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Sorrel - a lucky dip

"this vibrant leaf with an inbuilt wow factor" Yotam Ottolenghi

It's possible I have written about sorrel before, but my browsing of my cookery book collection has not rung any bells so I'm carrying on.

It's a tantalising leaf. Is it a leaf, or a herb? Where on earth can you get it? And how can you hide the fact that when you cook it, it rapidly, almost disintegrates into a horribly brown/khaki almost slimy mass much tinier than what you started off with. This bunch here in the picture from River Cottage A-Z would shrink down to a mere spoonful.

So why would you do it? Well:

"that vibrant green may turn to a more killjoy khaki, but the punchy flavour doesn't get similarly tempered. Also, the colour loss can be reversed a bit by stirring through some freshly chopped sorrel just before serving." Yotam Ottolenghi

"This startlingly sour leaf, if paired with more evenly balanced flavours, can turn even the most frugal of meals into something very special." Yotam Ottolenghi

After all my research I would say that Ottolenghi and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall were sorrel's biggest fans, with lots of ideas for what to do with it.

My lucky dip book is Maggie's Harvest - Maggie being Maggie Beer of course. It's a massive tome, and, canny business woman that she is it has been republished in four separate parts, one for each season. A highly recommended tome which I haven't really used enough.

Sorrel comes in the spring section of the book, and I have to say - today being a glorious first day of spring - I would love to be able to run out to a nursery and buy some plants right away and put them in my now cleared veggie patch. Because you won't be able to buy any here. Well I don't think so. You won't even find it growing in the wild either, as it does in Europe. Well, again, I don't think so. Every chef/cook that I have encountered in my search today recommends the planting of a patch of sorrel in your garden, with virtually all of them saying that it will grow like a weed for years. I actually have grown it, but either I pulled it out or it didn't come back like it should have.

"It is quite possibly the easiest crop in the world to raise (though really not that easy to buy)" Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

He recommended it for beginning gardeners. Well that's me. Jane Grigson tells a rather lovely story of visiting a friend in France:

"We talk round the kitchen table, door open, or under the lime tree if it is hot. We smile at each other across pots of wild flowers, a scatter of crayons, pebbles, shells, matchstick models. Suddenly reviving, she remembers food and rushes to the nearest corner of the vegetable patch to grab a couple of handfuls of sorrel. In quarter of an hour we are eating a lively soup, fresh and agreeably sharp, that was made with the minimum of trouble."

And yes it does have a lovely sharp tang to it. Someone compared it to rhubarb and gooseberries, which put me in mind of my favourite perfume - eau de campagne by Sisley, which has a tomato plant base with a touch of citrus. It's unusual and sharp and invigorating - like sorrel.

And yes, soup is what it's most famous for. I read somewhere a long time ago that the late Queen Mother on tasting a version cooked for by Robert Carrier described it as un poème. Jane Grigson gives a few different versions but decrees that Margaret Costa's green soup is the best, because:

"Most recipes for sorrel soup cook the leaves in with potato and onion, but Margaret Costa had the excellent idea of using raw sorrel leaves and a blender, so that the fresh flavour and colour remain unspoilt. If the soup is on the thick side, dilute it with water or more stock. Always serve it with small cubes of bread fried golden brown in butter."

Elizabeth David also has a much lauded recipe for a sorrel soup, but this one is a Sorrel and lentil soup - puy lentils being the name of the game of course. She describes it as 'one of the best of the sorrel soups.'

That said she also has a recipe for a sorrel and tomato soup whose instructions are admirably brief - the ingredients are 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes peeled and chopped, 1 1/2 pints chicken stock, a handful of sorrel leaves and 1 oz of butter.

"Melt the tomatoes in the butter until they are soft but not completely disintegrated; five minutes will be long enough. Add the chopped sorrel; give it a stir round, pour over the heated stock, season with salt, pepper and sugar. Serve as soon as the soup is hot; do not overcook, or the tomatoes and sorrel will lose their fresh flavour."

So very Elizabeth David - I mean - 'melt the tomatoes ...' No picture for this one I'm afraid.

Then there are the sauces - mostly for fish which seem to be just sorrel melted in butter with some cream added at the end, or alternatively add the sorrel purée to some boiling cream with some of the juices from whatever you are going to use it with - mostly fish it seems


"One of my favourite seasonal sauces is to whizz up equal weights of fresh sorrel and Greek yoghurt with a garlic clove, some olive oil and a little Dijon mustard. It takes seconds to make, and I drizzle it over just about anything " Yotam Ottolenghi

Pesto is a kind of sauce:

"And sorrel's pleasures don't end there. It makes a glorious pesto that goes brilliantly with grilled mackerel – put 75g of sorrel, 15g parsley, 50g pistachios, two peeled garlic cloves, a teaspoon of cider vinegar, half a teaspoon of maple syrup, three tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a food processor and blitz." Yotam Ottolenghi

Since Maggie Beer's book was the inspiration for this post I should include one of her recipes - a Sorrel tart, although this version is a little bit different from the one in my book - well only in the quantities. In my books she has rather more sorrel - 600g, and onions - 2. Also 6 eggs and 650ml cream.

But still on tarts Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has a Sweet sorrel tart - yes a sweet tart. Well I suppose lemons make a wonderful sweet tart, so why not sorrel? But even more weirdly he also has Meringue with strawberries and sorrel. Alas the recipe is not online. Fundamentally you make a pavlova and top it with 150ml cream whisked with 40g caster sugar and finely grated zest of a lemon. Spoon over the pavlova and top with strawberries and shredded sorrel.

Still on weird, whilst looking for a photograph of the River Cottage meringue I found this: Sorrel sorbet with rhubarb, strawberries, elderflower and raspberry meringues from Chef Paul Moran. Fancy - but yes I think that could work.

I now see that this post is remarkably devoid of photos of the dishes that I found. There are omelettes and lots of fish dishes - including one from Delia - Baked salmon and sorrel creams but no picture, even though almost all of her dishes have a photo. Jamie doesn't really do sorrel except in a risotto - which could also work - a bit like a lemon risotto I guess. And Nigella goes for chickpeas - Chickpeas with sorrel, mint and anchovy.

But I am guessing that I am not winning any fans today for something new. But honestly you should try it. Plant some and keep picking it like you would parsley and spinach and silver beet. The big leaves are a bit strong so put them in the compost. The little ones, are the ones you use, and they can be used raw in salads too - in moderation. I think Ottolenghi's yoghurt sauce sounds very tempting, and maybe the soup too.

"This bright green leaf is startlingly, puckeringly sour and lemony, but with a wonderful lightness: it tastes green, it tastes of spring. It's a generous and forgiving plant, both to the cook and to the gardener." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Plant some as soon as you can find some.



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