Long before Steve Brill made hunting for wild foods a thing, since the dawn of our species we’ve been foraging our lands for edibles to survive. (In the eighties, Brill–aka, Wildman– began organizing foraging expeditions in Manhattan. Once he was slapped with a summons for making a meal from Central Park weeds. Minutes after his arraignment, he was offering samples of his Five Park Salad to passerby.)
Extreme? Maybe. But there is something atavistically satisfying about finding or–in my case–growing your own food. Take sorrel. In my small kitchen garden, sorrel (alongside chives and thyme) is one of the first perennials to nose its way up through the cold, damp Michigan spring soil.
Throughout the world, sorrel is both domesticated and found in the wild. The tart, lemony taste finds its way into soups and stuffings and–when the leaves are young and tender–salads. And it’s heavenly when turned into a sauce and served over fish–the fattier fish the better; tart sorrel balances fat so well.
I love it paired with rich meaty lamb–this recipe for Lamb and Eggplant in a Sorrel sauce is a favorite. (The linked recipe for sorrel sauce above would be wonderful atop fish.)
You say you’ve never had a knack for growing veggies; plants wilt when you glance their way? Try sorrel. It’s like the scrawny kid who dons gloves and refuses to go down in a match. Smack it down, it bounces back for more; refuse it water, it thrives. In fact, the abuse seems to make it stronger. With a host of health properties and a lemony pungency that would make the heartiest of veggies blush, sorrel in all its bright glory, is the antidote to winter blah.
So what’s not to like? The color, for one. After it’s subjected to heat, it morphs to the patina of an army tank. That color, however, may be modified by using an equal part of fresh spinach in your favorite recipe, as I did in the recipe below.
Secondly, unless it’s very young and tender, I’d be surprised if you’d enjoy the flavor raw. It would be like eating a bunch of fresh herbs, not something you’d want to do but–as fresh herbs–the addition of sorrel can be the grace note in a recipe. Sauté it in butter with a smidgen of cream to counterbalance that lean, mean tang. Oh la la! Magnifique! The following recipe is my riff on a vichyssoise, which seems appropriate as the French have such a love of the vegetable. A favorite French food blog, Zucchini and Chocolate, lists fifty ways of incorporating sorrel into your recipes. Look for sorrel at your local green market, as I’ve never seen it in traditional grocery stores.