You can tell that I live in Minnesota, since I am writing about cooking with sorrel in June. In most of the country, spring sorrel has bolted or been eclipsed by the seductions of basil. My sorrel plant, probably a french variety, has been chugging along in the back garden for several years now, and I find that if I keep it trimmed back, it will keep putting out tender leaves into the summer.
Sorrel is an ancient food, and the cultivation of it in France and Italy in the Middle Ages was the beginning of the effort to breed milder, softer sorrel. Tangy as it is today, it must have been a mouth-puckering experience eating the original versions. The name sorrel is in fact derived from the word sour, and it is sometimes called sour grass, and pickled sorrel, called “sour dabs” was fed to English school children well into the 20th century.
I wonder if they liked it. Probably limp, khaki colored and salty-sour, I’m betting it was about as popular as cod-liver oil and canings. Too bad, because sorrel can be a vibrant, delicious herb, in the right hands.
The distinctive taste of sorrel is due to oxalic acid, which is present in much lower concentrations in spinach. Oxalic acid does inhibit the absorption of iron, so veg be aware, and don’t get carried away. Eat your iron foods at another time of day, and make sure to include vitamin C foods to encourage absorption.
So why deal with this puckery, iron-deflective plant? Well, it has some great nutrition, and that flavor is great fun to play with. It’s high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and B9, of all things. Like all greens, it has no fat, and cooks in an instant.
Traditionally, sorrel is paired with fish, because like lemon, the sourness brings out the sweetness. The French puree it to serve as a sauce, or into creamy soups. Creamy sorrel and potato soup is a classic. The tenderness of the leaves also lends itself to raw preparations, so throwing a few leaves into a salad or pesto wakes up the palate with citrusy zing.
For today’s blog, I made up a recipe for Tabouli, using the sorrel instead of the parsley and the lemon-replacing two ingredients with one. I also used Freekeh instead of bulghar. Freekeh (pronounced Freak-uh, not super freakay) is a delicious Mediterranean whole grain. It is immature, green wheat that has been pre-roasted, parcooked and then dried. It is available partially cracked or in whole form, and I used the partially cracked version. It is like a smoky, chunky version of bulghar, and it is worth seeking out. You can use bulghar in the recipe, if you can’t get freekeh.
Serves 2 as a side, can become a main course with the addition of a cup of cooked garbanzos or a handful of toasted shelled pistachios. Make sure you wash the sorrel really carefully-grit can hide in the leaves.
1/2 cup cracked freekeh
1 cup water
1 cup (gently packed) sorrel leaves, ribs removed
1 cup fresh mint leaves, also gently packed
1 lage clove garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, lots of cracked black pepper
1/2 cup diced seedless cucumber
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives or scallions (my chive plant is right next to the sorrel, parsley and mint)
In a small saucepan with a lid, bring the freekeh and water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Check in 10, if your burner doesn’t go low enough, it may have boiled off the water too quickly. Just add more, cook for the 20, and then let stand for 10 to absorb. If there is extra water in the pan, drain the grain. Cool to room temp.
In a food processor, put the sorrel, mint and garlic. Process to mince finely, scraping down and processing again. Add the oil and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Pour over the cooled grain. Add the cuke, tomatoes and chives or scallions, and toss to mix.