Sorrel Is the Lemon of the Vegetable World

published Jun 8, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Sorrel is forest green and grassy in color, but it is all yellow and citrus in taste. Wild or cultivated, this so-called weed has a wonderful, sharp lemony flavor (thanks to oxalic acid in its leaves). It is packed with nutrients, and has more assertive and bright character than you might find in more common greens.

If you aren’t cooking with sorrel, I strongly recommend you start.

Young, small-leafed sorrel is all ready to eat raw. Its tartness and mellow acidity makes for a lovely salad. The piquancy increases in strength with age, so you may want to cut large, more mature leaves into thin ribbons for raw preparations or simply reserve them for cooking. Remove thick stems either way.

Large, mature leaves are best when cooked — excellent with butter, eggs, cream, Gruyère, potatoes, spilt peas, sweet onions, lentils, and rice. You can wilt sorrel like spinach and sauté it in butter, braise it, blanch it, or steam it. Combine sorrel with shallots and cream to make a sauce or add it to soups and stews.

Look for sword-shaped French or garden sorrel (the most common varieties of cultivated sorrel) at farmers markets and specialty produce shops. Keep an eye out for red sorrel with green leaves and red veins, as well as some types of wild sorrel.

It is worth noting that sorrel is also quite easy to grow, making it an excellent addition to any edible garden. It has a weed-like nature that is almost unfazed by harvest. With lemon on board, sorrel will just keeping growing back for more.

Sorrel Tip: Sorrel turns a drab, army green when cooked. If looks concern you, add some spinach to brighten the dish with color.

The Vegetable Butcher’s Top 10 Ways to Cook with Sorrel

1. Wilted

Saute sorrel in butter (and shallots, if you wish). Steam sorrel until it wilts and drizzle with olive oil. Finish with flaked sea salt.

2. Creamed “Spinach”

Add sorrel to creamed spinach or replace spinach with it completely.

3. Sorrel and Cream Sauce

Simmer a couple minced shallots in 1/2 cup to 1 cup cream for about 3 minutes. Drop in 20 to 25 chopped sorrel leaves (thick stems removed) and cook, stirring until the sorrel melts into the cream, about 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon. Purée the sauce. Toss it with pasta or potato gnocchi along with asparagus, green garlic, peas, and parmesan cheese; or pair sorrel and cream sauce with fish.

4. Sorrel and Potato Gratin

Sauté chopped sorrel leaves in butter until they are just wilted. Layer thinly sliced potatoes and sorrel leaves in a gratin dish, season with salt and pepper, and repeat one or two times. Pour a combination of milk and a little cream to just barely cover the potatoes. Sprinkle Gruyere or parmesan cheese over the top and bake at 400°F until the potatoes are tender and the cheese bubbles and lightly browns.

5. Sorrel Soup

Sauté aromatics and a diced potato in butter, then simmer them in vegetable stock until soft; stir in sorrel for the last few minutes of cooking. Purée the mixture with a touch of cream or butter, and garnish the soup with a pinch of smoked paprika and a dollop of crème fraîche.

6. Stuffed Vegetables

Use sorrel like you would spinach or Swiss chard in a stuffing for vegetables. Sauté onion and garlic until soft and fragrant, and stir in chopped sorrel until it wilts. Combine with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Stuff vegetables like onions, mushrooms, and zucchini with the filling. Top with grated Parmesan, mozzarella, Gruyere, or Taleggio.

7. Salad with Sweet Fruit

Toss young and tender sorrel leaves with other greens, or serve it on its own with a creamy vinaigrette and sweet stone fruits, cheese (like feta or goat cheese), and toasted nuts.

8. Smoothie

Add sorrel to smoothies, especially if you can’t keep up with the sorrel in your garden.

9. Risotto

Add sorrel to a spring-inspired risotto toward the end of cooking, just allowing it to wilt. Slice it into very fine ribbons to garnish the dish with olive oil and cheese.

10. Sorrel and Leek Frittata or Tart

Cook thinly sliced leeks in butter until they are tender and lightly browned; stir in sorrel until it wilts. Combine the mixture with whipped egg, a touch of cream (if you wish), salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture into a Dijon mustard-brushed tart shell (for a tart), or an oil-brushed cast iron skillet (for a frittata). Bake the tart or frittata at 350°F until it just sets in the middle. As a variation, add potatoes, mushrooms, or any other vegetables you wish.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)