Spring is here, which means stinging nettles abound, and the once lowly weed has now been elevated to haute cuisine.

Chef Chris Whittaker of Forage Restaurant says next time you come across a patch, rather than avoid them, you might want to pick them for your next meal.

"If you go to any of the top restaurants in Vancouver you're going to find them on the menu right now," says Whittaker, who likes nettles for their minty, spinach-like quality,

Chef Chris Whittaker

Chef Chris Wittakker of Forage Restaurants is taking the sting out nettles and putting them them on his menu. (Margaret Gallagher)

"They're here and now, and that's the way people are cooking these days."

Whittaker also appreciates their versatility, using them in everything from pesto to gnocchi to dessert.

On April 24 he's cooking a special dinner devoted to stinging nettles, with a menu that includes nettle-crusted halibut, farro and nettle risotto, nettle sorbet and a mint-nettle beer from R&B Brewing.

One thing he doesn't recommend is eating stinging nettle in its raw state.

"In Europe, they hold nettle-eating competitions. It looks like the most painful experience," winces Whittaker. "I don't know if I'd like to do that."

Far less painful is his recipe for Stinging Nettle Risotto, below.

If you are looking to buy nettles, rather than forage them yourself, you can often find them at your local farmers' market.

Chef Chris Whittaker’s Stinging Nettle Risotto

Ingredients

  • 4 - 5 cups stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 14 oz carnarolli rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz Golden Ears Cheeseworks Brie
  • ¼ cup of stinging nettle puree (see recipe below)

Method

  1. Heat the stock.
  2. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil, add the onions, and garlic. Sauté slowly for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat.
  3. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat slightly. The rice will now begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent.
  4. Add the wine and keep stirring until absorbed.
  5. Turn down heat to a simmer and add good pinch of salt.
  6. Add hot stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Allow each laddleful to be absorbed before adding the next.
  7. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. (This will take around 15 minutes.)
  8. Add nettle puree and stir well.
  9. Remove from the heat and add the brie. Stir well.
  10. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for two minutes.
  11. Plate and garnish with wild spring greens.
  12. Enjoy!

Recipe for nettle puree

  • 1 lb stinging nettles (blanched in boiling water for 1 minute and cooled quickly)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/8 cup olive oil

Puree in blender for 1 minute.