Monday, June 18, 2007


This big bunch of red-ribbed leaves caught my eye yesterday at the stand of Jean-Louis and Katy, whose organic produce at the Cours Saleya market is consistently fresh and beautiful. I thought it might be a kind of chicory, or perhaps baby beet leaves, but Katy told me matter-of-factly that it was a type of sorrel. "You eat it raw, in salads," she said.
I previously knew sorrel only as a big, slightly floppy green leaf that loses its vivid color as soon as it comes into contact with heat. I love it for its lemony tang, particularly in my simplified version of the Troisgros classic saumon à l'oseille (I promise to share the recipe here one of these days), but have always watched in despair as the bright-tasting leaves turn a muddy green. Not only was this ruby variety even prettier than ordinary sorrel, it didn't involve any aesthetic compromise. There was only one bunch left so I grabbed it before any sharp-eyed chefs came along.
At home, I nibbled on a leaf and recognised the sharp taste of sorrel, without the tooth-stripping feeling that comes from a high concentration of oxalic acid (this is what makes it hard to eat garden variety sorrel raw). I had a few of Pierre's multicolored tomatoes left and decided to use the sorrel as a lemony accent in another salad of tomato chunks, this time with grassy Baux-de-Provence olive oil and a very small splash of balsamic vinegar. I'm not a big believer in using balsamic vinegar indiscriminately, but here I felt that its sweetness would balance the sorrel's tart quality. A good sprinkling of fleur de sel and my simple but refreshing salad was complete.
I'll be mixing the rest of the sorrel in with other young salad greens and perhaps cutting it into thin strips to garnish a soup - I know it's summer, but I think that anytime is a good time to eat soup. There is so much left that I might even try cooking with it, just to see if the leaves can retain some of their gorgeous color.


Susan said...

So striking and perfect, they look like they're made of fabric. Have only known sorrel as the key ingredient of schav, so this is a pleasant novelty. Let's see if I can find it in our markets.

Roisin said...

Hi Rosa, interesting that this type of sorrel has similar colouring to rhubarb - I recently learned that the two are related, which makes sense, when you compare their tastes. But why can you eat sorrel leaves and not rhubarb leaves?

Rosa said...

Hi Susan, I wasn't familiar with shav, but it sounds delicious! Yes, I thought these leaves were particularly beautiful. Good luck with your search!

Roisin, I didn't know that sorrel and rhubarb were related. This sorrel had very thin red stalks - almost rhubarb-like, but on a miniature scale. Er, hope these sorrel leaves aren't poisonous!

Wendy said...

Please do let us know what else you do with the sorrel.
This is my first year of growing food and I planted sorrel purely because you can't get it in the shops here. It will be ready to harvest very soon and I have no idea what to do with it other than put it in salads!

Roisin said...

I think my brother told me about the sorrel-rhubarb connection, and I also think now that it must be the oxalic acid in the rhubarb leaves that makes them bad for you - perhaps it's in much higher concentrations that in sorrel? I've been focussing on rhubarb lately because we went to an abandoned farmhouse in Saskatchewan last week that still had rhubarb growing in the yard - it was probably planted 60 years ago! We picked some and it was so delicious. I must look for sorrel too - it grows quite well in Manitoba, much like rhubarb does!

Rosa said...

Roisin, according to the site, it's not quite clear why rhubarb leaves are poisonous but it may be a combination of oxalates and anthraquinone glycosides, whatever those are. Speaking of rhubarb, I bought a few stalks at the market here for €4 the other day - can you imagine, €1 a stalk?!

Wendy, this is from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book: "Sorrel comes half-way between vegetables and flavouring. A few chopped leaves can be added to a green salad for zest. A larger quantity can be cooked down to fill omelettes, like spinach, or to make soups and sauces. The best-known of French sorrel soups is made purely of sorrel and water, with an enriching finale of egg yolks and cream. In other soups it proves an accent to sharpen several milder vegetables, or blends in with a collection of leaves from parsley to lettuce."

My favorite, though, is really saumon à l'oseille, and I won't forget to publish the recipe here!

Lucy said...

Neve seen it like this - must try to find the seeds in a catalogue somewhere. Love the blood-red veins against the green of the leaves.

Rosa said...

Lucy: It's beautiful, isn't it? The same beauty as red-ribbed chard, only much more delicate.