It’s interesting that certain food items can become ‘trends’, much like a certain shape of sunglasses or the latest workout craze. Kale is still having its long moment in the sun; Brussels sprouts are suddenly on every pub menu in the country; and by now, arugula is a household name.
I’m no stranger to ‘food fads’, though I tend to lean toward the healthy end up the spectrum instead of, say, ‘Cronuts’. My latest obsession is watercress. This crisp, peppery member of the mustard family is in season and has found its way into the most unexpected meals and dishes, particularly at my house.
After years of being relegated to ‘garnish territory’, the water-dwelling green is making a splash on the center stage. Frankly, watercress has been widely used as a nutrient-dense super-food for centuries. With more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and more vitamin C than oranges, it’s safe to say this is a pretty miraculous plant.
History agrees. Hippocrates’ own hospital on the island of Kos maintained fresh watercress beds. Renowned 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper believed the green could cleanse the blood. I could start rattling off modern scientific studies depicting watercress as a cancer-fighting, free radical-resisting holy grail of sorts – but suffice to say, the tangy, spicy greens are beneficial and tasty.
Growing watercress can be tricky. An abundance of water is essential, though you don’t need a stream running through your yard to join the party. A low, semi-shady space in a garden serves nicely. You can start the seeds in clay pots, or purchase a bundle of watercress with roots attached and plant accordingly. Be prepared to cut your shoots regularly to keep the greens flourishing.
This vegetable is versatile! Watercress can be used as a highly nutritious salad green, steamed like broccoli, tossed into soups. Delicate watercress sandwiches have been gracing tables at British high tea time for ages. In the 1800’s it was an on-the-go, provincial snack: rolled into a cone shape and eaten plain. These days, there’s a bounty of watercress recipes out there. Let’s take a look at a couple…
Spring Cleansing Smoothie
[from Perfect Smoothie]
1/2 granny smith apple
1 celery stalk, chopped
12 ounces green tea, brewed with 2 teabags
1 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup broccoli sprouts
1/2 cup watercress
1 cup ice cubes
Simply blend and enjoy! Makes 2 servings.
Watercress and Barley Salad
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, cut into small diced pieces
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into medium-size diced pieces
1/2 small red onion, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
1 large bunch watercress, stems trimmed, torn into bite-size pieces
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add barley and 1/2 teaspoon salt; reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until barley is tender but still chewy, about 35 minutes. Drain; rinse barley under cold running water until cool. Drain well, and transfer to a large bowl.
Whisk together lemon juice, mustard, honey, and oil in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Add carrots, cucumber, red onion, dill, and dressing to large bowl with barley. Toss to combine.
At serving time, add watercress and sunflower seeds; toss to combine. Place salad on platter to serve family-style, or mound on individual plates. Serve at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.