Spring bursts with edible greens everywhere. Baby lettuces, chives, wild onions and garlic (ramps), fiddlehead ferns, infant spinach, arugula, dandelions and more dandelions, and herbs. A treasure of early spring in countries around the world is the short-lived wild dock, or hardy sorrel, frequently used in salads (despite its acidic edge), sauces and soup. Sorrel soup, also known as “green soup” or “green borscht,” is most at home in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, where it’s practically a national dish.
Fresh sorrel, available now, is tastiest—the younger the more tender—though older sorrel can be minced and pre-cooked before adding to recipes. The herb toughens as it ages. It can be grown in pots, but it can also be frozen, and is available canned. The fresh herb has the brightest end result, of course. Once cooked, the green has an olive or avocado hue.
Sorrel soup can be served hot or cold, clear or creamed, vegetarian (even vegan) or not—depending on the broth—light or hearty. Traditionally, it’s served with diced potatoes and quartered hard-boiled eggs, with or without a garnish of croutons. The first time I tasted it was in a popular brick-columned corner pierogi restaurant in Warsaw that served this unique soup with a mound of sour cream (to soothe the oxalic acid) as a precedent to its main ouvres: a zillion kinds of homemade pierogi. It was the coldest of European winters. I’d planned to deliver Duchess, a show cat, to Polish breeders in April. I wanted to take my daughters for their birthdays, but February was the only time Donna could go. Donna and Lisa went sightseeing; I huddled in bistros; together we shopped for Baltic amber, and I helped settle Duchess in her new home. The restaurant my Polish friends introduced to me froze quantities of the herb during peak season for their regular customers. Fortunately, my women friends ordered it for me. The hot bowl thawed my fingers, while the soup warmed me from the inside out; the grassy color took the gray right out of the bitter day.
This is probably one of the easiest soups you can make. Basically, it requires only three ingredients: water or broth, sorrel, and salt. You then create on this essence with other greens, vegetables, spices, egg yolks, cream, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, sour cream, and more. I’ve thought of creating something similar to Chinese hot and sour soup, building on the natural vinegary flavor of the sorrel. Since it’s an herb that is used by many ethnicities from Africa to the Orient to the Slavic nations to Scandinavia, the adaptations must be numerous. Don’t you just love to play with your food? Here’s your chance!
Sorrel looks rather like spinach, with its elongated leaves on tall sturdy stems and red frills. It also flowers, so it’s a pretty plant as well as a useful one. (Butterflies, by the by, love it.) Try treating it as you would spinach, or in combination with other dark vitamin-packed leafy greens.
We’ll start with a very basic sorrel soup:
In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 cups water, a few sliced carrots and a handful of chopped parsley. Add some peeled and diced potatoes and a bay leaf. Salt to taste, taking into consideration that the potatoes will absorb quite a bit of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
In a large pan, saute about 3-cups (packed) chopped sorrel in a generous amount of butter for about 10 minutes. (I prefer to sweat it, rather than sauteeing, so it doesn’t brown.) Put the soup through a colander and set the vegetables aside. Add the sorrel (and the vegetables, if you like) to the hot broth and serve, topped with halved of hard-boiled eggs and/or croutons and a dash of coarsely ground pepper.
OR: Separate the broth from the vegetables, add the buttered sorrel then, with a small whisk, blend sour cream and some flour, then slowly add hot broth, ladle by ladle, whisking constantly (or stirring, as you would a risotto or hot liquid to beaten eggs) so the mixture doesn’t separate. This is called “tempering.” Once the mixture is smooth, stir it into the hot soup. Simmer, while stirring, until the broth thickens. Adjust the seasonings, garnish and serve,
OR: Heat and slice kielbasa. Place in the bottom of each soup bowl. Proceed as above. Pour the soup over the sausage with or without the vegetables. This works best with the vegetable soup rather than the creamy version, though it will be a bit more tart, since it’s the sour cream that breaks down the oxalic acid.
AND: Cool the broth, sans vegetables. Liquify the cold broth with minced sorrel in the blender with your choice of seasonings. Garnish and serve the clover-green soup chilled. (I thought, on a warm spring day, to dice an English cucumber—no seeds-—stir into the soup with a dash of cumin, garnish with more cucumber and chopped yellow pear tomatoes: a pretty twist on gazpacho?)
There is one more recipe that makes a very rich soup, a bit more trouble, but a big impression. Sweat a small minced onion in a tablespoon of butter until translucent. Add about 3-cups (packed) fresh sorrel plus a large pinch of sea salt and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add a heaping tablespoon of flour and cook five minutes, making a white roux. Slowly add, while stirring, 6 cups boiling hot chicken or vegetable stock. Season to taste. Meanwhile, beat 2 large egg yolks with 1 cup heavy cream. Gently pour about a cup of the stock into the egg and cream mixture to temper it before adding it back into the soup. Do not boil! Keep the heat just high enough for the soup to simmer. Add a generous hunk of butter to gloss the soup. Sprinkle with chopped chives or the tops of green onions to serve. Yoghurt or sour cream is a nice finishing touch.