SARDINES BAKED IN SORREL LEAVES

ca 200 BC: ” The following wild vegetables should be boiled — beet, mallow, sorrel, nettle, orach, bulbs, truffles and mushrooms. (Diocles Carystius, Health, book I, C. 59) 

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If you’ve ever been to Athens’ Varvakeios Central Market, you’ve seen them at the fish department’s entrance, selling fresh cut herbs and greens, fresh onions and garlics. They are not young, a man and a woman around 70ies. If you’ll buy a bunch of aromatic greens from the one the other will call you to look at her/his goods. Finally you buy from both of them. Their green stuff depends on the season. This time I bought two bunches wild sorrel… and sardines from the market.

About 25 species of sorrel (Rumex acetosa L) are grown in Greece and many of them are edible. Ancient Greeks believed that sorrel was especially beneficial in lepra and issues blood. They also recommended it as an appetite and digestion stimulant and a good complement to fatty meals and fishes.

Traditionally, it is cooked like spinach and vine leaves. Its sharp, fresh taste makes it a good foil for dolmades and an excellent ingredient for pies, omelletes etc. In past, when lemons were very expensive, the lemon flavor of sorrel was a good substitute for lemon juice. People kept sorrel leaves out of season, pressing them tightly with salt in sealed bottles or air drying them. Though they are very popular in rural Greek cooking, today are collected mainly by elderly women.

 The recipe for sardines rolled in leaves was brough in Greece by Greek refugees from Asia Minor, in the early 1920’s. Sardine was an importan staple food for those living on the Bosphorus coasts. The original recipe calls for vine leaves. In Crete and Epirus, vine leaves are often replaced by sorrels. If you are familiar with this herb you can imagine how fresher makes the sardine’s taste.

16 sorrel leaves , blanched
8- large fresh sardines, scaled and gutted
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
lemon juice
olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

If you like debone the sardines. Remove the head and tail and slit the sardine with a sharp knife, from the belly towards the spine. Open the sardines like a book and pull of the spine gently. Salt and wrap them with the sorrel leaves. If your sardines are large you’ll need 2 leaves for each one. Preheat oven to 350. Place fishes an baking pan. Drizzle with additional olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve them with chopped onions on the top.

Sorrel is high in vitamin A and contains some calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. It has high levels of oxalic acid like spinach, which is reduced if the plant is cooked. However, people with rheumatisms, arthritis, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their food.

Sardine on Foodista

Sorrel on Foodista

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