The first time I had watercress, I was 16 and nowhere near a farm. I found myself in the midday bustle of Harrods, the famed London department store, just in time for afternoon tea. Along with various little pastries, we were served watercress sandwiches, daintily trimmed of their crusts and lavishly slathered with butter. They left me nearly swooning. The peppery bite and subtle crunch of watercress, the springy white bread and layers of butter — such a simple thing, it was, but a truly sublime combination to my unsophisticated palate. To this day, I can’t hear “watercress” without thinking “sandwich.”
Of course, this pungent peppery herb is inspiring in other uses as well: paired with asparagus in soups, puréed with pine nuts and garlic as pesto, or combined with milder greens in salads (legend says the early Romans served the first salad when they tossed watercress leaves with oil and vinegar). Like other members of the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), watercress is loaded with cancer-preventive compounds, and some studies point to its ability to reduce the risk of breast cancer. It’s in season right now and at its tender prime. Try it in this fresh spring recipes.
Watercress-Mango Salad with Cumin-Roasted Pecans
Cool, sweet mango is a good counterpart to the bold flavor of watercress; sweet and spicy pecans add a nice crunch. You can substitute cashews if you’d like, or add baby spinach for half of the arugula to soften the flavor.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 cup pecans
1 medium lime
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 bunch watercress, trimmed
3 cups arugula
1 large mango, peeled and cubed
1 medium papaya, seeded, peeled and cubed
1/2 pound jicama, peeled and cubed
- Melt coconut oil in a small skillet over low heat. Add cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Add pecans and toss to coat. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
- While pecans are roasting, make dressing: squeeze lime into a small bowl, removing seeds. Whisk in honey. Whisk in coconut milk, season with salt, and set aside.
- Combine watercress, arugula, mango, papaya and jicama in a medium bowl; drizzle with just enough dressing to lightly coat, and toss to mix. Divide salad among four individual plates.
- To serve, scatter pecans over each salad and serve immediately, with additional dressing on the side, if desired.