over an open fire. Nettle pesto sounds lush, do you have a recipe on your blog?

  7. March 30, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    What an interesting post Chloe. Always wanted to try nettle soup but not brave enough to make it myself. You have demystified it and make it look possible even for me. Love fava beans.

    • March 31, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you Madeleine, it is so easy, you should don the gloves and give it a go! Love to hear how you get on.

  8. March 31, 2014 at 7:45 am

    Hey chloe! LOVE me some nettles, and LOVE your pan 🙂
    Janie x

    • March 31, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks Janie, sadly the pan doesn’t belong to me but it’s now top of my list of cooking items to buy for the summer. If anyone can recommend a good place to buy enamel cookware I’m all ears!

  9. April 1, 2014 at 11:29 am

    You got KIDS to eat NETTLES?! Can’t decide whether to worship you or hate you… X

    • April 1, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Hahaha, I’m going to get accused of stealing someone’s thunder here because it wasn’t me who got the kids to eat nettles, it was at the wood school, just a plain broth with vegetable stock, potatoes and nettle leaves. The nettle flavour was much milder than in my soup which I admit would probably be more of a challenge to get down young gobs…

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