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home > articles > the why and how-to with watercress

The Why and How-to with Watercress

Watercress is a perennial European herb that grows naturally in wet soil along and in ditches, brooks, and ponds and is cultivated under such condition to use as a garnish and as the basis for a salad. It must be harvested before flower buds appear or the leaves become too pungent to be edible. Watercresses produce small white and green flowers in clusters. If unharvested, watercress can grow to a height of 20 to 50 inches. It is a member of the cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress and mustard—all noteworthy for a peppery and tangy flavor. Also sold as sprouts, the edible shoots are harvested days after germination.

Watercress is native to an area from Europe to central Asia and is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. It is an invasive species in the Great Lakes region of the United States where it was first sighted in 1847. Watercress was formerly used as a domestic remedy against scurvy.

Being semi-aquatic, watercress is well-suited to hydroponic cultivation, thriving most in water than is slightly alkaline. In many local markets, the demand for hydroponically-grown watercress exceeds supply. This is due in part to the fact that watercress leaves are unsuitable for distribution in dried form and can only be stored for a short period of time.

Store in the refrigerator with its stems in water and the leaves loosely covered with a plastic bag. Most Westerners eat watercress raw. In Asia, it is often blanched, the moisture wrung out and then chopped and tossed with a light sesame oil dressing. In China, watercress is often stir-fried with a little salt, sugar, and wine or used in soups.

Mashed Potatoes with Watercress and Green Onions (12 servings)

2 large bunches watercress, thick stems trimmed
6 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

Bring medium saucepan of water to boil. Add watercress and blanch 10 minutes. Drain. Pat dry and chop watercress.

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 25 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes to pot. Stir over medium heat until any excess liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.

Bring milk almost to simmer in small saucepan. Add hot milk, butter, and oil to potatoes; mash until almost smooth. This can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand uncovered at room temperature. Rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring often, before continuing. Stir in green onions and watercress. Season with salt and pepper.
Chicken and Watercress Salad with Almonds and Feta Cheese (4 servings)

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 large shallot, chopped
3 tablespoons almond oil or walnut oil
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 large bunches watercress, thick stems trimmed
2 fully-cooked chicken breast halves, meat turn into bite-size pieces
3/4 cup crumbled fets cheese
4 apricots, pitted, each half cut into wedges
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Combine vinegar and shallot in medium bowl. Whisk in both oils. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Place watercress, chicken, cheese, and apricots in large bowl. Add dressing; toss. Divide salad among 4 plates. Sprinkle each with almonds.

Marisa Starkey
London, ON

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