A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Samma We't (Spinach-Like Plant Sauce "Nettle")

"Samma is made on very rare occasions and only during Lent.  It is made from a hairy, leafy shrub which grows wild and stings the skin when touched.  Use of rubber or plastic gloves will prevent skin irritation.  It looks like spinach after it has been cooked."  ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 179

According to the random number generator, I was supposed to have made this dish back in February, but random.org  failed to take into account the fact that stinging nettles are a very seasonal crop and aren't ready until late March/early April (and then their growing season is really only about a month long).  

Despite knowing exactly where I could find a lush, healthy wild crop I decided to take the easy way out.  Back in February, I signed up to receive an e-mail when the nettles came back into season, and I received that e-mail a couple of weeks ago or so.  Last Monday, these were waiting for me on my doorstep! 

 the apparent discoloration is only an illusion 

My original intent was to hold off until the weekend to make this dish, but by Thursday, I noted that the nettles were starting to wilt, so I steamed them up so that they would then keep a few more days until I could finish the dish.  The book says to rub the leaves through a sieve, chop them, and put them into boiling water.  I kind of did things a bit backwards and just steamed them to start. 

two pounds is a lot of nettles

Because these were very young nettles, I didn't notice any sting (and I do know what nettle stings feel like).  I handled them with my bare hands without any problem.  They steamed up well, just like spinach, and turned a most gorgeous dark shade of green.  

steamed and packaged for later

When I was ready to finish the dish, I put the cooked nettles into the food processor and chopped them up.  I skipped the sieve part, largely because I wasn't sure what the purpose was.  

Back into the big pot the nettles went (though it had decreased a great deal in bulk, there was still a sizable amount vegetable matter to be dealt with) and they were mixed with some barley flour:

Then the instructions said to add a little warm water until the mixture became thin, so I started to do just that: 

A minute or two into this process, I wondered to myself if there might have been a specific amount of water mentioned in the ingredient list, as I wasn't sure how "thin" I was supposed to get it.  Sure enough, there was.  I wasn't sure how much I had added before I realized this, so I just added the whole amount anyway, figuring I could always boil it down if I needed to.  Some garlic was also added:

The we't was cooked for about 15 minutes, after which salt was added.  At this point, the instructions became a little unclear: "When done, add salt, remove from heat, pour into bowl and cook before serving".  Wasn't I just cooking it?  Perhaps it's a typo and was meant to be "cool"? 

I chose to eat it hot and liked it.  The flavor of the nettles is quite crisp; stronger than spinach, but not unpleasant, in my opinion, but I like wild greens (dandelion greens, burdock greens, miner's lettuce, really any greens, except for mustard and watercress).  I've been eating it for lunch this week.  

My husband refused to even taste it.  The Ethiopians had a few bites the day I made it and take a bite or two when I'm having it for lunch, but they're not passionate about this dish, perhaps because it lacks berbere and wasn't served with injera.  It's certainly not a vegetable aversion, as they were eating their weight in Brussels sprouts at lunch today.  

If you're not interested in working with the nettles, I saw it suggested somewhere on-line that you can try watercress instead, or, frankly, you can probably just make this with spinach.  I do think that a stronger-tasting green, like watercress, will work better than mild spinach, however.  

For the health benefits of nettles, and more nettle recipes, click here

1 comment:

  1. today I saw stinging nettles for the first time in our farmer's market! it made me think of you. let me know if you need (or just want) more since they were pretty cheap