My “Wild Things” Soup: Morels & Nettle
I wrote the following article in May 2017 as a "just for fun" thing, before The Local Wild column was even a glimmer in my sights. But with morel season just around the corner, I thought it appropriate to share this yummy recipe with all you Local Wild fans. Bon apetit!
It’s springtime in Minnesota, and that means sunshine, greenery, and tackling outside chores. SO many chores. They add up over winter, so everyone is out using all the muscles they forgot they had during winter in order to do what they need to do now that good weather has arrived: clear fallen branches, refinish decks, mow lawns, plant gardens, et cetera. That’s a lot of muscles!
For me, springtime means the wild edibles are growing. The first weeks of May are when the morel mushrooms start popping out with haste. Those babies don’t wait and will soon disappear, either going to feed the deer or maturing, dropping their spores, and then shriveling up.
So, let the hunt begin! (And quickly, because I’m hungry!)
Ingredient #1: Morel Mushrooms
After an afternoon working on the house, Hubby joined me for a hike up our back hill where we found some hefty morels growing in the sun-speckled shade. We picked a few that were nearly palm-sized and almost (almost) too pretty to eat. But, into the sack they went!
Our total gathering amounted to about a half pound of delicious mushrooms. I was disappointed we couldn’t find any Pheasantback mushrooms (aka Dryad’s Saddle) while we were out, but I’m hoping some of those meaty morsels will pop up over the course of summer when the morel season is long gone.
Back at the house, I poured out the collection for the count: 10. Not my best harvest numbers-wise, but surely best in overall size. I’ll be returning to that collection spot next weekend with high hopes (we’re expecting a bit of a rain mid-week, so hopefully more will have grown by then).
Ingredient#2: Burning Nettle
A wild edible that pairs fantastically with morels are burning nettle leaves.
Being 18 weeks pregnant, I’ve been having a hard time eating my veggies (or my meats). Even though I was a veggie-meat fiend pre-pregnancy, the smell and taste of them now is… unappealing.
However, the thought of butter-sauteed nettle (very high in a multitude of vitamins and good-for-you stuff) is one veggie that isn’t at all off-putting! Hooray!
I’m pretty good (I think) about keeping our many acres of land free of noxious growth, but since I like the taste of nettle I intentionally maintain a “crop” of the greenery near the house, ripe and close-by for fresh picking.
I gathered about 3 cups of nettle leaves — of course remembering to wear good gloves while doing it! — and stored them with the morels in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight.
I dreamt of having morel soup for breakfast.
Preparing & Cooking My “Wild Things” Soup
The next morning (err… this morning), I made coffee — one cannot cook breakfast without a coffee in hand! — and pulled out my bag of mushrooms and nettles. I filled a sink with cool water and dumped the bag’s contents in, making sure there was plenty of space to swish and slosh the ingredients around and wash all those dirty bug feet germs off.* (I like to let the nettles and ‘shrooms soak a bit, to soften up and loosen any caked dirt and to encourage any bugs hiding in the crevices of the morels’ caps to ski-daddle.)
I also prepped my other fresh ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
I pulled out a saucepan and melted about 1 tablespoon butter in it over LOW heat, dumping in the garlic to let the herb warm and release it’s deliciousness. Once softened, I added in the onion and gave the whole bit a good stir.
Since the pan was on LOW, I could confidently walk away and let the flavors gently blend while I tended to washing my nettles.
Back to the sink, nettles are top priority. Donning a pair of thick dish gloves so as not to get stung by the still-active toxic hairs, I removed the morels from the sink and set them aside.
(No, they’re not done being cleaned. I like to take out the morels before agitating the water to prevent any excess breakage. While delicious, morels can be crumbly before they’re cooked and thus require tender, gentle care.)
I agitated the nettles in the water to shake off any debris. Then, by the handful, I gathered and squeezed the water from them, setting the clean nettle leaves in a colander.
By this time my onions and garlic were nicely softened, so I dumped the full batch of nettle in the pan, added about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt, and gave it all a good stir.
