Watercress beyond the salad bowl

By Monica Shaw •


Don’t think of watercress as just a limp garnish or something to be thrown into a salad at the last minute. Monica has been exploring watercress’s other uses, treating it more as an herb. In the process she’s discovered some great ways to use this pungent green outside of the salad bowl along with a beautiful recipe for Minted Pea and Watercress Soup.
 
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When I first moved to England, I was mystified by the presence of watercress on the shelves alongside more common salad greens like spinach, “baby leaves” and arugula (“rocket”, that is). It’s available all year round, though it’s at its best April through September.
 
Still, even when watercress is at its prime, I have a hard time dealing with it raw - it’s flavour is bitter, slightly peppery, which I often find overpowering when served in a salad or as a garnish. So I’ve been exploring watercress’s other uses, treating it more as an herb, and in the process have discovered some great ways to use this pungent green outside of the salad bowl.
 
Options are myriad. For instance:
 

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Or make soup! Variations abound, from chilled watercress and pear soup to spiced squash and watercress soup. My favourite is the minted pea and watercress soup I’ve shared below. The sweet peas and refreshing mint balance the peppery watercress, and it’s super delicious garnished with croutons or a hard boiled egg.
 

Minted Pea and Watercress Soup

  • Large bunch watercress, washed
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium potato, cubed
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 400g fresh or frozen shelled peas
Method
 
1. Coarsely chop the watercress, stalks and all, and put into a small saucepan with the stock and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse.
 
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion. Cook on a low heat until softened but not coloured. Add the potato, stir, cover and cook until soft. Add the mint, peas and infused stock, including the watercress. Season and simmer for 2 minutes.
 
3. Put the soup into a blender and purée, then return the soup to the saucepan (you can strain the soup through a sieve if you’d like, to get rid of any tough-to-blend stalky bits, but if you have a super blender like a Vitamix, it should be able to puree everything into a silky smooth soup).
 
4. Serve warm garnished with boiled egg, toasted seeds, a swirl of sour cream, croutons, or whatever you like - meat eaters might enjoy bacon!
 
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For more delicious watercress recipes visit Great British Chefs collection.
 
How are you using watercress this season? Any ideas for watercress beyond the usual salad?  What are some of your favourite summer soups?  Let us know here or over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.
 

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Monica Shaw

Monica Shaw is web consultant working with chefs, restaurants & food producers, to help them make use of the internet to improve their businesses. She's also a freelance writer, her credits include The Daily Telegraph, Chef Magazine and food mag. Monica enjoys experimenting with vegetables & creating delicious & healthy dishes, a topic covered on her blog SmarterFitter.com. She is working on The Healthy Vegan Breakfast Book, due to be published in March 2013

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