The following story and recipe for Wild Nettle Imam Bayaldi appeared in Smithsonian Magazine on September 27, 2018, and more recently in TheArmenian Mirror-Spectator.
I was asked by Christine Datian to share this with my readers, so please sit back, relax, and read on.
Hopefully, you'll be inspired to try, not only this recipe, but others on The 1000 Leaf Project site.
Launched in 2016, The 1000 Leaf Project is a citizen-driven website that allows anyone in Armenia to register a wild plant, providing details on where they found it, how to harvest it and what recipes to try. It focuses on empowering people for an end result that promotes and protects the rich biodiversity found in Armenia. (You’ll find the text on this site in both Armenian and English.)
Contributed by Serda Ozbenian, the Executive Director of the Earth Island Institute’s Armenian Environmental Network (AEN), www.armenia-environment.org, this recipe calls for using wild stinging nettle. Stinging nettle is on the list of Armenia’s more than 3,600 wild plant species—a list that includes hundreds of edible varieties ranging from wild asparagus, mint and oregano to tart sea buckthorn and sweet mallow, an herb that formed the original basis for marshmallows. Ozbenian, Armine Sargsyan, AEN’s former In-Country Director, and Lena Tachdjian (Tashjian), an environmental writer, collaborated with colleagues at the American University of Armenia‘s Acopian Center for the Environment (AUA), a group that promotes environmental conservation through research, to catalogue these edible species with help from the community. Ozbenian incorporates stinging nettle in her imam bayildi recipe. “Typically, you fill eggplant with onions and tomatoes, but I made this version with nettle,” she said. “Sharing this recipe is another way The1000 Leaf Project hopes to encourage users to interact with Armenia’s varied environment,” she added.
|Wild Nettle Imam Bayaldi, image from 1000 Leaf Project|
This recipe calls for Armenia’s wild stinging nettle, but Ozbenian says substituting American wild nettle will work as well in a pinch.
Note from Christine: If nettles are totally unavailable, spinach may be substituted.
2 large eggplants, long and skinny kind
4 cups stinging nettle, stems removed, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped and sliced
2 small onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
First, cut off the ends of the eggplant, peel them in strips (one white strip, one purple). Cut them in half lengthwise and then in half again. Scoop out some of the insides to make a boat (set aside). Soak eggplant pieces in a bowl of salted water (this softens them and reduces bitterness), and set them aside while you prepare the other ingredients. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Chop onions and one tomato and press the garlic. Heat a 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil in a pot and add ingredients to the pot. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat. Chop the nettle roughly and add it to the pot along with the sugar, salt and the eggplant insides you set aside. Stir well, cover, and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes.
While the nettle mixture is cooking, remove the eggplant pieces from the water, squeeze out any excess water and place them on an oven safe pan. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Add 1/4 cup water to bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with foil and place it in the oven for 20 minutes (the eggplant should be soft but not cooked thoroughly).
Fill each eggplant with nettle mixture, cover again, and put back in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove the foil, add thin slices of tomato to each eggplant boat, and sprinkle with a touch of salt and sugar. Place back in the oven uncovered until the water has evaporated and the eggplant is cooked thoroughly, about 10 minutes.
*This recipe appeared in Smithsonian on September 27, 2018, go to: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/armenias-edible-landscape-1000-leaf-project-180970426/#xhpksCq7Gx7zbGzV.99. For information and recipes: http://1000leaf.aua.am/. To contribute: https://www.armenia-environment.org/blog/thousand-leaf-announcement. The AEN is a project of Earth Island Institute, based in Berkeley, California. AEN’s mission is to facilitate tangible contributions to Armenia’s sustainable development by increasing awareness of and supporting solutions to environmental issues in Armenia.