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Sweet and sour

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Sorrel means sour. And it is. Bite the herb's bright-green leaf and squinch.

Apparently the plant gets its punch from oxalic acid, which tastes about as startling as it sounds. Sorrel is lemony, tangy and tart. And entirely refreshing.

Not that I knew. So few recipes call for sorrel, and those that do I usually ignore. But somehow sorrel took root among the familiar herbs — the workaday basils and thymes and mints. And then took over.

It starting shooting up, showing off, shouting, classroom-style, "Pick me! Pick me!" It elbowed out the chives, terrified a tomato seedling and just kept on keeping on. Winter did nothing to discourage it. It came back bigger.

Finally I got out the pruning shears and had at it. Leaving a buzz-cut stump and a heap of bright-green leaves. I bit. And squinched.

Which explains sorrel soup. Some daring sorts like to sliver fresh sorrel and toss it in salad or tuck it in fish in lieu of lemon. But most cooks swirl sorrel into soup. The spring classic soothes the herb's bitter bite with broth, butter, cream and potato. Yet keeps the bright flavor (and drab cooked color) of the original. Who wouldn't pick that?

Sorrel Soup

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Serves: 6 as a first course

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 leeks, white and pale green portion finely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large russet potatoes (about 1½ pounds total), peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups chopped fresh sorrel leaves
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream

In a soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add leeks, ½ teaspoon salt and few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 8 minutes. Stir in potatoes.

Pour in broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until potatoes turn tender, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out about half the potatoes. Cover to keep warm and set aside. Stir in sorrel. In 1 minute the leaves will turn from bright green to olive drab. Don't fret. Pull pan off heat.

Drop in remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Use an immersion blender (or, working in batches, a standard blender or food processor) to swirl soup smooth. Add additional salt and pepper if you like. Stir in cream. Reheat, gently. Portion potatoes into 6 soup bowls. Pour on hot soup. Enjoy.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.
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