Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender Review

Froothie Optimum 9400

As many of you know, I’ve been a devoted user of the Vitamix for years, so when the opportunity came along to try out the Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender I felt a little bit like I was cheating on an old and very dear friend. But I decided to have an open mind and see what this new kid on the block could do. A few weeks ago I stashed away my Vitamix and replaced it with the Froothie to see how it worked for my daily blending needs.

Daily? That’s right. I’m a pretty heavy blender user – I make smoothies for breakfast every day and often (at least once per week) use the blender for other tasks such as pureed soups, custard for ice cream, almond milk, cashew gravy and on special occasions, raw raspberry cheesecake. I need a blender that can withstand my serious usage and heavy pureeing needs.

Over the past three weeks I’ve been using the Froothie for those daily smoothies, and have also used it to make oat milk and banana “ice cream”. I have yet to try more interesting tasks such as custard or hot soups, but those items will certainly have their chance because I don’t intend to stop using the Froothie anytime soon. So far it’s been a stellar performer and has performed at least as well as the Vitamix. If it excels in one area I’d say it’s noise: the Froothie is noticeably quieter than my Vitamix. I also like the clear jug.

Froothie vs Vitamix

Perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t missed my Vitamix is because the Froothie is almost identical in terms of looks and function. Under the hood sees a few benefits, too. The Optimum 9400 has a 2,238 Watt motor (compared to Vitamix’s 1,492), a 44,000 rpm speed (vs 37,000), a 6 blade assembly (vs 4) and one jug that works for both wet and dry blending (all of my flour- and spice-grinding dreams come true). At £329, it’s also cheaper than Vitamix which starts at about £465.

Yes, it’s still expensive, but having spent this kind of money on a high power blender myself, I can tell you that I’ve never regretted my purchase. A good blender is enabling. You could use a cheaper blender but you wouldn’t get the same silky smooth results, and you wouldn’t be able to blitz up great stuff like kale, broccoli and beetroot into perfectly smooth smoothies. At best, you might get smoothie salsa! A good blender also enables you to do fun things like make your own nut milk, nut butters, flour, cashew cheese and other things that are only achievable with a good motor and some strong blades.

Hemp Protein Green Smoothie

That word “enabling” brings me to another surprise plus I’ve found with the Optimum 9400. The blender comes with a quaint little booklet called “Deliciously Raw” full of recipes for raw smoothies, soups, dressings, nut cheeses and desserts. The book is written by Carmella Soleil of the Sunny Raw Kitchen blog and the stories she’s included with her recipes are down to earth and really inspiring. I especially liked her discovery story of raw nut cheese, having been unimpressed early on, but then having her interest “rekindled” by Chad Sarno’s Cashew Cheese Au Poivre. I just love origin stories like these and it really helps put a commercial product like a blender in perspective. It also really makes me want to have a go at making raw cheeses – particularly the nacho “cheeze” to have with raw tostadas (with raw corn chips made in the food dehydrator).

All this raw healthy vegan stuff certainly is hugely appliance heavy, and for that I’m often in two minds about whether some of this stuff is the way forward. Regardless, I know from experience that smoothies and juices have had a positive impact on my own health and wellbeing, so I’m willing to let these gadgets into my life. And like most gadgets, it’s better to get something of quality, that works well, and will last. So far the Optimum 9400 is ticking all of those boxes.

Speaking of appliances, I’m looking forward to trying out the Froothie Slow Juicer next, particularly for its bonus abilities as a nut butter machine and a tofu maker. Stay tuned!

You can test-drive any of Froothie’s machines with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Check out the Froothie website to see their full line of blenders and juicers including the Optimum 9400 and the Slow Juicer.

“The Bump Start” Elderflower Cocktail

The Bump Start

If you made elderflower cordial this season, then this is totally what you need to make with it. But this magical elixir isn’t just about the elderflower. This Prosecco cocktail recipe has a story, and it’s all in the name: “The Bump Start”.

