Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


Fraiche and Foresty

Watercress & Spring Herbs

When I was in college in NC, I managed to talk an old farmer into renting me his family home on forty acres for $50 a month. He had since moved up in the world and retired to a mobile home. The farmhouse was rustic beyond my parent’s belief with no indoor plumbing, no insulation, a wood cookstove — well, you get the picture. Despite the lack of amenities, I was in heaven. I spent hours walking through the woods, finding little streams and searching for wild plants to eat and to use for dyes for my handspun yarn. Every so often my landlord would bring his mother out to visit her old homestead. She had a wealth of knowledge about every useful plant on the property. Over by the chicken coop was the pokeweed and out in the far field grew tiny wild strawberries. Elderberries lined the long gravel driveway, goldenrod and chicory grew along the road into town and in the spring, the woods were filled with trilliums, mayapples and bloodroot. There must not have been watercress growing by those streams because if it had been there, I surely would have found it.

Watercress is one of the oldest known leafy vegetables yet my only memory of it involves little tea sandwiches on white bread, crusts cut off, paired with cream cheese. It’s a peppery and tangy brassica — one of the main little-known ingredients in V-8 juice. It grows in clear, cool water about 2″ to 6″ deep. The trickling water must be neither stagnant nor moving too quickly. Commercially, hydroponic cultivation is the way to go. Claims as to its nutritional value range from fending off cancer to having a strengthening effect on the the thyroid gland. It’s loaded with iron, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins A & C.

Watercress Soup

Every so often, when the restaurants don’t get first dibs, bags of watercress are available at Foraged and Found at the University Farmers Market. If you see it, give it a try but just a warning — don’t cut in line, especially in front on me. A week or two ago when the very first asparagus was available at Alm Hill, I was waiting patiently with my eyes transfixed on a few bunches right at the front of the line. Someone from the end of the line walked around to the front, grabbed a bunch and went back to her place in line. I got pretty riled up but this is Seattle and we’re all supposed to be so polite. I didn’t say anything knowing that the first chance I got, I’d rant about it on the blog. In the end, it all worked out because they had more asparagus to put out by the time it was my turn. I’m just saying — mind your market manners, people.

Asparagus at the Farmers Market

Now that I have that off my chest, back to the watercress. I tried a couple recipes, both from Canal House Cooking. The first is a watercress soup, simple and filled with a foresty flavor that brought me back to my days of wandering through the woods and sitting by the streams. It also gave me an opportunity to make a batch of creme fraiche, which is so easy, yet I haven’t made it for a while.

Watercress Soup

Watercress Soup

2 bunches or one big bag of watercress

4-6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

2 T butter

1 T olive oil

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

Salt & pepper

Remove the thick stems from the watercress and add them to the stock. Gently simmer in a medium pot for 15-20 minutes.

Melt the butter and oil in a second pot over medium-low heat. Add shallot and cook until soft. Add the potatoes to the pot.

Strain and discard the stems from the stock. Add stock to shallots & potatoes, cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Finely chop watercress leaves and add to the stock. Simmer for just a moment or two, remove from the heat and season with salt & pepper.

Top with a big dollop of creme fraiche, butter or heavy cream.

In case you’ve forgotten how to make creme fraiche, here’s all there is to it.

Creme Fraiche

Homemade Creme Fraiche

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2-3 T buttermilk

Warm the cream and buttermilk in a small saucepan on the stove until it’s just warm to the touch.

Remove, pour into a bowl and cover with a tea towel.

Let it sit, undisturbed on the counter for at least 24 hours.

Once it’s nice and thick, cover and store in the fridge until you use it.

Here’s another way to use watercress inspired by Canal House Cooking. Be sure to use a mild blue cheese so you don’t over power the watercress flavor.

Watercress Blue Cheese Spread

Watercress and Blue Cheese Spread

1 cup chopped watercress leaves

1/2 cup chopped chives

1/8 lb. crumbled blue cheese

2 T softened butter

Salt & pepper

Mash together watercress, chives, blue cheese and softened butter in a small bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Serve on crackers or crostini.

If you want a smoother spread, mix in a little of your creme fraiche or some mayo.

If you want, you can substitute arugula for watercress in either recipe. It’s similar but different.

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5 Responses »

  1. Yum! Can’t wait to try it1 Does watercress grow well in gardens around here?

  2. Vicki, watercress needs either very moist soil or water to grow. I’ve read that you can grow it in a bucket but since it can’t tolerate stagnant water, you have to change the water every day. It sounds labor-intensive but could be a fun project if you really love the taste.

  3. I live in the least likely place in the world to find watercress-Tucson, AZ-the heart and soul of the Sonoran Desert. I suspect it can be found near springs and streams in surrounding mountains, but I am some years past being a mountain hiker. Yesterday, I purchased, from a street-side vendor, a bag of fire-roasted Hatch (New Mexico) chilis, a long, green, sometimes mild, but well could be firey chili (only the chilis know for sure, and they aren’t talking!) Needing the rest of the ingredients for fresh salsa, one of the best ways to use this fruit of the desert, I went into a neighborhood market, geared to Mexican-Americans, and featuring the required ingredients for our wonderful and unique Sonoran cuisine (once you try it, forget Tex-Mex food!).To my amazement, binned just above the cilantro was fresh watercress! I have lived off and on in Tucson since U of A days in the ’50s, most recently, and continuously since washing up on the beach here in ’74.I have NEVER seen fresh watercress in a market in all these years. Of course I brought home a bunch, and tonight will try watercress and avacado salad (the avacados have been exceptional all summer, and so cheap I expect Safeway or Walmart or Albertson’s to start giving them away! I also want to try watercress soup.

    Many years ago, on an adventerous trip with a best friend and four children (two each!) to the Mountain Province of Ifugauo in the Phillippine Islands, we overnighted in Baguio. My friend had heard of an unusual restaurant, serving, for this pretty remote part of the world, in 1965, an eclectic cuisine. I remember nothing about the meal (the decor was charming, the service excellent, the food perfect) but the watercress salad. Fresh watercress, coursly shredded or grated carrots, a subtle and perfectly balanced dressing. I have thought a lot about watercress over the years, and am elated to have found it in Tucson. I’m going back for more, and try to learn its’ source.

    I will gladly provide a receipe for fresh Sonoran salsa to anyone interested!

  4. Teddie, yes, please, the Sonoran salsa recipe. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for ALL about watercress. A friend encouraged me to buy it with the roots at the grocery store. Yes, the grocery store in the organic section. It has grown profusely in a 12″ round planter (11″ deep) on a stand on my deck. Now that it is below 32 here I brought it inside by a window and it is flourishing again. The dirt was frozen.
    I was told to eat a leaf of watercress everyday. I’m making chicken soup and want to use it for the soup. Thanks for the helpful hints.
    PS, I also grow Oregano, Sweet Basil and various mints in very large plastic pots on my deck. Chocolate mint is wonderful, but it is in the ground. Thank you for your site.