The three leafed wood sorrel, found throughout Ireland, begins to sprout its delicate white and purple flowers in April and May. It can often be found in shaded spots near the sea and sloping tree-sheltered banks. French or garden sorrel, with its long single leaves and reddish-green flowers (June and July) is that which will be found cultivated but grows wild also and will usually be juicier and with a little less of an acidic kick than wood sorrel. Whatever your source, the recipes below all use sorrel raw, more as a herb than a vegetable, and so will be better suited to the younger, more tender and succulent leaves.
Much of sorrel’s attention down the years has been thanks to its perceived medicinal qualities (as a vegetable or herb it has in fact often been quite disregarded). The prolific 17th century horticulturalist John Evelyn notes its tendency to “sharpen the appetite, assuage heat, cool the liver and strengthen the heart”. As such it helps to make an ideal tonic for a summer’s evening.
You could simmer it in water with some barley for half an hour, strain and infuse with some more sorrel (bashed up with the back of a wooden spoon), honey and lemon zest, leave to cool and then strain again. Or you could simmer some sorrel for twenty minutes in water (no barley) with a little ginger, strain and infuse with more sorrel, brown sugar and few mint leaves.
Garlic, milk and sorrel
If the garlic cloves aren’t pretty fresh, it’s best to cut them in half lengthwise and take out the stem running up the middle – it grows bitter with age. In a pan cover the garlic with milk, bring to a low simmer for five minutes. Strain and repeat with a new batch of milk. And again with another. The garlic should be very tender, if not keep the third simmer of milk going until it is.
Mush to as smooth a paste as you can and season lightly with salt.
If you can find some brilliantly fresh wild salmon it’s a shame not to eat some of it raw. Fillet and skin it at the last minute and slice portions an inch across the width of the fillet. Serve with a spoonful of the milk-poached garlic puree, some sorrel leaves and a drizzle of olive oil – creamy, prickly and fruity.
Carrots, buttermilk yogurt, almonds, chervil and sorrel
If you’re in the habit of making your own yogurt (once you’ve done it is a pretty simple game and, given the price of milk, a pretty cheap one too) and have a good source of buttermilk then bob’s your uncle, but muggle yogurt will certainly be kosher.
Get hold of the best carrots you can find. Wash and peel them, leaving a little of the stalk. Cut the thicker ones in half lengthwise. Steam them until tender. Mix with a little salt and rapeseed oil and let cool to room temperature.
Roast some almonds in a medium oven for fifteen minutes and give them a bash when cooled. When ready then, start with the yogurt on the plate and then the carrot and then a long side the carrots the sorrel and then the chervil – be generous with both. Finish with a little rapeseed oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some ground black pepper.
(A raw quail’s egg yolk does a fine job at bringing all the flavours together, so if you’re preparing the dish in a push-the-boat-out sort of mood then it’ll be worth the effort. Separate them from the egg white, pop them in a oiled dish and into low oven for just a minute of two and then onto the yogurt when you dish up – a yummy dressing will form at the bottom of the plate as you eat – a mingling of the yogurt, rapeseed oil, lemon juice and yolk.)
Honey and brown butter sponge cake with apple, mint and sorrel
For the sponge cake:
175 g butter
175 g honey
175 g flour
1 tbs milk
1 tsp baking powder
Pop the butter in a small pot and heat with the occasional shake until it reaches a nutty brown.
Then pour it from the pot leaving (and then discarding) the milky, dense slightly burnt residue that settles at the bottom. When the butter has cooled to room temperature put it in a mixing bowl and beat it with a spatula. Add the honey (warm it slightly first so that it mixes fine) and continue beating for a couple of minutes. Then, forearm bulging, beat in an egg at a time. Sieve in
the flour and baking powder and stir through gently. When incorporated stir through the milk and then she is ready to bake.
Put into a couple of greased and floured cake tins and bake in a medium hot oven. It’s ready when you push down on it gently with your finger and it springs back up. About 20-25 minutes. Let cool in its tins.
Peel and core some apples and cut them into thumb nail sized cubes. Pop in a pot with about a tablespoon of water per apple, a little vanilla pod and some sugar if the apples are tart. Bring to a simmer and cook gently with a lid on for a quarter of an hour and then with the lid off for ten minutes or so. By which time they should be tender through and they’ll just need a rough mash. Let cool.
Pick out the youngest leaves from a bunch of mint and have your sorrel leaves plunged in ice water and dried.
When ready to eat rip up the cake into random pieces and serve a few pieces of it on each plate alongside the mashed apple and some sorrel and mint leaves.