It started in the Lake District. Two of my dear friends, Rachel and Emily, and I were on a camping trip to celebrate the summer solstice, an occasion I shall forever associate with elderflowers (see my earlier post, Solstice and Elderflowers). We had few fixed plans, only to walk, talk, cook, eat and enjoy ourselves. We did well on most of those accounts, but as for the walking, I think this magnet sums it up best (this gem found Emily in Coniston):

Lake District magnet

Of course, there are some GREAT pubs in the Lake District worth getting distracted by, including The Manor Arms in wee Broughton, in the corner of their tiny square. This pub is all about the pints (no food, no music – a proper pub!). We happened there because we were in town to buy groceries (at the charming Melville Tyson grocer). We also needed cash, and learned that the only way to get cash was to go to a pub, buy something, and get cash back. A welcome interruption to our high-octane day!

About two pints (for my friends – I the “responsible” driver was on the Diet Coke) and a bundle of cash later, I remembered the car. Assuming we were just stopping quickly for groceries, I’d left my ultra-awesome electric cooler (“coolbox” for you Brits) plugged into the cigarette lighter. “Do you think the car will start,” I asked my friends? You know where this is going…

Sure enough the engine was totally dead. But hey, no big deal, I’ve got AA and we were in a pleasant enough place to be stuck in for a while. Plus there were loads of people around, surely someone would have jumper cables?

While somewhat nervously scoping out the car park (“parking lot” for you Yankees), my eyes settled on a Land Rover of some variety, and I immediately thought, “whoever owns that car can help me”. Within seconds a man and woman arrived and I hustled over to ask if they had jumper cables. No. “But,” the gentleman said, “you can bump start it.”

A bump start? I’d heard of this and seen it in movies – Little Miss Sunshine namely (watch the quintessential clip). But I had no idea how the mechanics of it worked and found it hugely intimidating (particularly since I’d parked in a parallel spot on an incline). Little-Miss-Sunshine

This guy was amazing. First, through a lot of convoluted pushing, he helped us shimmy the car out of the parking spot. Then he explained the bump start, which isn’t complicated at all: basically you push the car with the clutch in, and when it’s at about 5-10mph, you release the clutch, the car “bumps”, and the engine rotates and fires. Then you quickly break and put the clutch back in and give it a few good revs. Done.

Because I was parked on an incline, we were going to have to do this going backwards. As sat in the car while he and my friends did the pushing. Facing me, he was able to guide me through the whole process. He could obviously tell I was nervous and had such patience in explaining how it would all work – I swear he must be a teacher. And when it was done and the car was actually running, my heart was beating like crazy and I felt like a minor miracle had occurred – the thrill of mechanics!

Hugs were shared amongst my friends and our Lake District heroes, whose names I never got, but whose generosity and kindness will never be forgotten. Furthermore, the metaphor of the “bump start” has become an ongoing thread in all aspects of life. Such a life changer deserves a tribute cocktail.

This cocktail is a riff on a mocktail I make with elderflower cordial, lots of lemon and lime, and fizzy water. I’d been drinking this refreshing elixer in the early evening to “bump start” me out of an afternoon lull. I’d long wanted to turn it into a proper cocktail, and having experimented with several different types of liquor, I finally settled on gin and Prosecco as the happy combination. It contains the juice of half a lemon and half a lime, so it’s quite tart, but the elderflower balances things out. You could hold back the gin for a slightly less potent cocktail, but with good gin (Hendricks is my preferred), it actually makes the drink better.

This drink tastes best after having achieved a real-life bump start of your own (but don’t drink it until you’re finished driving!).

Thanks to my friend Donovan who helped me fine tune this.

The Bump Start

The Bump Start

Juice of half a lemon
Juice of half a lime
1oz good gin (I use Hendricks)
Prosecco
Elderflower Cordial
Ice

Fill a glass or a wine glass with ice. Add the lemon and lime juice, the gin, then a good splash of elderflower cordial. Fill the rest of the glass with Prosecco then have a taste (you want about 2/3 Prosecco to 2/3 everything else). You might need to add more elderflower if it’s too tart for you.

I like to keep frozen berries in the freezer which make a stellar garnish for this – especially strawberries.

Also seen on Great British Chefs.

Grilled Mackerel with Watercress, Fennel & Orange Salad

Mackerel with watercress, fennel and orange salad.

