Wild leeks, or ramps, come up in the early spring. They like to grow in shady, moist areas, often along streams, in soil full of organic matter (such as decaying leaves and other forest goodies). The lower part is white and crunchy and the tops are tender and light green. The green tops are floppy and wide, they look like a leaf. Once they are picked and cleaned you can use the whole plant. The flavor is gentle and somewhat sweet, delicious and full of flavor. If you don’t have access to a sustainable source of wild leeks you can use regular leeks or young/spring onions in this soup instead.
As ramps have become more popular in recent years wild populations have declined. Ramps are a bulb and spread slowly below ground, taking a long time for the plant to regenerate after harvesting. Even when someone practices sustainable harvesting techniques and only takes a small bit form a stand, others may come behind them and harvest a small bit…and so on and so forth…gradually depleting the stand to the point where it can not regenerate itself fast enough to keep up with harvesting! For these reasons, please be mindful when using ramps. Two solutions to this issue are to: 1.) plant your own ramps – they like moist woods or 2.) only harvest the green tops, leaving the white bulb in the ground to keep growing!
When the leeks are ready it is usually also the perfect time to harvest nettles. You want to harvest nettles when they are young and tender, before they get tough and bitter. Nettles have small hairs on the stem and underside of the leaf that contain formic acid, an acid that stings the skin when touched, hence the common name “stinging nettle.” Once dried or cooked the acid is neutralized and safe to touch and eat. To avoid getting stung, harvest and process the nettles with gloves!
This soup is simple to make, delicious and comes out a lovely green color. This past week I made this soup twice, it felt like the perfect spring food. It was still chilly so I wanted something hot and hearty, but also light and fresh tasting. Feel free to include or substitute with other wild greens.
5 large potatoes or 6-8 smaller potatoes, peeled and diced
12-15 wild leeks, chopped (or 2 medium sized regular leeks)
1 large onion, diced
2 cups fresh nettle leaves, chopped
pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
salt and pepper
In a heavy bottom saucepan saute onions and leeks in olive oil. Add the spices and cook until the onions are translucent, stirring often. Add the potatoes and nettle, some salt and pepper, saute for 3 minutes more. Add filtered water or home made stock to cover all ingredients by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and simmer on low until the potatoes are soft, about 1/2 hour. Once the potatoes are soft, taste the broth for salt and adjust accordingly. Pure the soup in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. Adjust the seasoning and serve! You can garnish this soup with a bit of fresh ground pepper, olive oil, yogurt or sour cream.