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What Is Watercress?
Watercress is an aquatic leafy vegetable that grows in the shallow water of cool streams. Native to Eurasia, this member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family is one of our oldest salad greens: Ancient Romans dressed raw watercress with pepper, cumin, and garum (fermented fish sauce).
It’s also incredibly nutritious, with just one cup of watercress containing 21% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E and 24% of the RDV of vitamin C, as well as significant amounts of vitamins A, B, and K, and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.
What Does Watercress Look and Taste Like?
Watercress has small, dark, rounded leaves and little four-petaled white flowers. Its flavor is refreshing and peppery. You can eat the stems, too, but they can be tough when the plant is mature. While cultivated watercress is available year-round from grocery stores, spicier wild watercress is one of the first signs of spring, disappearing by the summer.
4 Ways to Eat Watercress
Famous as a component of British afternoon tea sandwiches, watercress is good for so much more.
- Try raw watercress in a salad with radishes, pounded into pesto, or blended into a smoothie. You can also use it in Chef Thomas Keller’s authentic German potato salad.
- Fresh, pungent raw watercress is also a great garnish for meat (especially game). Try it in Chef Thomas Keller’s pork shoulder à la Matignon; Wolfgang Puck’s pepper steak with red wine sauce; or Gordon Ramsay’s crispy duck salad.
- When serving watercress as a salad alongside roasted meat, try tossing the cress in the rendered fat in place of some of the usual olive oil.
- Cooking watercress until wilted will mellow its flavor, such as in a Chinese watercress-and-garlic stir-fry, or the classic French pottage cressonière, a puréed soup of watercress and potatoes.
How to Substitute Watercress
If you can’t find watercress, try substituting other leafy greens, like arugula, dandelion, or mustard, which have a similar peppery taste. Or use other types of cress including pungent garden cress or milder upland cress. Let your recipe guide your substitution: use hardier, spicier greens for cooked preparations, and milder, more delicate greens for garnishes, salads, and sandwiches.
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