My mackerel flipping skills need work, but otherwise this was the perfect lunch following a tough workout at CrossFit Cirencester: grilled mackerel with a salad of watercress, fennel, orange, spring onions and pomegranate, dressed with a little olive oil and salt (the salt pulls out the juices in the fruit so you don’t need vinegar). Extremely quick to make. Big props to Ben at New Wave Fish Shop who recommended this ingredient combination. I feel restored!

And since I’ve been talking macronutrients lately, this was about 400 calories, 22g fat, 19g carbs, 30g protein.

Too many avocados? My macronutrient drama.

Requisite avocado...

First, a recap. Here is a brief summary of my smarter fitter journey so far, starting from roughly 12 years ago:

First I was kind of chubby.
Then I was a little chubbier.
Then I was pretty chubby.
Then I lost some weight.
Then I lost too much weight.
Then I gained some back again.
Then I gained some more…

Weight gain is not a bad thing, especially when it comes in the form of muscle. And in fact I have been making some big efforts to get stronger over the recent years (especially after the big muscle wasting debacle of 2009 that followed a really annoying kidney infection). My efforts include eating more protein, swimming, weight lifting and most recently, CrossFit.

But for anyone who’s ever gone through the hassle of losing weight, it’s a real drag and a little scary putting weight on again. I’m pretty sure that some of that weight is good muscly weight (as evidenced by my body fat and circumference measurements, thank you CrossFit Cirencester 30 Day Challenge). But I know that it’s not all muscle, and as much as I like to think I’m immune to aging, the fact is that since entering my 30′s, I tend to carry more blubber in those problematic hip and tummy areas. There’s stuff around my waist that wasn’t there a couple years ago when I felt at my prime. And it’s damn frustrating!

I feel like I’ve been trying all sorts of things but I can’t seem to get back to where I was. The measurements taken at CrossFit have been encouraging, but still, I feel like I’ve been trying at this for years and I don’t seem to get anywhere.

So recently I’ve gone back to basic principals. Back in the day when I first became really interested in my physical fitness, I counted calories. I know it’s mundane and it’s not for everyone, but it worked for me and was a major factor in my achieving my initial weight loss goals. Every so often I like to track my calories for a week or two just to see where I’m at. So, that’s what I’ve done for the past week, and the results kind of surprised me.

First off, what am I going for here? Well, there are so many school’s of thought on macronutrient ratios, protein intake and so on, it’s a bit tough to know which to follow.

The “Zone Diet”, which lots of CrossFitters seem to like, promotes a 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat ratio. On most days I tend towards a ratio of 35% carbohydrates, 20% protein and [a whopping] 45% fat.

Another way to look at it is protein: there are different school’s of thought on this but I tend to trust Mark Sisson’s advice which says that a moderately active person should consume about .7 or .8 grams of protein per pound of lean mass per day, or as much as 1 gram per pound of lean mass for active athletes. Now, I’m not training for the Olympics, but I am pushing myself to get “harder”, training most days per week so I can work towards doing things like hike around Scotland with a pack, walk the Pacific Crest Trail and do cool party tricks like walk on my hands. For me that’s about 60-90 grams of protein. My daily intake tends to be in the 50-60 gram range.

Whether either of these metrics are the end all be all to fitness and feeling awesome, I’m willing to admit that getting nearly half of your calories from fat is probably not ideal for anyone, regardless of how “good” that fat is. So, I should probably try to lower my fat intake and up my protein. This is kind of a bummer.

Despite adding more fish to my diet, I’ve actually found it a struggle to eat as much protein as I’ve been eating (thought I certainly feel better for it). And as for fat, well I love my avocado, not to mention my nuts, seeds and salads. I bemoan the idea of a life of steamed vegetables and egg white omelets. In fact, the whole point of this blog and what I’m about is figuring out ways to get fit and healthy without that boo feeling of sacrifice.

There is also an argument to be made that this line of thinking is totally mental and that I should just relax because I DO have my health already so why worry? Well, Scotland… trails… party tricks!

I had a thought the other day which helped dissolve the slow-progress blues. One of the problems with all this “get fit” shit is that you have this vision of success, and it sits out there way in the distance, and in fact may not even be achievable. So you spend all this time pushing for it, never really getting there, and perpetually feeling like a failure. But the real success is actually in the process. I am thinking about my situation, analyzing it, and doing something about it: boom, I am successful. Achieving the goal is just bonus.

