STINGING NETTLES used to scare me, but now I look forward to running into a patch of them. Of course, it's essential to wear long pants and gloves to avoid their formic acid filled prickers. I pick their tops off when the plants are about eight inches to a foot high, bring in a big bowl of them and fill it with water. I use a ladle to push them down and then pour off the water, saving any insects that might come off. Save them for what? Just to save! Put them outside again, of course.
Immerse the stinging nettles in water to cover in a pot, and bring to a boil. Boil them until soft, which for me was about fifteen minutes. I have a neighbor who likes to lightly cook them, as she enjoys the stinging sensation, but I don't like that much excitement when eating. Some say to blanch them in salted boiling water and then plunge them into ice water. However you choose to cook them, lift them out of the water afterward to drain them, or someone might complain about their being too soggy. Someone might also not have sprinkled them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, so they should stop complaining.
Do read up on stinging nettles before using them, if you are pregnant, are taking pharmaceuticals, or have other health issues. Most of the cautions would be more relevant to taking them in concentrated or dried form, but it is better to be informed when adding new foods to your diet. Nettles are said to have good effects on the urinary tract and prostate, among other things, and are a very nutritious food source. I once dried a bunch, which is another method of making them not sting, and gave them to a daughter who had contracted mononucleosis, to drink as a tea. I like to think they had some part in her quick recovery, though I gave her tinctures of other helpful-to-the-liver herbs as well.
Nettles are best used at the beginning of their season, which varies from area to area. I have used them a little later in their season, though, with no ill effects. Like with older dandelion leaves, cook once, discard the first bitter water, add fresh water and cook again. By then they taste quite mild, and though you may have lost a lot of nutrients, they are still better for you than a lot of foods you can buy―and they're free. Be sure the area you are picking in has not been contaminated. Try drinking some of the cooking water. You may not like it, but it sure tastes like it must be good for you. Nothing like a good spring tonic.
This dinner also featured rice cooked in the rice cooker with carrots and some creamy yellow fleshed yam (which surprised me, because its red skin fooled me into thinking I was buying a garnet yam), and sauteed onion with roasted chestnuts cooked with olive oil and tamari, served with fried homemade soysage. Look in The Farm Cookbook for the recipe for soysage. It is one of the primary uses for the soy pulp left over from making soy milk, though I have been adding it to my sourdough bread dough lately, with no complaints from the family.
The roasted chestnuts came in a foil package and I got them very cheaply at Ocean State Joblot, but you could buy a case of them from Amazon. They were moist and pre-roasted, and only had to be chopped and thrown in the pan with the onions. I thought the family would object to the overt healthy aspect of this meal, but I did get a compliment or two.