by Leda Meredith
I pass through the Grand Army Greenmarket on my way into Prospect Park. A heap of beautiful French sorrel leaves for sale catches my eye. Their pleasantly sour, lemony flavor is so good with seafood, steamed vegetables, or in soup. I’m not buying though – don’t need to. Every park, community garden, and brownstone backyard (except for the shadiest) in Brooklyn has one of the wild sorrels growing in it.
The most common variety is yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta (other Oxalis species are also edible). Often mistaken for clover, this diminutive plant has leaves with three heart-shaped leaflets, small yellow flowers, and seed pods that look like fairy okra (for a very tiny fairy). Oxalis loves to grow where it gets plenty of sunlight, but I find that plants growing in partial sunlight have the most tender leaves.
When harvesting wood sorrel, gently strip the upper leaves, immature seedpods and flowers off the stems. All of these are edible and delicious, but I find the lower stems to be too stringy to be good.
The other wild sorrel we’ve got in BK is sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella. This one is closely related to the cultivated French sorrel I saw for sale at the farmers’ market. The leaves have an identical arrow shape, but much smaller – often no more than an inch long. Sheep sorrel also loves sun, and often grows amidst the grass in lawns. Like wood sorrel, though, I find bigger, tender leaves where the plants also get a little shade.
Any recipe that uses cultivated sorrel can be made with one of the wild sorrels. If you’re using sheep sorrel, you can skip the part of the recipe instructions that calls for stripping away tough midribs from the leaves. I’ve yet to find a sheep sorrel leaf that was big enough to have a tough midrib.
Sorrel Sauce for Seafood or Cooked Vegetables
Serves 2, recipe can be multiplied
1 Pint wood sorrel or sheep sorrel leaves
2 Tbsp. Butter or olive oil
Melt the butter over low heat in a medium pot. Add the sorrel and stir until the sorrel leaves are wilted (note: they will lose their bright green color as they wilt, but the flavor will still be great).
Spoon the sauce over the seafood or cooked veggies of your choice.
Sorrel Sauce is also the base for the soup below. It can be frozen for up to six months, a nice way to preserve the summery flavor of these plants.
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course
1 Recipe Sorrel Sauce, above
1 Quart chicken or vegetable stock
¾ lb. Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
Make the sorrel sauce using the recipe above.
Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are mushy-tender. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.
Puree with an immersion blender or regular blender. Add a little more stock or water if it is thicker than you like. Return to the pot over medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or chilled.
Sorrel pairs especially well with a nicely chilled Sauvignon Blanc!
Leda Meredith is the author of The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. She is the Gardening Program Coordinator for Adult Education at the New York Botanical Garden and an instructor specializing in edible and medicinal plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Info on her many upcoming classes and events can be found on her blog at www.ledameredith.com