So what is the goal? Well that’s another tricky matter. It’s not about weight loss for me. It’s about being strong, capable and – critically! – feeling comfortable in my own skin. So how to measure that? I’m still figuring that one out, but hope to explore this in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, any suggestions for yummy high protein, low-ish fat meals? Or ways to dress up steamed vegetables that don’t involve a beautiful oily dressing?

A few good ideas from the blogosphere include Jacqueline’s Veg & Lentil Stew (also 5:2 friendly), Dannii’s Bean Chilli (can’t go wrong with a good chilli), Michelle’s “picnic bakes” (akin to mini frittatas – I love frittatas), Kavey’s not-so-mini courgette and mint frittata, and, as Camilla points out, the ever versatile poached egg (not to mention hummus).

Any more?

P.S. I have no intention of giving up avocado.

How to Make Fruit Leather (Oven or Dehydrator)

Making Fruit Leather

Is it just me or is this a bumper year for strawberries? My accidental strawberry patch (it started as a potted plant then escaped to the gravel and has taken over) is producing way more than I could ever eat, freeze or smoothie-ify. Jam is an option, but I’ve been looking for something less sugary, yet equally non-perishable. Enter fruit leather!

First Strawberry Harvest

My fellow Americans know fruit leather as “fruit roll-ups”, which when purchased from the shop contains just as much sugar as that jam I’m trying to avoid. But if you start with real fruit, puree it and dry it yourself, you’ll find the fruit needs little sugar if any. The drying process super-concentrates the fruit sugars leaving you with a naturally sweet “leather” that tastes like pure fruit

Making Fruit Leather

Strawberries are perfect for this and since the elderflowers are in bloom, I thought I’d kick up my fruit leather with a little elder-injection. I also had some homemade apple puree in the freezer, the lingering remains from last year’s orchard crop, so I thawed that out, added some grated fresh ginger, and turned that into leather, too. The apple was by far my favourite – I added a LOT of ginger and I loved the spicy kick. But I must admit, the strawberry leather tastes like pure summer.

Really blown away by my strawberry crop. This has been my daily harvest the last three days with more are on the way!

These fruit leathers are perfect for the lunchbox or for taking on long hikes. In fact, “hiking” was my motivation for all this as I’m heading to the Lake District this weekend and am getting ready to hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in July. The fruit leather will be a welcome energy shot on the “rocky road” (and for a super energy shot – fruit leather rolled up with almond butter!).

Best of all, you can do this in the oven (no fancy dehydrator necessary).

How to Make Strawberry (or any other fruit) Leather

Making Fruit Leather

You can skip the elderflower in this but it does add that extra something. Try swapping it out with other flavour add-ins: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger… be creative! And feel free to sub the strawberries for any other fruit. You can do this in either an oven or a dehydrator; I’ve included instructions for both. If you live in a warm climate, you can also do this on a hot day by simply leaving the fruit to dry out in the sun!

Ingredients

  • 5 cups strawberries, stems removed and halved (or any other fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste)
  • 3-4 clusters of elderflowers (optional)

Method (Oven)

  1. In a medium saucepan, on a low heat, cook the strawberries until they are soft and the juices are released.
  2. Tie up the elderflowers in a muslin or jelly bag and add to the juicy strawberries. Cover, leave to cool, then put in the refrigerator and leave overnight. (If you skip the elderflowers, there’s no need to leave the strawberries overnight – you can make your leather right away!)
  3. The next day, preheat oven to its lowest temperature setting.
  4. Remove the elderflower bundle and pour the berries into a blender. Add the honey and puree.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Pour the berry mixture onto parchment lined pan – it should be about 1/8 inch thick.
  7. Put in the oven and bake for 4-6 hours, until leather peels away easily from the parchment. Using scissors cut into rectangles and roll them up, parchment and all.

Method (Dehydrator)

  1. Follow the oven method through step 4.
  2. Spread the mixture out onto a dehydrator sheet to about 1/8 inch thickness.
  3. Dehydrate at 130 F / 50 C for four hours. Check the fruit leather periodically – when it peels away easily, peel it off, flip it over and dry for another hour or two.
  4. Remove from dehydrator and use scissors or a pizza roller to cut it into you desired shapes.

