Ready to try watercress – the super-est (but least practical) superfood? It’s the CDC‘s #1 PFV (Powerhouse Fruit & Vegetables). Despite my shock at its ranking, initial balking, and further obstacles in getting familiar with this impractical and un-versatile superfood, I do have 2 applications to recommend. You can click over to Watercress: Super-est (but least practical) Superfood to read about the journey and more about PFVs.
It took some doing, but I tried and found two recipes I actually fully enjoyed, and might make again if I see cress on sale – A salad with watercress, grilled sweet potato (yum!!), grilled pork chop, and orange honey vinaigrette; and a potato salad with creamy yogurt and wilted watercress dressing.
I was inspired by a Martha recipe for Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes, but since it was WAY too hot to be turning on the oven, I took further inspiration from the sensational grilled sweet potato salad in Salad for Dinner: Complete Meals for All Seasons. I added grilled pork, and used fresh-squeezed orange juice rather than lemon juice in the dressing. Yum. A grilled chicken breast could very well stand in for the pork. The sweetness of the potatoes, orange juice, honey, and candied nuts really balanced out the peppery-ness of the raw cress in a salad like this. Creamy feta was a good add-on as well.
Watercress Salad with Grilled Sweet Potato and Orange Honey Vinaigrette
- 4 oz watercress
- 1 or 2 medium to large red-skinned sweet potatoes
- 10 oz salad greens - spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, or butter lettuce would all be nice here.
- Spiced salad nuts (optional - recipe below)
- Feta or fresh mozzarella (optional)
- Some meat perhaps? Grill a chicken breast or a couple of pork chops to top the salad.
- 3 T fresh squeezed orange juice
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1-2 tsp dijon mustard (depends how much bite you like, remember the cress is peppery)
- 1 tsp - 1 T white wine vinegar (optional, depends how much mouth pucker you like in a salad dressing).
- Grilled Sweet Potatoes: Pierce then microwave the sweet potatoes whole, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Turn them over periodically to get even cooking - you're looking for a knife or fork to slip in easily but you don't want them so cooked as to be falling apart. Let them cool down (you can cook them well in advance), then slice in half lengthwise then cut the halves a few times - you want spears about the size of "steak fries." Heat your grill to medium-high. Coat the sweet potato pieces in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill over medium for about 10 minutes, turning every few minutes until well marked but not too black.
- Orange Honey Vinaigrette: whisk all ingredients until emulsified, or use a small jar to combine, shake, and potentially serve the dressing in and from.
- Spiced Salad Nuts can be purchased (I like the spiced pecans or walnuts at Trader Joe's), but lately I make my own: Heat a non-stick pan over med-high and add 1/4 cup brown sugar with a splash of water (2 Tablespoons more or less). Grind in a whole bunch of sea salt and pepper (I generally do about 20 turns of salt, and 40 of pepper from hand-held salt/pepper mills). Add a good dash of allspice - this is to taste, at first the allspice flavor can seem odd or off-putting but I rapidly came to love it in this application. You could easily sub in any other herb or spice that you adore. Using a silicone spatula, add an overflowing cup of pecans or walnuts to the pan and coat them with the sugar-spice over a good bit of heat for as long as it takes for the water to dissolve and the nuts to become coated in spicy caramel and toasted in the pan, 5-10 minutes. Let cool in pan - hopefully they come out nice and crispy. Every now and again mine don't or won't crisp up - humidity? They're still tasty that way, but less satisfying without the crunch.
- Assemble the Salad: Remove the watercress leaves from the stems - try keeping the stems in a container of water to see if they'll regrow! Toss with spinach or leaf lettuce, and plate. Top with grilled sweet potato spears, spiced nuts, feta, and sliced grilled meat. Add dressing to taste!
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Another idea would be to add watercress to turkey or roast beef sandwiches, which can be quite bland and could use some strategic pepper if you ask me. However, not being a turkey sandwich eater…I haven’t tried this, nor have I been able to convince my turkey-sandwich-eating husband to do so.
Maybe it could be made into a sauce for steak? That’s another place that the peppery flavor would be a good complement. There are recipes for watercress sauce to go with salmon, I haven’t cooked steak in years…so it’s another idea I haven’t tried myself. Martha’s Slow-Roasted Salmon with Green Sauce or chef Jill Hough’s Pan-Seared Salmon with Upland Cress Creme Fraiche would be a good place to start, though.
So tell me…what would, will, or do YOU do with watercress?