Herb Soup – An ancient recipe to see in the new decade


Hello Herb Lovers,

The new decade is only 2 days away and since herbs are what I do, I am bringing you a super herbal recipe with which to start the new year.

I have recently been researching some medieval recipes and came across this Dutch recipe for a Herb Soup with Potato Dumplings.

It is suggested that the recipe existed as early as the mid 17th century. On Coquinaria.nl Christianne Muusers publishes bimonthly recipes from the culinary past.

This is Christianne’s translation from Dutch – the modern adaptation and ingredient list can be found here.

Herb soup: Take sorrel, purslane, basil, butterhead lettuce, spinach, tarragon, burnet and chives, of the last three somewhat less than of the first ones. Wash them and chop them. A good piece of butter is browned with flour and the herbs are added to it, whilst pouring the stock in slowly and stirring everything steadily and smoothly. Then add some salt, chopped chervil and parsley. Let the soup boil for three quarters of an hour and thicken her with egg yolks. It can be served with egg balls or potato balls. “

Ideally a lighter spring soup, it is well possible to enrich it for the colder weather (for my northern hemisphere readers). Play with it a bit. You could blend it for a less rustic look and even add some very simple meatballs – see Christianne’s suggestions for these. Add a swirl of cream and you have a sophisticated starter.

Now, let’s look at the herbs in this amazing recipe.

Sorrel – Medicinally sorrel was used from early days (ca.14th century).  However, it was mainly valued as a culinary herb which in 15th century England was seen as one of the finest vegetables indeed.  It is thought to cleanse the  blood and improve haemoglobin content. Avoid over-eating while breastfeeding and avoid altogether if you tend to have kidney stones.  Consume in moderation due to the high content of oxalic acid. Great in salads, soups and sauces. Use with egg and cheese dishes.

Purslane – This ancient herb has been used for thousands of years. It has been used as a medicinal and culinary herb in ancient Egypt, China, medieval Europe as well as the Americas. Medicinally it is used to clear toxins from the system and to strengthen the immune system.  In the kitchen it is seen raw in salads and as a cooked vegetable. In soups it counteracts the acidity of sorrel. Modern science has found purslane to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B & C as well as calcium.  Although fine to consume in culinary quantities, it is advised that pregnant women do not take purslane medicinally.

Basil – A well known regular in most modern kitchens, basil is a native of India which first came to Europe in the 16th century.  Medicinally the fresh leaves aid digestion, rubbed on the skin can repel mosquitoes or relieve their stings. Basil steam baths ease congestion  and can sooth anxiety. In food, the fresh leaves have much more flavour than the dried herb. A big favourite in Mediterranean cuisines it goes great with tomato and eggplant.  Add towards the end of cooking to maintain its  fragrance.

Tarragon – French tarragon (Russian tarragon has very little flavour so if you can only get Russian tarragon use larger quantities) is native to the Mediterranean region. In days of old it was said to cure bites and stings of reptiles, insects and mad dogs. More recently it has been found that the leaves contain warming volatile oils which even Culpeper reported as being ‘heating and drying’. It’s aromatic fragrance makes Tarragon the perfect companion for fish and shellfish. Chicken too is much enhanced as well as egg and offal dishes.

Burnet – Also known as salad burnet, this pretty herb was popular in the 17th century as it was one of the few greens available for most of the year. The young leaves, when chewed fresh, have a cooling effect that aids digestion. Burnet has a mild cucumber like flavour which is very refreshing in salads and used to be floated in cups of beer or wine. Try it in your salads and summer punch.

Chives – Said to be native to Britain, chives seem to have been around forever. Like all members of the onion family chives contain a pungent volatile oil which stimulates the appetite, have a tonic effect on kidneys and are said to lower high blood pressure. Chives are also a natural source of calcium which strengthens teeth and nails.  Chives make a great addition to many meals where the flavour of onions is too strong. The flavour of chives is more subtle and is destroyed by long cooking times. Finely chopped chives go into salads, egg dishes, fish and poultry dishes. They also make a pretty garnish.

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