Making Fruit Leather

Pow-Wow in the Kitchen at Camont

... Hello, Camont! (Rocky, you've grown!)

I’m just back from a short jaunt in Gascony for my yearly pilgrimage to visit Kate Hill at her Kitchen at Camont. This is my third visit to see Kate in as many years, making these visits sort of a summer tradition. If you read my early post, My Food Story From Gascony, you might understand why. The south of France is inherently wonderful for its weather, food, landscape and tradition. Kate brings to it her own take on France, and I’m very grateful to her for having introduced me to markets, people, recipes and a way of life I would never get to experience as a tourist.

Meeting of the savoury breakfast fan club.

But there’s more to our visits than just eating good food and drinking rosé in the sun. Camont is the perfect environment for bringing ideas to life. One of the most valuable parts of our visits have been our “pow-wows”, a collective brainstorming on our respective personal projects. For Kate, it’s her business as a butchery and charcuterie teacher. For me, well, my aims were a little more disparate, but with Kate’s help I’ve been able to break things down a bit, and I thought I’d write about it here since I’ve come to realise that most people (including myself sometimes!) don’t really get what I do.

Mastermind session with Kate

There are two sides to my world, which I’m calling the monicashaw.com side and the smarterfitter.com side.

Over at monicashaw.com is the stuff that makes me a real living:

  • Social media consulting
  • Web analytics
  • Copywriting
  • Teaching and training
  • Writer’s Residence
  • Airbnb

smarterfitter.com is really my hobby job

  • Blogging on food, fitness and travel
  • eBooks
  • Recipe development
  • Product reviews

The above makes me a trickle of income from advertising and the occasional writing gig but it’s really just for fun. However, I’d like to make it more than that. I’d like Smarter Fitter to “feed” what I do professionally.

About that professional stuff; I’ve been feeling a little angsty about it all. I look at my hodge podge of income sources and wonder if I’m too unfocused. But then I take a step back and see how all of the above is what has allowed me to live something pretty close to the life of my dreams: I work from home, I work for myself, I live in a beautiful place and I get to go to other beautiful places. The only thing that would make that better would be to make more money – ideally on passive income, or by doing something that I’m super duper passionate about – to enable me to more beautiful things in beautiful places with beautiful people more often.

Stuffed artichokes at the Summer Solstice Supperclub

So maybe the way to fuse the two is to make “Smarter Fitter” all about the lifestyle choices I make to tune my life towards financial freedom and my ideal existence. The recipes fit with that, but my hope is that this will also free me up to write more about travel, work, life and so on (like I’m doing now).

From a practical point of view, this also means making a few design changes that make a clearer parallel between monicashaw.com and smarterfitter.com. I want to revamp monicashaw.com into a more organised portal for all of the things I do. It will also have a clear link to smarterfitter.com through its navigation and overall look-and-feel. Basically, it’s the smarter fitter life that’s enabled the work I do as detailed on monicashaw.com. Their branding needs to gel.

How does this all come back around to making a living? I shudder at the word “pro blogger”, though I wouldn’t mind if Smarter Fitter made me a bit of change on advertising and sponsorship from brands I already like (Vitamix, Fitbit, Vibram – I’m looking at you!). What I hope is that Smarter Fitter helps support my other income streams (writing, ebooks, speaking, teaching, consulting, even Airbnb). We’ll see how that pans out.

I’m still wrapping my head around all this but the important thing is to do something. Thanks to Kate for helping me organise my thoughts and decide which direction I should take.

Having got that off my chest, I’ll be back soon with a few of the foodie delights from Camont – fava bean hummus, Kate’s Spanish omelet on overdrive, and the Shaw family “sunshine cake”, a cake for all seasons!

Coffee Ice Cream

Coffee Ice Cream

This coffee ice cream is cool because unlike most coffee ice cream recipes, this one uses whole bean coffee (rather than instant). And when you use good coffee, freshly roasted, the resulting ice cream flavour is rich, complex and infinitely variable. Different beans have different characteristics – fruity, acidic, chocolatey, citrusy and so on – and the resulting ice cream takes on these flavours and releases them in perfect deliciously cold creamy mouthfuls.

