This time of year, according to Romanian Christian Orthodox tradition, we start the Easter fasting. This is a good occasion to go on a diet or cleanse your system. When it comes to fasting, Romanians are really inventive. You see, we have a deep love for good food so we would like to eat good food while we are fasting, but sometimes in history good food was hard to come by, so people started looking for tasty plants that nature offers.
This is how the nettle has become a favorite spring food for the Romanians. In soup, stew, rice, sauce, this wild plant has become very versatile in the Romanian household. The plant appears early in spring and can be found in the fields, in forests, under trees, in the mountains or even on the side of the road. When the plant is really young it stings, that’s where it gets its name, netel in Dutch being needle. The plant can cause skin rashes when touched, that is why it is recommended that you wear gloves when handling them. When boiled or steamed they don’t sting anymore and become edible. It is interesting that farm animals like cows and pigs eat them raw without even flinching.
Nettles can be used when dry to extract fiber, that can be turned into very resistant fabric, or in the country side nettle is set on the ground to make a protection layer under the haystacks. Above all, the nettle is a highly important medicinal plant, used for ages by Romanians. There are also folkloric practices that involve nettles, like wearing a cloth pouch around the neck full of nettles to protect the wearer from lightning during storms or during St. George day.
In some area people would chase each other, holding bunches of nettles, to whip each other to chase away all bad luck or spirits that might cause illness. In some area people use nettles to cure rheumatic problems in adults or even rickets in children by applying the raw plant on the skin. It is a really painful practice and it is rarely heard of.
As food nettles are really delicious, and when in season the Romanians find a great variety of recipes with the plant. An all time favorite is the nettles stew with pork. This dish is served with fried sunny side up eggs on the side and fresh polenta. Other recipes include other wild plants boiled together into a soup, like patience (the herb), amaranth, saltbush, lettuce and spinach and seasoned with borsch to make a broth.
As kids we had mixed feelings about this food, as it was the equivalent of eating broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and we would always eat the eggs on the side and ignore the green mush. But we would be forced to eat it after a lecture from our grandmothers and after being threatened with chores or grounding. Today we understand the reason why we were forced to eat that food, and why we could play in the rain and in the dirt and we were still healthy. Today we miss the nettles stew, tea or pie, and if we are lucky we can still find it back home when we visit the grandparents, or we can pay a visit to the peasant market where old people from the countryside sell nettles by the bunch, filling your bag with their bare hands, their skin all ruff and hard from all the hard work of their life.
If you want to try this delicious healthy dish, you can follow the recipe in the link, and you can even upgrade it with some fried or seared pork and a couple of sunny side up eggs: http://romanian-cuisine.blogspot.ro/2011/03/stinging-nettle-dish-mancarica-de.html
Photo source: moldovenii.md, vickysrecipes.wordpress.com