Japanese Nettle Soup
I don’t normally try to post two similar recipes in quick succession, but I simply couldn’t help myself here. I had originally planned to post a single recipe highlighting two variations on nettle soup, but they turned out too different and each really deserved its own post.
The previous nettle soup was a sublime and simple take on the traditional European variations. This version however is all about building flavours with Japanese staples. Nettle soup is by no means a traditional Japanese recipe, and nettles don’t have a particularly prominent place in the Japanese culinary pantheon, but their mellow, green sweetness is wonderfully suited to the subtle marriage of salty and sweet found in a proper Japanese broth. White miso adds richness and complexity while providing a creamy richness to the soup.
Honestly I was really impressed with this soup, but not just because it tasted good (and man, it was good). I love the more traditional nettle soup recipe, but sometimes an ingredient gets a little pigeonholed and you want to see what else it can do. Really, nettles are tasty and versatile, and there’s no reason that they should be limited to a single soup (even with variations). So I wanted to see if I could build a great soup with Japanese building blocks – and without any cream, butter, or meat broth. The resulting vegan delight is not lacking for flavour, depth, or richness in any way. The nettles and roasted vegetables are amazing (as you’d expect), but rich and distinctive Japanese flavours still shine through. The miso is an especially important component, adding a rich, salty-sweet element that gives body to the soup. The whole thing is at once familiar and exotic.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t make two nettle soups because I’m an obsessive tinkerer. Well… not JUST because I’m an obsessive tinkerer. I did it because I wanted to work with a classic and with something different, and I think there’s something to be said for that. We fall into routines that revolve around our favorite dishes, but those routines can turn into ruts if we’re not careful. I guess what I’m saying is – make your favourites and your specialties, but take a step back and reconsider the ingredients once in a while. You might end up with something new you love – or you might end up surprising and pleasing a whole group of folks who hadn’t realized that there were new culinary avenues open to them. Case in point: you’re welcome gluten-free vegans (who I would imagine spend a lot of time looking for recipes): there is now a nettle soup for you without any wheat or faux-dairy. So there you go.
Nettles are a very popular wild food, and may be found in some farmers markets. If you can’t find them for sale, they’re very common in the wild across a lot of North America and Eurasia. If you do forage for your own, make absolutely certain that you know what you’re picking. Nettles are a very distinctive plant, but any wild food should only be eaten if you’re 100% certain about its identity. You’ll want to wear gloves and choose the youngest, tender stems and new leaves. When you are working with the leaves, be sure to continue wearing gloves. Wash the nettles thoroughly and pick out any stems or damaged leaves.
The garnishes are completely optional, but they do add some nice dimension. Cherry blossoms (sakura) are obviously not always readily available, but if you do have access to a clean, un-sprayed ornamental cherry tree, they make a beautiful and pleasantly sour garnish. You could substitute any edible flowers, or some shichimi togarashi for a bit of colour and heat.
If you’re not familiar with using kombu, check out this Pantry Page reference guide to learn all about how to find, choose, and use it.
Note that this recipe is very easily doubled to serve 8 (or more if served as a small starter soup).
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