Soup is one of the best foods ever invented, so why are most of the references to it in literature unashamedly dismal? Soup is usually a metaphor for hard times, dour landladies and dubious chefs. The 20th century American author Margaret Halsey captured the ‘sad soup genre’ perfectly when she said that the broth she was served ‘tasted as if it had been drained out of the umbrella stand.’
So here comes the fightback. This spinach and sorrel soup should have a sonnet written about it. Or a novel in which the protagonist is restored to good health and good fortune after just one spoonful. It’s the rich, deep, full-throttle green of a vintage racing car and gives instant vigour and zip to anyone who so much as looks at it.
Sorrel is a beautiful herb, especially this red-veined variety, but it’s often hard to find in the shops. I have a friend who keeps an allotment purely so she can maintain her sorrel supplies. But this week I spotted an entire tray of potted sorrel in my local shop, with reduced price stickers attached. So I rescued the lot.
You may know by now that I love picnics and long walks. My mum used to put a flask of soup in one pocket of her coat and hot cheese, tomato and mustard rolls in the other and we would set off. Spinach and sorrel soup would be the perfect walking companion. Make it, eat it and start writing in rhyming couplets.
Spinach and Sorrel Soup
1 floury potato, chopped into smallish, even-sized chunks
I medium onion, cut into similar sized pieces
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 knob butter
500ml vegetable stock
400g fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
40 sorrel leaves — the sorrel gives a delicate lemon background flavour, but if you can’t find sorrel, add an extra 50g or so of spinach and add a little grated lemon zest
Handful of micro herbs such as coriander and red amaranth to sprinkle over at the end — or just some chopped chives
Spoonful of cream (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a pan and cook the onion, garlic and potato together gently for five minutes or so, without colouring them. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer for around 15 minutes until the potato is soft.
Add 200g of the spinach and all the sorrel leaves, season with salt and pepper and cook for a further five minutes. The sorrel leaves give a delicate lemon background flavour, but if you can’t find sorrel, just add an extra 50g or so of spinach instead and a little grated lemon zest. Take the pan off the heat and add the remaining uncooked spinach. Blend immediately and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a drizzle of cream, if using, and a sprinkling of herbs. Adding half the spinach at the end keeps the magnificent deep emerald colour of the soup.