When I was a kid, I regularly helped out my mom in the kitchen and one of my main tasks was to run out back to the garden and pick what she needed to make dinner. One spring day she asked me to go pick sorrel for a soup she was making. I didn’t know what it was so she took me to the garden and showed me a few places where it grew. She ripped off a leaf for me to taste. I loved it immediately. The leaves were oddly juicy and when biting into it, I got a burst of tart, bright green flavour. We cut off a big bunch for the soup and a smaller bunch for me to snack on.
After that spring introduction, I would go out back and look for more sorrel to nibble on. I tried to remember where my mom showed me the sorrel grew but all I could remember that it was a bit willy-nilly: a batch by the air conditioner and another batch across the yard by the big clump of irises. I guess she tucked them in wherever there was some space. The haphazard planting and the unremarkable leaf of the sorrel (just oblong and green – could be mistaken for a weed) didn’t make it easy for me to find. I rummaged around the air conditioner, by the irises and then everywhere around the yard, picking anything remotely that looked like an oblong, green sorrel leaf and giving it a taste. It wasn’t anywhere. I went back into the house and asked my mom where she planted it in the backyard. She said by the air conditioner unit (aha – my memory was right!) but then she added that it’s done for the year and it grows only in the spring. Oh no. I didn’t tell her that I had just spent the last half hour sampling every random green leafed plant and weed in the back yard. That was a bit disconcerting but I was more upset that I had to wait until the next year to taste sorrel again.
In Ukrainian, sorrel is called shchav or kvasok (which is what my mom calls it). This spring I bought a big bunch of sorrel at Starsky’s, an amazing, giant Polish grocery store in Toronto. It’s also called shchav in Polish if you need to track it down at a Polish grocery. Starsky’s was the only place to have it after trying every farmers market and grocery store in Toronto’s west end. I once found a ‘live’ sorrel, the kind that grows in its own container with the roots still attached. That sorrel would be good for salads but I wouldn’t recommend it for soup. The citrus tang was undeveloped and the leaves were too tender for soup.
Some recipes for sorrel soup call for more vegetables. I don’t want this to be a vegetable soup; I like for sorrel to take center stage. Aside from the sorrel, the only vegetables are a few aromatics and a couple of potatoes for a bit of substance.
Ukrainian Sorrel Soup
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, small dice
1 carrot, small dice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 celery ribs (whole)*
8 cups stock (homemade or good quality, low sodium chicken stock)**
2 white potatoes, medium dice
8 cups loosely packed, chopped sorrel leaves
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
4 hardboiled eggs, diced
handful of dill, chopped
*I don’t like chopped celery in my soup. I add it whole to the pot so it can impart its flavour but is easily retrieved once it has done its duty.
**homemade soup stock made with pork would be great for this. That’s what my mom uses. She never thinks to use purchased stock. To be honest, I don’t even think she knows what that is.
Melt butter in a medium sized pot over medium low heat. Add the onion, carrot and stalks of celery to the pot. Once the onion is translucent, add the minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the soup stock.
Turn up the heat to medium high and bring the soup to a boil. Add the potatoes. Turn down the heat to low and partially cover the pot with a lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Remove the celery stalks. Add the sorrel leaves and cook for about five minutes or a bit less. In a small bowl or cup, blend the sour cream and flour well. Add a small ladle of soup to the sour cream mixture and blend well. Pour the sour cream mixture into the soup pot. Turn up the heat a bit and bring the soup to a light boil for a few minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and add the hardboiled egg and fresh dill on top.