This week’s CSA proved a bonanza of greens. One find I unearthed I have not used in a while mainly because its not a common herb in my local markets. So there was an excited “woohoo” elicited from me upon its discovery. The plant in question is sorrel, and if you are not familiar with it, you’re missing out.
Common sorrel or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa), is a member of the knotweed family, and native to Europe. Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock. Some confusion surrounds its name with claims that sorrel comes from the French word “surele” meaning sour, and other sources counter claiming its from a Germanic word with the same meaning. Visually, sorrel resembles spinach and its taste has been described as kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries in its young leaves, developing into a more acidic tasting older leaves. Given that it is a relative of rhubarb and buckwheat, you get a sense of its potential tartness. Sorrel gets more acidic as it ages due to the presence of oxalic acid, which actually gets stronger and tastes more prominent.
Cooks treat it as either a vegetable or herb. We had it last night as a salad, perfect with just a touch of olive oil to offset the sour taste of the larger leaves, with many recipes calling for the addition of just a few leaves, much like you would use basil or other leafy herbs.
In northern Nigeria, sorrel is known as yakuwa or sure (pronounced suuray) in Hausa or karassu in Kanuri. It is added to stews along with spinach. In some Hausa communities, it is made into salad using kuli-kuli (roasted peanut cakes), salt, pepper, onion and tomatoes.
In Romania, sorrel, known as măcriş or ştevie, is used in sour soups, stewed with spinach, added fresh to salads or sandwiches.
Hungry for sorrel in Russia and Ukraine? Call it shchavel’ where it is made into soup (shav).
In Hungary this is known as sóska (pronounced Shoshka), or kuzu kulağı (“lamb’s ear”) in Turky, or szczaw in Poland.
Among Northern Sami it is known as juopmu and is traditionally added to reindeer milk as a flavoring and preservative.
In Belgium it is served mixed with mashed potatoes, or incorporated in a traditional dish containing eel and other green herbs.
In Greece it is mixed with spinach, leeks, and chard in spanakopita – that phyllo dough pocket of love!
Young sorrel may be harvested to use in salads, soups or stews. If you are planning on using sorrel in salads, it’s a good idea to stick with small tender leaves that have the fruitier and less acidic taste. Young sorrel leaves are also excellent when lightly cooked, similar in taste to cooked chard or spinach. For soups and stews, older sorrel can be used because it adds zippy tang and flavor to the dish.
Jerry Traunfeld, in the inspiring The Herbfarm Cookbook, offers some great pairings for sorrel: fish, shellfish, salads, eggs, spinach and other greens (hense its popularity in salads)
He also suggests some herb combinations that work well: chives, dill, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, lovage, mint, parsley and tarragon.
Sorrel Onion Tart
Adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison
One batch of your favorite pie crust
4 T butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, mashed
½ tsp salt
8 oz sorrel leaves
2 large eggs
1 c heavy cream
2 oz., Gruyère cheese, grated
Partially prebake the crust and set aside.
Melt 3 T of the butter in a frying pan, add onion and salt. Cover the pan, and slowly stew the until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, trim the stems off the sorrel leaves and roughly slice the leaves. Like spinach and other greens, the leaves are full of water, and the leaves will cook down to almost nothing. Add the last of the butter to a pan and add the sorrel in large handfuls. Cook over low heat until they have wilted, they will also turn an unfortunate grayish-green color, in about 3-4 minutes.
Wish the eggs with the cream, stir in the onion, garlic, sorrel, and half the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the crust and then pour the filling over the top. Bake in the center of the oven until the custard is set and has a nice color about 35 to 40 minutes. Serve while warm.
Nutritional Sound Advice
From a nutritional standpoint, sorrel can be an excellent addition to the plate with its relatively high levels of vitamins A and C. It also includes decent doses of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. But it may not be for everyone because it also has of the oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can aggravate rheumatism, kidney or bladder stones, in some people so if you or your fellow eaters have these ailments, you may want to proceed cautiously with sorrel. Also, like all things it is bets in moderation, and if you forget it wil remind you as it has some laxative properties, that given Murphy’s law will kick in at inopportune times.
Consider the Possibilities
Spicy Sorrel Pesto from Luna Cafe
Sorrel can be challenging to find in your local grocer. It keeps for about three days in the refrigerator. The best place to look for sorrel is in specialty food stores where it may be available fresh, or in pureed or canned options. Fresh is best, but the pureed version adds a nice flavor to creamy soups and pastas. As noted, it does turn a less than attractive color when cooked, so Harold McGee suggests adding some freshly minced sorrel to the cooked dish just prior to serving to improve the color.
You may have heard of sorrel in conjunction with the bright fruity drinks found in the Caribbean. That sorrel is not the same as the sorrel described here. That sorrel is made from the red sepals of the Roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdiariffa), and is not related to the European sorrel.