Orache: The Poor Man’s Pot Herb

A leafy, emerald-green plant, the unassuming orache originated in Eastern Europe and came to be considered the poor man’s pot herb. An 1894 edition of the Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland reports that the herb earned its name because of its supposed ability to cure aches — “golden aches, yellow aches, jaundice, in fact.” The 1835 An Encyclopaedia of Gardening calls orache a “hardy annual” with stems that rise “three or four feet high.” Several varieties of orache exist, “but the two principal are the white or pale green, and the red or purple leaved.”

Orache wasn’t called the poor man’s pot herb merely for its ability to cure jaundice. It makes for a tasty addition to many a meal. The young leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and the older leaves can be cooked and used as a substitute for spinach or other leafy vegetables.

Green thumbs can grow this prolific plant without much trouble. Orache loves moist soil rich in well-rotted manure. It flourishes in containers and is generally a hardy annual.

Those lucky enough to have ready access to a few bunches of this herb should try this recipe for red orache soup from Jekka McVicar’s The Complete Herb Book.

Red Orache Soup

1 lb potatoes
1 cup young red orache leaves
1/4 cup butter
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons sour cream

Peel the potatoes and cut them into thick slices. Wash the orache and cut up coarsely. Cook the potatoes for 10 minutes in salted water, drain. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the crushed garlic and slowly sweeten; add the red orache leaves and gently simmer for 5-10 minutes until soft (if the leaves are truly young then 5 minutes will be sufficient).

Pour in the stock, add the parboiled potatoes and bring to the boil; simmer for a further 10 minutes. When all is soft, cool slightly then purée in a blender or food processor.

After blending, return the soup t o a clean pan, add salt and pepper to taste and heat slowly (not to boiling). Stir in the sour cream, and serve.

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