Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup Recipe

This soup is divine. I cannot imagine a better way to eat your greens and to feel mom's warm hug at the same time. It is light, with a touch of cream, and a vague saline scent that evokes the sea. I had made a simple sorrel soup once before, a classic French recipe with pureed potatoes, but this time I wanted something lighter, a soup dense with only greens. I bought two bunches of sorrel, a plant with large, delicate, oval-shaped leaves that is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and many minerals, too. Raw and cooked, sorrel tastes a bit sour, almost like the weed we called sour grass that I used to eat out of nearby wooded areas when I was a kid. Those of us who remember playing dodge ball, or kick-the-can out in the suburban street, and then later scavenging for edible wild goodies, pretending to make our own complete meals, might like sorrel raw, on sandwiches, or in salad. But I only had two bunches, and I wanted to use both of them in the soup.

My food coop is an emabarrassment of riches, particularly at spring time. I forced myself from buying large quantities of gorgeous organic produce, knowing I have a limited appetite, hours to cook, and pots to hold my creations. But when I saw the wild stinging nettle, I couldn't resist. Nettle soup is also French, often prepared similarly to the sorrel one, so a combination of the two might work well, I thought. It did. The sourness of the sorrel was mitigated by the nettle, and the soup remained greener than it would have with sorrel alone, as sorrel has a tendency to turn a bit brown during cooking.

The only caveat: be careful with the nettle! It stings. For real. Mine were trimmed and in a bag already, so I simply filled the bag with water to rinse the leaves, drained them, and added them to the pot directly. If you feel you need to trim the woody stems of yours, please use gloves, or you will end up with a painful rash that can last hours.

My husband said this soup reminded him of one his mother used to make when he was a child in Switzerland. She floated a poached egg on top, and hearing that, I saved the last bit in the pot for an experiment today. The only way this soup might top all expectations is with that egg! You may make this dish with only nettle, or only sorrel; you may add those potatoes or the egg (poached, or even hard boiled, sliced, and added as a topping). Experiment. I only hope that farmers' markets everywhere will be selling these greens so that all of you will be as satisfied and blissful as we were this week.

Sorrel and Stinging Nettle Soup

2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 bunches of sorrel, washed of all the sand, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 medium bag of stinging nettle, trimmed and cleaned
6 cups of water or stock
3/4 cup half and half
about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (add slowly, as nutmeg can overpower, but you want the essence of the flavor, so don't skimp, either)
2 teaspoons salt
(eggs, for poaching, if using)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil or butter and saute the onion until translucent, but not brown. Add the garlic, and stir until it turns soft. Add the sorrel and the nettle to the pot, stirring so that it wilts. When it is all wilted, add the water or stock, and bring the soup to a bowl. Lower the heat, and simmer for about ten minutes, making sure the vegetables are cooked. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the half and half, the salt, and the nutmeg, and simmer until all the flavors are combined.

If you are adding the egg, crack it into the simmering soup, and cook it until the white is set.