Last year I had to limit vegetable gardening in anticipation of the interstate move. I knew that my garden boxes will need to turn into flower beds mid summer, so I only planted lettuces, sorrel, and garden peas and didn’t bother maintaining them. The weather switched from very cold to very hot without any transition, and many of my seedlings didn’t take it well. I checked them off as dead and got busy with the move. But to my amazement salad greens that looked sickly and weak came back with the vengeance, and by mid summer I didn’t know what to do with all the lettuces and sorrel. I let lettuces bolt, and by August we had a true lettuce forest, waist high. While lettuce became merely a feast for the eyes after certain point, sorrel kept carrying on happily and was used for salads.
In spring, I purchased some scallions at a local market. While the green parts were used for salad, white parts looked way too robust and the roots looked quite intimidating to be tossed in a composter, so I decided to experiment with them a bit and see if they would come back after being chopped down to three-inch stumps. So I literally just stuck them into the garden box and covered with straw. Exceeding all expectations, they soon paid back with vigorous and plentiful shoots of scallion greens which we happily harvested all summer.
The fall came, and it was time to move. I chopped down the enchanted lettuce forest, ripped out all of the remaining weeds, planted some chrysanthemums, and my vegetable garden was no more. The final good-byes were said, and off we went.
We came back around Thanksgiving to check on our house and found two cheerful mounds of sorrel and nine bushy scallion bunches peeking from one of the flower beds. I plucked those and used them in a salad then. Last week, we went back again, to find sorrel and scallions stronger than ever.
This time there was enough sorrel to make one of my favorite soups — the green borscht, a.k.a. green schti or, as dubbed by some of my gastronomically challenged family members, borscht with rags. However you want to call it, it’s a wonderfully refreshing thing, warm or cold. Some may find its delicate texture unusual (hence the “rags” name), but true connoisseurs know it’s not just all about the texture. It is about juicy robust bunches of spring greens chopped and cooked minimally to preserve the vitamins. It is all about freshness, it is all about sorrel.
Sorrel is scarce here in the U.S. You are lucky if you find it in a grocery store, but your local farmer market may save the day, and you may find sorrel bunches there mid spring. It’s a tart, light green weed packed with vitamins and pleasing to your taste buds. It works great in salads or as garnish; it complements oily fish nicely. It’s a thirst quencher if chewed on just raw. If you have a vegetable garden, find some room and tuck in a seedling or two between your other veggies, and this easy going green will reward you time and time again. It will overwinter in mild weather.
The secret to the soup is minimal cooking time and correct seasoning. You also need to put things in a pot in right order. Other than that, it’s the simplest soup to make on a sunny afternoon. When chilled or served at room temperature with some chopped cucumbers and dill, there is nothing more refreshing.
Some traditional recipes call for beef stock as a base and some chunks of meat added in the end for substance, but that would mean that the soup could not be enjoyed cold, which is one of the best things about it. In my family, we never made it with meat. Whisked eggs and milk were added in the end for thickening the soup.
Here is the What and How, for this batch:
- 3 quarts of water
- 6 medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 large bunch of sorrel, about 3 full cups when chopped
- 2 large bunches of scallions, about 3 full cups when chopped
- 1 large bunch of spinach or any other dark leafy greens, about 3 full cups when chopped, I used leaves of rainbow chard.
- 3-4 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1-1/2 tbsp coarse salt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- fresh ground black pepper
- sour cream
- finely chopped dill
- fresh cucumber diced
- crumbled feta cheese (optional)
Bring water in a soup pot to a boil. Toss in potato cubes and cook for about 10-12 minutes, until almost done.
Chop scallions, not too finely (see picture). Add them to the pot and cook for a few minutes, until start losing color.
Chop the dark leafy greens first, not too finely, and add to the pot. Cook 2-3 minutes.
Chop sorrel last, not too finely, and add to the pot.
Stir the soup, and remove from heat as soon as you see sorrel losing its color – which will happen almost immediately.
Whisk the eggs and milk together. Pour the egg mix in thin and steady stream into the pot, constantly stirring the soup with a wooden spoon.
Add the seasonings and lemon juice. Taste and adjust to please your taste buds. Keep in mind that as the soup cools, it will reveal the salt and tartness, so do not overdo.
Serve warm, room temperature or even chilled with a dollop of sour cream, finely chopped dill and diced cucumbers. It goes very nicely with feta cheese. You can use it crumbled as garnish or sliced, on black bread. Either way it will do great.