In this particular instance I used Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from Rave Coffee. As a coffee, these beans produce subtle notes of damson and plums, which the careful taster may be able to pick up in their ice cream, as well. Best served with complimentary flavours – poached plums comes to mind, or how about plum crumble?

Another benefit to this recipe is it makes it easy to make decaffeinated coffee ice cream, simply by using decaf beans. The result may be less nuanced than with a fancy single estate bean, but honestly, who would mind?

Coffee Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) whole milk
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1.5 cups (125 g) coffee beans
  • pinch of salt
  • 1.5 cups (375 ml) double cream
  • 5 egg yolks

Method

  1. Heat the milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cream in a saucepan. Once warm (but not boiling), remove from heat, cover and let it steep for 1 hour or so.
  2. In one bowl, pour the remaining 1 cup (250ml) cream and set a strainer on top of it. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
  3. Warm up the coffee-infused milk mixture and slowly pour it (beans and all) into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the mixture back into the saucepan.
  4. Warm the saucepan over median heat, stirring constantly with a spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (you’ve just made custard!). Pour this custard through the strainer into the bowl with the cream and stir.
  5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (I do this overnight) then freeze it in an ice cream maker (or use David Lebovitz’s technique for making ice cream without an ice cream maker).

 

This is my submittions into Kavey’s Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream, Inspired by Hot Drinks edition!

Cooking with Nettles

The Stinging Nettle is an edible plant which grows prolifically like a weed in wet woods, hedge banks and river valleys (and in my garden). It is so-called because the leaves are covered with fine, stinging hairs, making them a mild hassle to forage. However, this year I’ve learned that they are well worth the effort. Here is my journey of nettle discovery…

Nettles

A couple of years ago, my friend Mike and I made nettle soup. Even with the Vitamix, the result was a little rough… literally. The soup seemed gritty, not in a dirty kind of way, but in a nettle-y sort of way. Having picked the nettles in the rain and suffering a few stings along the way, I decided nettles weren’t worth the effort and wrote them off… until this year…

Lesson 1: The art of picking nettles

I’m pretty sure the reason behind my lacklustre nettle soup was that I picked the wrong leaves. Leaves should be picked while young, early in the season if possible (nettle season is late February to early June). According to Richard Mabey’s invaluable book, Food for Free:

“Older leaves – especially those formed after June – contain tiny crystalline particles giving them a gritty texture. They are also bitter and can often have a laxative effect. The very best nettles are the whole shoots picked when they are just a few centimetres high in March.”

Also, before you use the nettles, remove all traces of tough stems and wash really well.

Brave little ladybug

Lesson 2: The recipes

Over the last few months I’d seen a few interesting nettle recipes going around. Meanwhile, my friend Emily was honing her own curiosity about nettles. So when we got together for Beltane recently (and Imbolc a couple months prior), we put some of these recipes to the test. (The seasons have a way of sparking creativity, particularly in the food and foraging department.)

Nettle Recipes

It was through this effort of experimentation that we discovered that nettles are totally worthwhile. Here are the recipes we tried:

  • Nettle Spanakopita - This was good and deserves a do-over I reckon.
  • Nettle Pizza #1 - Using the Tartine Bread method, putting raw nettles on the pizza. I loved the texture from the nettles on this one (see Lesson 3 below)
  • Nettle Pizza #2 - Here we put blanched nettles on the pizza, so it was more like spinach. Also good but I preferred Nettle Pizza #1.
  • Stinger Balls - A foraging double whammy with nettles and wild garlic, mixed with cheese and formed into balls. Err on the smaller side with your stinger balls, and bake in the oven to make sure they’re cooked all the way through.
  • Nettle Farinata - I love farinata regardless but adding a couple nettle leaves to the batter adds cool texture and makes them look super cool.
  • Nettle and Mushroom Omelette - You just can’t go wrong with this. Blanch the nettle first then chop finely and add to the omelet with cooked mushrooms.
  • Nettle Smoothies - Both with juiced and blended nettles. This worked really well but warning: go easy on the nettles, a small handful is plenty.
  • Nettle and Wild Garlic Pesto - Another foraging double whamming; the nettles are a great way to tone down the super potency of wild garlic.
  • Nettle Cordial - OK we didn’t make this one but Kanna did and it’s hugely interesting.

