Sorrel.

From M, 6 November 2010, sorrel soup?

Q: My French Sorrel plant is in danger of staging a garden cope d’etat. I am keen to make a sorrel soup but would like some help please?

A: Thanks for your question. Sorrel is one of the great underused garden greens. It’s slightly astringent, tart, and almost lemony – in some ways like underripe strawberries – with a spinach-like texture. Like spinach, it contains measurable quantities of oxalic acid (see the earlier post about spinach here). The oxalic acid accounts for the tartness – in fact, as a raw herb, sorrel is so sour you only can use it as an accent, a few leaves scattered through your salad or shredded as a garnish. Cooked, however, that mouth-puckering sourness mellows to a pleasantly tart quality.

I gave a sorrel soup recipe to my husband’s cousin Charles and his wife Thalia some years ago when we visited them in Wales. Here’s a funny story about that visit. We decided to fly to London on Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class service based largely on the representation that the complimentary car service would take us anywhere in mainland Britain south of Glasgow/Edinburgh. Anywhere. This struck me as an uncommonly generous perk, and possibly a mistake ripe for exploitation, so I called Virgin Atlantic and asked whether “anywhere” south of Glasgow really meant “anywhere.” The nice customer service woman assured me that it meant exactly that. I think they must have assumed we were looking for a lift to Cambridge or Brighton, or maybe as far as Birmingham I do not think they assumed we wanted to be driven to a remote location in Wales well off the motorway.

Anyway, we landed at Heathrow early – far too early – and, after having a shower and breakfast, we met our driver at the lounge desk. I had had some spa services in the lounge and was beyond groggy, and I think I nodded off in the car before we even left the parking ramp. About two hours later, I woke up as we crossed over the Bristol Channel into Wales. Soon after that, the drive became really interesting as we left the motorway and drove through a series of single-lane roads, flanked on both sides with long hedgerows, at top speed. Our driver seemed to love it. He cheerily told us that he rarely left metropolitan London and that it was quite a treat to experience the countryside. We weren’t so sure that he’d make it back to London – at some point he informed us that his GPS service couldn’t find a signal and pulled off the road to check his printed directions, backed up, and headed the other way. The roads were so narrow as we crossed county Powys that the tips of the hedgerow shrubbery grazed the car windows while we sped past. I credit the natural beauty of rural Wales with keeping my mind off the many ways we could have died. I’m not a betting person, but my money would have been on “crash with truck on one-way road.”

Virgin Atlantic no longer promises to drive its passengers anywhere south of Glasgow. In fact, they now restrict their car service to destinations within “75 driven miles” of the airport. In other words, not way the hell into middle of nowhere Wales. I sometimes wonder whether our jaunt to Builth Wells made such a mockery of their policy that they revoked it. Anyway, Charles and Thalia have a great garden – flat Italian green beans, marrow, greens, and even lemons growing inside (!). At that time of year, the sorrel was taking over their garden – much as it’s taking over yours now – so I gave Thalia a recipe for sorrel soup. They wrote later to let me know that it was delicious, and that she added a potato for texture. That’s a great idea, so I’m taking it.

Sorrel soup

Sorrel is quite tart. If you like, complement the soup with a little lemon zest. The cream and butter make this a somewhat rich soup, and you may wish to reduce those amounts. If you are cooking only for yourself, and plan to refrigerate or freeze the soup, you should consider puréeing it without the cream or butter for storage. Add cream when reheating and stir in and a little butter just before service. If you want to serve this soup cold – and you may, since it’s delicious that way – omit the butter and adjust seasoning before service.

If you want to make this soup and sorrel is not in season, you can substitute spinach, but you will have to supply the tartness with lemon juice. It won’t be the same, but it will be reasonably close.

one medium onion, diced
3 tbsp butter, divided
one medium floury potato (like Russet), peeled and diced 1/2″
one quart (1.2 l) chicken stock
1 lb sorrel leaves, washed well and dried
4 sprigs thyme, tied together
salt and pepper
2/3 c heavy cream

Place a sauce pot over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter. Add the onion and sweat until translucent. Add the thyme, potato, and the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potato is tender. Add the sorrel leaves and simmer until the leaves lose their bright green color. Add the cream and bring back to a simmer. Remove the thyme bunch and purée (in batches if necessary), adding the remaining butter, until perfectly smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Schav

Schav, or sorrel soup, is a standby of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. In its simplest form, it’s just sorrel leaves cooked in water and salt. Sour cream is a traditional garnish so, to keep it kosher, water is traditional. In the summer, when sorrel is in season, schav is served cold for tart refreshment, often with sliced cucumber or diced cooked potato.

This recipe adds some flavor boosters to the traditional schav. An onion supplies sweetness and that characteristic bulby quality, and chicken stock adds depth (although you should use water for a kosher soup). If you plan to serve the soup cold, be sure to use a completely defatted chicken stock to avoid the unpleasant sensation of little globules of cold chicken fat.

one small onion, diced
1.5 quarts (1.6 l) chicken stock
1 lb sorrel leaves, washed well and dried
olive oil
salt and pepper

Garnish:
one small cucumber, diced 1/4″
sour cream

Place a sauce pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tsp olive oil. Add the onion and sweat until translucent. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes. Add the sorrel leaves and simmer until the leaves lose their bright green color. Purée (in batches if necessary), until perfectly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Chill.

When cold, taste again before serving – seasoning tends to be less pronounced in cold foods – and add salt if necessary. Serve with sour cream and cucumber.

3 thoughts on “Sorrel.

  1. Pingback: Sour. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Matthew says:

    Another good way to eat sorrel is to pick a fresh broad bean, shell the beans and wrap them in a sorrel leaf and eat it all raw.

    • Interesting. Now, two cautions about your approach.

      While it is not unsafe to eat fresh sorrel, too much of it can act as a laxative. So I wouldn’t sit down with an entire basket of sorrel and eat it with the broad (fava to the rest of us) beans in this manner, or any other mode like salad. A modest number of fresh leaves is totally refreshing, though.

      Unless you are sure you won’t react negatively, you should not eat raw broad/fava beans. They contain alkaloids that may induce hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) in individuals with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD), the most common hereditary enzyme defect. G6PD affects an estimated 400 million people worldwide, primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Cooking the beans eliminates the risk.

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