If you could cross baby spinach with lemon, you’d get something like sorrel. It brightens salads, sauces and omelets, but best of all makes a marvel of a soup. And nothing captures the flavor and simple pleasures of the French countryside like this dish: French Sorrel Soup.
Remarkably fast and easy to make, this elegant, tangy soup goes from zero to the table in less than 15 minutes. No potatoes, no aromatics, no cream. An egg yolk swirled in at the end adds a bit of richness, and some toasted bread served in the bowl gives it depth.
The hardest part might be finding the main ingredient. Popular throughout Europe, sorrel is rarely seen in American supermarkets. Fortunately, it grows like a weed. Dan, Recipephany’s Director of Farm-to-Table Sustainability, planted a seedling from a local garden shop this spring. It has flourished, fueling a constant supply of soup. A perennial, it might even survive the winter.
A Taste of the French Alps
Our first resplendent spoonful of sorrel soup came as we finished Day 5 of our six-day hike along the famous GR5 trail in the glorious French Alps. Famished, we reached our stopover, a picturesque bed and breakfast in the tiny hamlet of Plampinet à Névach. Our hosts Fabienne and Jean-Pascal sat us down for an early dinner when they saw we couldn’t hold out until the traditional 8 PM meal hour.
Out came the first course, this stunningly delicious “soupe à l’oseille.” Our hosts spoke little English, but we learned that “l’oseille” meant the sorrel from their kitchen garden. The next morning we continued on the trail, wishing we’d snagged the recipe.
At home, we found recipes for complicated, cream-doused versions—not quite the deliciously simple soup served in the mountains. Finally, along came a classic French cookbook to save the day.
Tante Marie’s French Kitchen and Charlotte Turgeon
Tante Marie wrote the bible for French home cooking, La Véritable Cuisine de Famille par Tante Marie, first published in 1903. Generations of French families turned to “Tante Marie” for the basic and simple dishes that made French cooking famous.
The English version of “Tante Marie” arrived in America in 1949 as Tante Marie’s French Kitchen, translated and adapted by Charlotte Turgeon. And there—in a copy we stumbled across at a library sale—we found this timeless recipe for French Sorrel Soup.
And we also discovered a new hero: Charlotte Turgeon.
At Smith College, young Charlotte became friends with classmate Julia Child. Coincidentally, they both pursued careers writing about French food. But Charlotte discovered her passion for the cuisine well before Julia did. In fact, in 1937, Charlotte graduated from the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school in France, several years before Julia ever set foot in Paris or took her first bite of Queen of Sheba Cake. Years later, Julia also attended Cordon Bleu.
In 1961, Julia’s debut cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking appeared, as did Charlotte’s English translation of Larousse Gastronomique, the massive culinary encyclopedia authored by the chef Prosper Montagné in 1938. This world-renowned resource contained the first and last words in French cooking—and all the words in between.
So, were they rivals? Quite the opposite.
According to Charlotte’s obituary (Boston Herald, October 11, 2009), the lifelong friends never competed. In fact, Julia would look to Charlotte for advice. “They were great pals and much more so as time went on, and did not see each other as competitors,” said her son Charles. Charlotte died five years after Julia, at the age of 97.
So give this classic French Sorrel Soup a try. It comes from the woman who brought French cooking to America well before the famous Julia. And helped us bring home the real taste of France.
Tante Marie’s French Sorrel Soup from Charlotte Turgeon
- 1½ cups sorrel leaves
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken bouillon, water, or stock
- ¾ teaspoon salt (if needed)
- 1 egg yolk
- Pieces of stale or toasted bread
- Chop the sorrel leaves and place them in a heavy pot over a low ﬂame until the leaves wilt and some of the water evaporates.
- Add the butter and when it is melted add liquid and salt. Bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes.
- Beat the egg yolk slightly. Add a little soup to the yolk, stirring constantly, and then add the egg mixture to the soup. Do not let the soup boil after the egg has been added. Pour over the bread and serve.
Sorrel Soup with Rice (Potage au riz à l’oseille): After Step 2, add 4 tablespoons of well-washed rice and simmer 30 minutes. Finish by thickening with egg.
Sorrel Soup with Vermicelli (Vermicelle à l’oseille): After Step 2, add 4 tablespoons of broken vermicelli and simmer 15 minutes. Finish by thickening with egg.