A couple things that require further experimentation: dehydrated nettles, my attempt at nettle crisps – they didn’t turn out very well, but I think it’s because I was stingy in coating the nettles with oil. Also, nettle tea - this was just not very good but I blame myself for including the stems with the leaves (a nettle tea no-no apparently). Finally, the elusive nettle soup that I have yet to try again. This Nettle Broth with Scallops and Horseradish from Richard Corrigan sounds really interesting. I also like this idea for Nettle Sauce to go with poached eggs.

Lesson 3: Why nettles are worthwhile

Are nettles really any better or different than spinach, kale or other green that’s far easier to get a hold of? Well, “better” is a matter of personal preference, but they are definitely different. The most amazing nettle discovery I’ve had through my experiments is their texture, particularly in cases like Nettle Pizza #1 and Nettle Farinata. Unlike spinach or wild garlic, which gets soft and almost disappears into the other ingredients when cooked, nettles retain a definite texture, and when the whole leaves are kept intact, those nettle hairs (no longer prickly since they’ve been cooked) make for a pretty neat mouth-feel that I don’t think I’ve experienced from any other vegetable.

Nettle farinata.

It’s also worth noting nettles’ nutritional benefits. Nettles are remarkably high in calcium – 1 cup of cooked nettles contains 42% RDA of Calcium (compared to spinach’s 24%). Nettles are also high in potassium, iron, sulphur, vitamin C, vitamin A and B complex vitamins. If you really want to be hardcore about it, you can make this nettle infusion that’s basically like a stinging nettle IV drip (I don’t think I want to be that hardcore).

Nettle Smoothies

I’d put nettles right up there with spinach in terms of nutritional powerhouse-ness (click here to compare the two), but nettles are free. So attention all you health-conscious, adventurous people on a budget – nettles are for you!

Lesson 4: Where to get started

There are an infinite number of ways to discover the marvellous nettle, and I recommend getting started with this easy recipe from Rachel Demuth. Let’s face it, it’s hard to go wrong with a deep fry, and these deep fried nettle fritters are no exception. They make a great party trick but are tasty too: green goodness encapsulated in crispy batter, best served with a good pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon or a tasty sauce – Food Urchin’s Foraged Salsa Verde would be ideal!

Nettle Fritters

Nettle Fritters

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • Nettle tips – pick succulent tips and leave enough stalk to give you something to hold on to
  • Sunflower oil for frying
  • Lemon wedges

For the batter

  • 200ml ice cold water
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 90g sifted plain white flour
  • 2-3 ice cubes

Method:

  1. To make the batter, pour the ice cold water into a mixing bowl. Mix in the beaten egg, add the flour and roughly fold in with a fork – do not beat, the batter should be lumpy! Add the ice cubes.
  2. Heat the sunflower oil in a wok or deep fryer.
  3. Dip the nettle tips into the batter a few at a time, allowing any excess batter to drain back into the bowl. The nettles should be only thinly coated.
  4. Fry the battered nettles until golden, then drain on kitchen paper.
  5. Serve hot with a pinch of salt, a wedge of lemon & a salsa verde.

So that’s my experience with nettles so far, but more inspiration is wanted. What have you been doing with nettles? Any cool recipes worth trying?

This post also appeared on Great British Chefs.

Nettle Farinata

Nettle farinata.

Farinata (also called socca, torta di ceci or cecina) is a chickpea flour flatbread akin to a pancake or crepe, and it’s been a favourite food of mine for years. I’ve written about Farinata before (and its Indian cousin, Besan Cheela) but I’ve recently been rediscovering farinata through my favourite Springtime forageable: stinging nettles.

For one thing, nettle farinata just looks cool (I was inspired by this picture of nettle focaccia taken by Eat Pictures). But the nettles also add nice texture to the farinata, thanks to their prickly hairs which are no longer stinging since the nettles have been cooked.

Of course, you don’t need to use nettles here – you can use any vegetable you’d like – veggie chef Rachel Demuth does hers with artichokes – and feel free to kick it up with herbs, spices, black pepper, chilli, whatever you feel. This is why I love farinata: it’s so adaptable. It’s also inherently vegan, gluten-free, rich in protein and fiber, and an all around good eat that goes well with so many things. My recipe below is also lower in fat than most other farinata recipes, which tend to include a lot of oil in the batter. When I make this, the only oil I use is for greasing the pan. To me, it’s perfect this way.

