I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.
I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.
I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.
I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur. what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!
This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.
See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.
Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.
I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.
I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.
The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.
Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.
Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.
Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.
Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom. It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herb – from old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.
Notice that my bunch is just called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!
And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?
There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.
My friend’s recipe for Sorrel Granita
Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.