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The Sour Power of Sorrel
Copyright by Terese Allen

One of the earliest greens to poke its emerald tips through the ground is lemon-flavored sorrel, an audacious cool-weather plant found in town and country throughout the United States. Sheep sorrel, which typically grows in meadows and fields that have acidic soil, is said to resemble the upturned face of a sheep, with a long, broad head and two ear-like lobes at the base. The leaves of wood sorrel look more like shamrocks, but it has a similar citrusy note.

Consider sowing some sorrel in a corner of your yard, for this hardy perennial requires little to no attention and will bring bracing flavor to meals throughout the growing season. I love to watch the surprise on people’s faces when I offer them a nibble from my sorrel patch. They never suspect that such an innocent-looking sprig could pack so much power.

Another attention-getter is to garnish pan-sautéed or baked fish with small stacks of sorrel chiffonade (i.e. sorrel that has been sliced into very thin strips). Ask you guests if they’d like some lemon with their fish, and when they say “yes, please,” just steer them to the sorrel ribbons on their plate.

 

sorrel

As the sharp-witted member of the greens family, sorrel accents tossed salads beautifully. Or, to make a markedly delicious herb spread, mince some leaves and add them to softened butter. Roll the mixture up into a cylinder in wax paper and refrigerate it for an hour or so. Slice the chilled butter into rounds and use them to top roasted asparagus or grilled steaks.

Sorrel’s bright flavor is just as welcome when it’s cooked. When the plants mature and the leaves thicken, use sautéed sorrel to complement rich foods like duck or smoked fish. Steamed sorrel pureed with a little cream is fantastic on chicken breasts or wild salmon. Unfortunately, there are no tricks for keeping sorrel bright after it cooks; heated, it turns army-green.

But that won’t matter, not after you’ve experienced the tropical tang of sorrel.

Try this recipe for Spring Tabbouleh with Sorrel and Mint.