You can cook farinata til its crispy and use it as a pizza base, or keep it malleable and use it almost as a vegan omelet – delicious with sautéed mushrooms! If you really want to green up your farinata, you can blitz some of the nettles (or whatever greenery your using) with the batter.

Wild garlic farinata / socca / chickpea flour flatbread. #vegan #glutenfree

Nettle Farinata

1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
a bunch of nettle leaves, washed

Method

  1. Combine the chickpea flour and salt in a blender with 1 cup of water. Blend until smooth then leave the batter to rest for 2-12 hours.
  2. Heat up the oven’s grill / broiler. Heat an oven-safe non-stick pan on medium high heat. Coat the pan with some olive oil (either using a spray bottle or by drizzling in some oil and wiping it around with a paper towel).
  3. When the pan is good and hot, pour in just enough batter to fill the pan, about the thickness of a crepe – you can go thicker but I find a thinner pancake results in a nicer result. Immediately scatter some onions over the batter, then, using tongs, place the nettle leaves on top of the batter.
  4. When the batter is firm on top and brown underneath, remove the pan from the heat and place under the grill / broiler (if you’d like, you can spray a thin coat of olive oil on top of the farinata before placing under the grill). Cook until it’s starting to brown on top (this shouldn’t take very long so keep an eye on it).
  5. Remove the farinata from the pan and repeat the steps above with the rest of the batter.
  6. Serve immediately. You can slice the farinata with a pizza cutter, but it’s also nice to just tear into it with your hands!

Here’s what it looks like with wild garlic, also nice but not as texturally interesting:

Wild garlic farinata (I still prefer the nettle version).

Nettle Pesto

Nettle Pesto

It finally seems like winter has left the building and spring is making itself known in the trees, in the hedgerows and underfoot. The grass is looking greener, buds are starting to appear on the elder shrubs and one of the first of the season’s finest forage-ables are coming into its own: the stinging nettle!

Young nettle leaves are already popping up all over my garden and now is the time to get in on their bounty: nettles are best when they’re young as older leaves tend to be woody and somewhat tough when cooked. But the young leaves, once boiled, are soft, delicate and hugely versatile.

Nettles

Nettle Soup is one of the more popular options. Rachel Demuth at Demuths Cookery School has been making Nettle Risotto and Nettle Fritters, Hank Shaw has been getting his pasta on with Nettle Ravioli and Strettine. My friend, Kanna, has even made Nettle Cordial.

The first thing I’ll be making with my nettles is something to go the distance: Nettle Pesto, a versatile condiment that’s great with pasta, as a soup garnish, on bread… basically anywhere you’d use conventional pesto. And the recipe is completely open to variation. My recipe is a vegan pesto, using no cheese (the toasted nuts give it plenty of richness), but you’re free to add parmesan, pecorino or any other hard cheese as you see fit. You can also play around with the nuts – I love walnuts but hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashews or a mix are also terrific with this.

You can also combine the nettles with other herbs like parsley, basil or wild garlic (more foraging!) to make a mixed green pesto.

As to picking nettles, remember, they sting so use gloves and a carrier bag. Blanching the nettles gets rid of their stinginess so until you’ve blanched them, keep those gloves handy!

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of nettles
  • 100g walnuts, toasted
  • 1 garlic clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • About 150ml good olive oil
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. First, prepare the nettles. Wash the nettles then drop them in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. With tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the nettles and place immediately into a bowl of ice water to shock and cool.
  2. Squeeze out as much liquid from the nettles as you can (they will no longer be stinging!) then roughly chop.
  3. Put the walnuts and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped – but still with some granular texture.
  4. Add the nettles and blitz again to chop the leaves, then begin trickling in the oil, while the processor runs. Stop when you have a sloppy purée.
  5. Taste, season as necessary with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  6. Store in the fridge – if you completely cover the surface of the pesto with oil so all air is excluded, it should keep for a couple of weeks.

This post also appeared on Great British Chefs.