Back to the mushrooms…
I drained the dirty water from the sink and refilled it with clean water. I dumped the pre-soaked morels back in their bath and, this time, prepared to do a thorough cleaning of my fungus finds.
With a paring knife, I cut open each morel in half for TWO GOOD REASONS:
To make sure they are actually morels — with their hollow stems & crowns and non-furry insides — and not any one of a few kinds of dangerous morel impostors; and
To get a good clean. Bugs like to hide in the folds of the external cap, but they also find ways to make their house on the inside. (Nothing like biting into a whole morel and crunching on a bug. ICK!) So, I slice open the mushrooms and make sure I don’t have any hitchhikers on the inside that will be going to the pan, too.
(A bonus this time ’round: Because the morels we found were nice and big, I didn’t end up feeling like I’d be cooking morel bits instead of full-on mushrooms. Woot!)
Once clean, the morels went into the colander for their trip to the pan.
On the stove, the nettles had reduced nicely, but they’d need to be relocated while the morels sauteed. So I dumped the nettles out of the pan into a bowl, and in went the mushrooms (as well as another tablespoon of butter).
I cranked the heat to HIGH and let the mushrooms do their thing for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they cooked on all sides.
Due to their high water content, the mushrooms end up making their own sort of broth (which you can see a bit of in the photo on the left). Don’t dump it or drain it out, as it adds a great flavor to the soup!
It didn’t take but a short while for the morels to reach that tender, ‘shroomy chewiness that all mushroom lovers love and, once they did, back in went the nettles along with the 2 cups of chicken broth I’d prepped earlier. (I use a powder bouillon at half strength, because I like to taste more of the nettles and ‘shrooms than a salty broth.) The broth should just about cover the nettles and morels. I put the lid on the pan and reduced heat to MEDIUM to let everything simmer together for about 5 minutes.
The Finished Product: Ah, SOUP!
All this took less than 15 minutes (not counting the morel and nettle gathering, of course), and now I had a delicious, hearty, vitamin-packed wild soup breakfast to enjoy with (my second) cup o’ joe.
Since the dandelions outside my kitchen window were calling to me — and since my soup was looking less than colorful — I picked 4 dandelion flowers to garnish my meal. The flowers have a mild flavor, easily overpowered by the dense aromatics of the nettles and morels, so I wasn’t worried about them affecting the flavor. But they did look oh-so-pretty atop the deep colors and earthy textures of my soup!
Sided by a couple slices of store-bought garlic bread (alas, garlic bread trees do not grow wild in Southern Minnesota), this was the perfect meal to start my day.
I hope you get the chance to get outdoors and find yourself some morels and nettles to make your own Wild Things Soup.
If you’ve missed morel season, you can sub for another mushroom variety and, if you don’t have nettles in your area (or if they’re out of season), spinach works well in its stead for a more delicate, mellow vegetable soup.
Wild Things Soup
(J. Woken, author The Local Wild)
~1/2 lb fresh morel mushrooms, halved and washed
~3 cups fresh nettle leaves, washed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
2 TB butter
1 tsp salt
1 TB olive oil
2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, or beef — your choice!)
In a medium saucepan, melt 1 TB BUTTER on low heat. Add garlic and onions.
Thoroughly wash nettles and morels.
Add nettles, salt, and olive oil to pan, stirring thoroughly. Let cook 5-10 minutes or until nettles tenderize and reduce. Remove from heat.
To same pan, add REMAINING 1 TB BUTTER and morels. Increase heat to HIGH. Let saute about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are firm but tender. Do not drain.
Return nettle mixture to pan and add broth. Reduce heat to MEDIUM and cover; simmer approximately 5 minutes.
For an extra special “wild” treat, add some pre-cooked wild rice to the soup.
Morels and nettles can be substituted with store-bought mushrooms and spinach. It’s less wild, but still delicious!
*An ode to my mom, who always preached about thoroughly washing fruits and veggies because of “dirty bug feet.”