Zingy sorrel soup

Sorrel is one of those herbs that’s not as well known as it should be. It’s easy to grow, will come back year after year and tastes utterly delicious - a sort of zingy, lemon flavour that works just as well in savoury dishes as it does in sweet. If you don’t grow it yourself, (and you should) keep an eye out for wild sorrel in fields and hedgerows, anytime from now onwards. Cinead McTernan, gardening editor shows us how to use sorrel to flavour a soup. Thanks to my brother-in-law, Chef Paul Collins, over the years I’ve picked up some clever tips about using sorrel in soups. I always use the larger, more mature leaves to make soup, leaving the young, tender leaves for salads. I make a simple potato and onion base and add three handfuls of shredded leaves (having removed any tough stalks) at the last moment, blanching them quickly before buzzing up in the liquidiser. All you need is 3-4 potatoes, 2 medium onions - both peeled and diced; 1.5 pints of vegetable stock (or chicken), plenty of seasoning and, of course, sorrel leaves. Using a heavy saucepan, sweat the onion and potato in butter over a gentle heat. Add the stock to the potatoes and onions once they are soft, but not browned, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the sorrel leaves and let them wilt, season well and pour into a food processor. Buzz up until it's a nice smooth consistency and serve with fresh crusty bread.

It has to be said that sorrel does loose its fresh, green colour once it's cooked - I don't mind this as it's so tasty, but if you’re looking to try and keep as much colour in your soup as possible, Paul suggests using young leaves, simply adding them in the liquidiser just as you’re about to blend your soup. They’re so tender the heat of the soup-liquor will be enough to ‘cook’ them.

He also recommends using a handful or two of spinach along with the sorrel leaves to help boost the colour. Don't be tempted to use too much as it will overpower that deliciously fresh, lemony sorrel flavour.

Queen of herbs, Jekka McVicar, has an amazing recipe for sorrel soup in her ‘Herb Cookbook’. It was her grandmother, Ruth Lowinsky’s recipe, who was also a cookery book writer, and was included in her book ‘Food for Pleasure’ published in 1950. The recipe calls for 3 large handfuls of sorrel, a knob of butter (the size of an egg), seasoning and 300ml of chicken stock. I love the additional touch of 2 egg yolks and a tablespoon of milk that’s mixed into the broth just before serving and thinly sliced bread, toasted and broken into ‘crutons’.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Lentil and Sorrel soup is another favourite winter warmer and well worth a try.