Many people consider delicate watercress a rather aristocratic vegetable. For decades it was rarely seen in American cuisine, except possibly as a garnish alongside a filet mignon. Perhaps it is most recognizable in the form of watercress sandwiches, mentioned in British fiction as an essential part of afternoon tea.
In reality, watercress is entitled to a superiority complex – at least in terms of nutrition. A member of the mustard family, watercress is considered a cruciferous vegetable. Along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale (to name a few), cruciferous veggies are notable for the potential role they play in fending off diseases like cancer. Watercress is also noteworthy as a rich source of beta-carotene; the antioxidant’s telltale orange pigment is hidden beneath the plant’s chlorophyll.
While visiting England, I was fascinated to discover that watercress grows in running streams and brooks. I was also surprised to learn how many different varieties of cress there are. In the states, you may be lucky enough to find hot pepper (or garden) cress. About the size of alfalfa sprouts, its tiny leaves deliver astonishing fire. And the next time you visit the farmers market, be on the lookout for upland cress. This variety, which grows on dry land and has black-green leaves the size of quarter, has fleshier leaves that do not wilt as rapidly as other types of cress.
Watercress can be used in a surprising number of ways. Going Asian? Combine it with mint leaves and cilantro, dress them with lime and fish sauce, and serve with thinly sliced grilled flank steak. Alternatively, combine cress with sliced endive and radicchio for a classic, colorful side salad. Accompanying roast chicken, hot or cold, it makes an easy, elegant meal.
This recipe, my dairy-free, full-bodied version of vichyssoise (a traditional, cold potato-leek soup) is perfect for a hot summer day. Serve it icy cold, accompanied by an omelet, for a delicious light meal.
Chilled Watercress Soup - Makes 4 servings
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup leek, chopped, white part only
5 cups watercress, tough lower stems removed, 1 large bunch
3 cups fat free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
In small heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Stir in onion and leek and sauté until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Do not let vegetables brown.
Add watercress, stirring until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, potatoes and 1 cup cold water. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer (covered), until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.
When soup has cooled slightly, transfer to a blender and puree until smooth and creamy. (Do this in 2 batches). Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Pour into a container and refrigerate until well chilled, 6 hours to overnight.
To serve, check and adjust seasoning. Divide the cold soup among 4 bowls. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chives over each serving. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 130 calories, 3.5 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 20g carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 3 g dietary fiber, 410 mg sodium.
“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.