Have you ever tried sorrel? I hadn't until recently. It's different than most greens—for starters, it's a perennial herb. Unlike spinach or Swiss chard, it comes back every year, and it produces tangy, thick leaves all season long.
According to my friend Lucas, who sells greens at the farmers market in Orleans, sorrel is popular in places like Europe and New Zealand and France. He thinks it's just starting to catch on in the states. It's not for everyone—it tastes pretty sour—but I think it's sort of refreshing in small quantities. Darina Allen, who wrote Forgotten Skills of Cooking, describes it as a sudden little electric shock in a salad. That pretty much captures it perfectly.
When it's cooked down, sorrel is good with cream. Pretty much every recipe I've found for either sorrel soup or a wilted sorrel fish sauce uses some sort of dairy, whether it's butter or whole milk yogurt or heavy cream. The best soup recipe, I think, comes from Julia Child—sorrel, after all, is a French thing. She calls it Potage Germiny.
Raw, I like it in salads. You can throw it into any old salad for a little kick and zing, but it's especially good paired with roasted beets. They're so sweet and the sorrel's so sour that they mesh perfectly.
Lucas says 2011 is going to be the year of sorrel, so sometime, if you have a chance, join in. The greens will be around all season long—from now through late fall—so there's plenty of time to experiment.
CREAM OF SORREL SOUP
This is Julia's recipe, just adapted a bit for simplicity. It makes six servings.
1/3 cup minced green or yellow onions
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 to 4 cups packed fresh sorrel leaves, washed, dried, and cut into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons flour
5 and 1/2 cups boiling chicken stock
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Warm up 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 5-10 minutes, or until tender and translucent. Stir in all but a handful of the sorrel and the salt, cover the pot, and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the leaves are tender and wilted, about 5 minutes.
Now turn the heat back up to medium and sprinkle in the flour. Cook for three minutes, then pour in the boiling stock, stirring well. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, blend the yolks and cream in a large mixing bowl. Slowly, drop by drop, beat in a cupful of hot soup. Gradually beat in the rest, pouring it in a thin stream as you beat. Return the soup to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Do not bring the soup to a simmer—you just want to cook the eggs. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter.
For hot soup, serve immediately, garnished with the remaining sorrel leaves. For cold soup, leave out the final tablespoon of butter and chill before serving.
SORREL & ROASTED BEET SALAD
Sorrel pairs well with beets because the green offers plenty of sour to the beets' sweet. I love the zing of sorrel in a salad—all citrusy and tang. This salad makes enough to serve 4.
2 slices thick, rustic bread
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for toasting the bread
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly cracked pepper
3 cups young sorrel leaves, washed and dried
2 pounds beets, roasted, peeled, and sliced (for a roasting tutorial, click here)
8 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup toasted pistachios or pecans
Warm up a cast iron griddle over medium-high heat. Place the bread in the middle, and drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top. Toast for 2-3 minutes per side, or until the bread is sizzling and golden. Remove the bread from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes before cutting it into 1/2-inch cubes.
Whisk together the remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a fork, and add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the sorrel in a large salad bowl and layer the roasted beets, bread cubes, goat cheese, and toasted nuts on top. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar mixture and serve at once.