Appearances to the contrary, this is not a clump of yet-to-bloom dandelions. No, this is one of my favorite herbs, and a hardy, happy denizen of my garden. If you're lucky, this cool-weather herb is also in abundance at your local farmers' market or greengrocer. Never tried it? Well, you should — although, a word of warning: it doesn't taste how you might expect.
What would you expect a tender green leaf like this to taste like? Mildly vegetal, like spinach? Maybe aromatic and herbaceous, like lovage or mint? No, sorrel doesn't taste like any of these. The closest taste to mature sorrel leaves is one you wouldn't expect: A tart, sour green apple.
Sorrel is a very tangy, acidic herb. Its sour taste comes from oxalic acid, which also gives rhubarb its tartness.
This fresh, lemony sourness has been highly prized in cuisines all over the world. Perhaps the most familiar use of sorrel in Western cooking is sorrel soup, which blends it with stock and cream to make a tangy broth — a quintessential spring dish.
Personally, I like sorrel's tangy taste in salads. I take just a few leaves (mature leaves like these are quite sour!) and chop them finely with other herbs and toss them in a green salad. The hint of bright tanginess is wonderful. Sorrel also enlivens potato and grain salads; it's sharper than lemon, and extremely refreshing.
Sorrel is also a lovely garden plant. I popped a small, scraggly sorrel plant into a corner of a garden bed last fall, and the cool fall weather helped perk it up. I forgot to cover it during the wintertime, but when the snows melted, presto — there it was, cool and green. I don't expect it to grow much this summer; sorrel doesn't like heat. But it will produce well this spring and fall.
Do you ever cook with sorrel? Do you ever see it at the farmers' market? If you do, snatch it up and try it in soups and salads. And if you have a garden patch, try planting it too. It's practically a weed; it flourishes in spite of my utter neglect.
Related: (Late) Springtime Soupe au Pistou
(Image: Faith Durand)