Sorrel is the name for a variety of leafy greens that are often available at farmers' markets, especially in the spring or summer. It can be used in salads, stir frys, marinades, soups, and casseroles. It pairs well with fish, as well as cream, yogurt, and cheese.
What Is Sorrel?
Sorrel is a leafy green plant, use alternately as an herb and a vegetable, with a distinctive sour, lemony flavor. It's from the knotweed family, or Polygonaceae, the same botanical family as buckwheat and rhubarb. It also goes by the name "dock."
Varieties of Sorrel
There are several varieties of sorrel people consume and that may be for sale at farmers markets.
- Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the one most readily available at markets and nurseries for planting. It is a deep-rooted perennial that will last for years and years if it finds a spot it likes. It has a sharp flavor and somewhat large, arrow-shaped leaves.
- French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is also cultivated, so you'll see it at markets sometimes. It has a milder flavor than does common sorrel, with smaller and more rounded leaves.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) has, as you may have already guessed, deep red veins running through its leaves. It has a very mild, almost un-sorrel-like flavor with very little of the tartness usually associated with this plant. It does stand out in a salad.
- Sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) grows wild in much of the United States. It is about as sour as common sorrel, but with smaller leaves. It is foraged rather than cultivated.
What Does It Taste Like?
Sorrel has a remarkably bright and tart flavor. Many people liken its taste to lemons, which is likely due to its sour flavor. It can be tricky to work with since that lemony flavor is mixed with a deep grassy flavor.
Cooking With Sorrel
Sorrel falls straight between herbs and greens. Use it as a leafy herb, like parsley or basil or mint, chopping it up to use in marinades and dressings or stirring it into soups or casseroles for a bit of fresh flavor. Or, use it as a green, ripping the tender leaves into salads and stir-fries.
The tart and bright flavor of sorrel make it particularly good at adding some life to potatoes, eggs, and whole grains. It is also delicious with smoked or oily fish like salmon or mackerel. Sorrel is classically paired with cream, sour cream, or yogurt. This adds a vibrant green color and tartness to these plain items as their fatty creaminess tames the sharp flavor of the sorrel.
Sorrel is also a great addition to other cooked greens. Add a handful or two when you cook spinach, chard, or kale for a lovely sour kick.
Recipes With Sorrel
Sorrel is one of those ingredients that's so rare, it's not likely to be thrown at you in a recipe where you didn't see it coming. You're far more likely to buy some sorrel and then go looking for recipes for what to do with it.
Still, if you do run across a recipe with sorrel in it and you want to find a substitute, you could simply add some lemon juice or lemon zest. Mustard greens, arugula, rhubarb, and even spinach, along with a squeeze of lemon juice, can also stand in for sorrel.
Where to Buy Sorrel
Look for sorrel in spring and summer at farmers markets and some specialty stores. This unique herb can be terribly difficult to find. If you have trouble finding it, ask at your local market. If there is no demand, farmers may not bring it to sell.
If you're going to use it within a day or two, simply keep sorrel loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge. For longer storage, rinse it clean, pat it dry, and roll the leaves up in paper towels before putting them in the plastic. The paper towels will sop up any excess liquid, keeping the leaves at once dry but in a damp-enough environment. Learn how to wash and store greens if you are planning to use them frequently.
If you find yourself with more sorrel than you can use, cook the leaves in a bit of butter until they wilt and fall apart. The final result will be like a sorrel puree. Freeze this purée to add to soups or stews for a taste of spring in the dead of winter.