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I dropped by our community garden patch a couple days ago and discovered some encouraging signs of life. The collards were flush with fresh growth, the surviving kale plant had put out a beautiful spray of new leaves, and the arugula and spinach sprouts were up and thriving despite recent cold nights. There was not, however, a single fava bean plant in sight. Hopefully I messed up and planted too early, since favas represent the entirety of my nitrogen reclamation strategy.

Anyway, I dug around a bit then wandered down past the food bank plots to see what was coming up in the herb garden. Behind the toolshed I spotted a few clumps of bright young sorrel in that show-stopping shade of green you only see in early spring. I knelt down and sampled a young leaf; it was lemony, with a pleasant mineral taste. I would be making breakfast for my friend Alice the following morning, so I plucked a handful of leaves to cook with.

Problem was there aren’t many ways to do sorrel at breakfast. I was happy to identify even one, in Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm cookbook. Eventually I fixed on a plan of poached eggs with chives from the garden, lox, sorrel wilted with cream, and freshly baked bread with plum jam, from a friend whose tree drops bushels of rosy yellow fruit every summer. Not bad for a meal based on a sour little leaf, eh?

Well, I woke early to start the bread and prep the ingredients, then fired up the cast iron skillet. The sorrel wilted quickly — to a deathly gray color. Later I read that this is just what sorrel does, which may be one reason you don’t hear much about it. Another reason may be the leaves’ super tart, puckery flavor, which we found to be a wonderful match nonetheless for rich runny egg yolks and silky salmon. I’d think this stuff would taste great with grilled or roasted fish.

Which means we could use a seasonal supply to experiment with. Sorrel reportedly grows well in shady spots, of which we’ve got plenty (shade, that is) and is supposed to spread prolifically with little assistance. That’s exactly my kind of food, though I tried growing some last year and slugs mowed down all of the seedlings. If I can get the plants to adolescence this time around, I’m thinking we’ll be home free.

Sorrel Wilted in Cream

4 cups sorrel leaves, chopped / 1 shallot, sliced thinly / ½ tbls butter / ¼ cup cream, or to taste / salt & pepper

Heat 1 tsp vegetable oil and the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute shallot until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add sorrel, stir a few times, then turn down heat and cook until wilted, 3-4 minutes. Stir in cream, reduce slightly, season with salt and pepper, and bring to the table with eggs and lox. Serves 2. Adapted from the fabulous Jerry Traunfeld.

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