This vegan recipe for Savory Nettle Bread Pudding is a lesson in local food traditions. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, stinging nettles were always in abundance. They grew thickly in our garden and all throughout the moist, verdant woods behind my childhood house. I was always terrified of those biting, green weeds, which could bring tears to my eyes as a child.
However, as a dietitian, I’m now fascinated by the culinary history of this ubiquitous plant, as they feature prominently in several food cultures. I spent two weeks studying the food system in South Tyrol, Italy, and observed that people ate nettles almost every day. This stinging weed is used in the diet like we use spinach. And why not? Stinging nettles—the same variety that grows in North America—thrives profusely everywhere, including forests, gardens, ditches, and valleys. The beauty of cultural, plant-based foods and dishes is that they have a long practice of making something out of nothing. So, those crafty folks in South Tyrol figured out a long time ago that nettles were a very tasty, nutritious food source. In fact, they even make a compost nettle tea to fertilize their gardens made from this plant.
Based on the traditions of South Tyrol, I created this completely plant-based Savory Nettle Pudding out of favorite ingredients there, such as stale rye bread (you should never let this go to waste in a traditional diet!), cheese (mine is vegan), and lots of nettles. With only 5 ingredients, you can make this recipe very easily. You can find nettles at farmers markets and some natural food stores. You get extra credit if you pick your own nettles in the wild! Check out my tips for handling the nettles without getting stung. And to answer your big question: No, this recipe won’t sting you! But it will make you fall in love with the earthy, herbal taste of nettles.
4 ounces vegan cheese (i.e., cheddar or Swiss flavor), cubed
Salt and pepper, as desired (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place rye bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.
Wash nettles in a colander. While water is running, beat the nettles with a knife blade for a few minutes until they are slightly macerated. Drain off water, then chop the leaves, removing large stems.
Mix together toasted bread cubes, nettles, plant-based milk, flax seeds, and cubed vegan cheese in a medium bowl. May season with salt and pepper, if desired. Stir until well combined.
Place in the oven and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.