Red Orach: A Delicious Plant For A Delicious Spring Soup
I've always wondered why the red orach soup reminds me of my grandparents and of old times. Maybe because they were cooking it so often when I was a child that I began to like it. too. Red orach soup is perfect for hot summer days; you can eat it cold, from the fridge and its sour taste will chill you a bit. Red orach, or Atriplex hortensis also known as French spinach, German Mountain Spinach, saltbush or Garden orache, is a hardy annual leaf vegetable. It is placed in the Amaranthaceae family the goosefoot subfamily; also placed by some botanists in the Chenopodiaceae family , same as spinach, beet and chard.  The name goosefoot comes from the plant's leaves which have the form of a goose's foot. The name of saltbush comes from the plant's tolerance to salty and alkaline soil. Its taste is similar to spinach, but it doesn't have the same nutritional value.
Red orach is originally from Asia and Europe and has been cultivated since ancient times. Initially it grew wild, the Atriplex ritens, but gardeneres have obtained more cultivars and varieties during the time, with a better taste and nutritional value. In Romania we have four orach varieties: red orach with red leaves - Atriplex hortensis var suber; with purple leaves; Atriplex hortensis var purpurea; with green leaves; Atriplex hortensis var. viridis; and yellow leaves - Atriplex hortensis var. luteus.,[4a]
Red orach can grow up to 6 feet tall, with a branching stem, leaves are soft, oblong, triangle and goosefoot shaped. Flowers are small, green or purple, according to the foliage's color.
Fruits are the same color and contain the seeds which are achenes type, meaning they are enclosed into a membrane which appears to be the seed itself.  Red orach are self-sown plants and they grow well in cooler conditions, same as spinach. Warmth hurries the blooming, instead of leaves growth. The seeds can be sown in early spring and the plant is harvested while it's still young, preferably in April. Another harvest can be started in August for late fall.
I have sown red orach seeds in my garden last September, but an unexpected freeze came and no plant popped out. Therefore I dug up the garden and waited for spring. Fortunately, this spring lots of red orach purplish plants sprouted on that bed from the seeds I had sown last fall.
Red orach's leaves are used for making a delicious sour soup, especially the purple ones which are more pleasant to sight, because it colors the soup in purple. The leaves are also used for an excellent spring salad.
Red orach sour soup recipe
- red orach leaves a large bowl full
- 2 tablespoons rice washed
- a few green onions
- 1 lemon
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower preferably)
Fill a gallon pot two-thirds full with water, bring to boil. Add washed rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Wash red orach leaves well and rip them off from the stem. Chop and add them to the soup when the water is boiling. Also chop and add the white part of the green onions to the soup. When the rice is cooked, add the onions' chopped green leaves, let it boil for another 5 minutes, then put the pot aside. Add the juice from a lemon and stir, then add chopped lovage. Make an omelet with the 2 eggs in vegetable oil, chop it and add it to the soup. We're usually using a special sour juice for souring our soups (instead of lemon), which we call "bors". It is a very healthy juice made of wheat waste and corn flour. It is very good for souring the soups or broths. I'm making my own "bors" as are many of us, here in Romania.
I hope I have convinced you about using red orach for cooking, but if you can't find it in your part of the world, you can always use letuce for this kind of soup, only it won't have the same color.