Patti Bess: The sprightly tang of sorrel |

Patti Bess: The sprightly tang of sorrel

Sorrel is easy to grow from seed and is not invasive like other herbs. Patti Bess claims sorrel is the lemon of her vegetable garden adding that extra tang to her recipes.
Photo by David Bess

The lushest plants in my garden are often ones that have been given to me by generous gardener friends. Many years ago a sack full of French sorrel plants appeared at my doorstep with just a comment of “add it to your salads.”

Over the years the number of our favorite sorrel recipes has multiplied. So much so that French sorrel in the herb garden is as much a welcome call to spring as daffodils are in the flower beds.

Sorrel grows easily from seed and is not invasive like other herbs. It grows well at the edge of the garden in slightly drier soil and is also beautiful planted in the midst of other spring delicacies such as: chives, parsley, calendula flowers and daffodils.

A few plants would satisfy the needs of most cooks as clumps of leaves can be harvested without depleting the plant. Sorrel is the lemon of the vegetable garden.

My first experience of Sorrel Soup was in a small delicatessen in New York City when I was “tripping” around in my youth. It brought back memories of eating sour grass as a child.

Perhaps the most familiar use is in Potato Sorrel soup. French chefs have long recognized its acidity as a valuable complement to rich foods — a sprightly tang that lends counterpoint to denser flavors and sauces.

In England it is primarily used in salads. The mild flavor and delicate texture of butterhead lettuce, or a mixture of small young lettuces, makes an ideal background for the more aggressive flavor of the sorrel.

It is also delicious snipped and sprinkled over fresh pasta or as the stuffing for salmon as in the recipe that follows.

Each year we discover new sumptuous recipes. If you don’t have access to sorrel, substitute with spinach or chard and use extra lemon in the recipe. I have seen sorrel at several farmers’ markets in recent years and is easy to grow from seed.

This recipe may look intimidating but is quite easy. It makes a dramatic main dish for special occasions.

Salmon en Croute’ with Sorrel Stuffing

Two salmon fillets, about the same size, equaling 1-11 and a half pounds

2 tablespoons butter

2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

Small bunch of scallions or green onions, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup washed, drained and chopped spinach

2 cups firmly packed, chopped and drained sorrel leaves

3/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup half and half

Salt and fresh pepper to taste

2 tablespoon butter

4 sheets of filo dough

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Run your fingers against the grain of the salmon flesh to find any remaining bones. Pull them out with tweezers or your fingers.

If desired, remove the skin by holding onto the thin end of the fillet and slipping the knife under the skin. (You can also request that the butcher remove it.) Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter and sauté the garlic and scallions until soft but not browned. Add the white pepper, sorrel and spinach; stir over high heat just until most of the moisture (from washing and draining your greens) is evaporated and sorrel is softened, about two minutes.

Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the breadcrumbs and cream; season with salt and pepper.

Melt your second two tablespoons of butter; set aside. Unroll the sheets of filo and brush the slices, one at a time, with the melted butter. Stack them gently on a cookie sheet.

Place one slice of the salmon in the center of the filo. Spread the sorrel stuffing generously along the top of the salmon and then place the other piece of salmon on top. Wrap the salmon with the sheets of filo and fold the edges under; brush with butter.

Bake for 25 minutes. Set aside for five minutes before cutting with a sharp serrated knife. A sawing motion will keep the slices neat. Makes about four servings.

Potato Sorrel Soup

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups chopped leeks, including light green portion

1 pound Russet potatoes, peeled, sliced thin

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh sorrel (about 4 ounces)

1/2 cup cream, milk or unsweetened soy milk

2 teaspoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

3/4 teaspoon white pepper

Fresh ground black pepper

Sorrel leaves for garnish

In a soup pot or large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté until soft but not browned, about four minutes. Add the potato slices and stock or broth.

Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the potatoes are very soft, about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the creme fraiche or sour cream and tomato paste. Whisk in enough milk to make the mixture light and creamy. Set aside.

If necessary, work in batches and transfer the potato/leeks to the blender or food processor. Add the sorrel, and puree until smooth. Return to the stockpot, stir in the cream, and season to taste with the salt and peppers.

Heat over medium heat to serve hot being careful not to boil. Ladle into bowls and add a dollop of the tomato cream to each serving. Swirl the cream into the soup with a wooden skewer or the tip of a sharp knife. Garnish with small sorrel leaves or finely diced chives.

To serve cold, pour into a container and refrigerate, uncovered, until cool, then tightly cover and chill for at least two hours or up to three days.

Before serving, whisk to blend well, then adjust seasonings, if necessary. Ladle into chilled bowls and garnish with a small sorrel leaf. Makes about six first course servings.

Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her features have appeared in more than 20 different magazines. She can be reached at

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