Cooking with wild edibles

The Sour Power of Sorrel

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One of the earliest greens to poke its emerald tips through the ground is lemon-flavored sorrel, an audacious cool-weather plant found in town and country throughout the United States. Sheep sorrel, which typically grows in meadows and fields that have acidic soil, is said to resemble the upturned face of a sheep, with a long, broad head and two ear-like lobes at the base. The leaves of wood sorrel look more like shamrocks, but it has a similar citrusy note.

Consider sowing some sorrel in a corner of your yard, for this hardy perennial requires little to no attention and will bring bracing flavor to meals throughout the growing season. I love to watch the surprise on people's faces when I offer them a nibble from my sorrel patch. They never suspect that such an innocent-looking sprig could pack so much power.

Another attention-getter is to garnish pan-sauteed or baked fish with small stacks of sorrel chiffonade (i.e. sorrel that has been sliced into very thin strips). Ask you guests if they'd like some lemon with their fish, and when they say "yes, please," just steer them to the sorrel ribbons on their plate.

As the sharp-witted member of the greens family, sorrel accents tossed salads beautifully. Or, to make a markedly delicious herb spread, mince some leaves and add them to softened butter. Roll the mixture up into a cylinder in wax paper and refrigerate it for an hour or so. Slice the chilled butter into rounds and use them to top roasted asparagus or grilled steaks.

Sorrel's bright flavor is just as welcome when it's cooked. When the plants mature and the leaves thicken, use sauteed sorrel to complement rich foods like duck or smoked fish. Steamed sorrel pureed with a little cream is fantastic on chicken breasts or wild salmon. Unfortunately, there are no tricks for keeping sorrel colorful after it cooks; heated, it turns army-green.

But that won't matter, not after you've experienced the tropical tang of sorrel.

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If youíre planning a hunt...

..check with the appropriate authority before setting out. Foraging restrictions vary on public lands, and on private property you must get the ownerís permission. Reference a reputable field guide book, preferably one thatís specific to your region, or apprentice with an experienced hunter. Never eat a wild plant you canít positively identify. And please, donít get greedy: pick only a portion of what you find, to allow the plants to replenish themselves for next year.

In case you can't find enough in the wild or at the market, we've provided substitute ingredients for each recipe.

When you get home, take care to thoroughly clean your cache. Tender greens, especially, should be rinsed well under or in cold water and often require several washings. Dry them in cotton or paper towels and keep them chilled in plastic bags. This will help prevent loss of moisture and vitamins, but not for long--most wild greens decline after a couple of days.

If youíre new to a particular wild edible, make your first serving a small one. As with any food, allergic reactions are rare, but possible.

Finally, whether you gather, grow or purchase the wild foods of spring, get them now, for all too soon, theyíll be gone.


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Plants of the Season


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