Fresh at the farmers’ market this weekend: wonderful, peppery wild watercress from the Roto-o-rangi free-range eggs stall. And there was also some in the Ooooby box, so we’ve had two watercress salads this week. Watercress is a cousin of garden cress, mustard and rocket (not surprising because it tastes a bit like cress or rocket). It belongs to the Brassica family, and its Latin name is Nasturtium officinale, but it isn’t closely related to garden nasturtiums.
Most of the commercially available watercress is grown hydroponically. The wild spring greens, which have much better flavour and nutritional value, are a seasonal treat. Watercress wilts, so it needs to be eaten quickly. I’ve found it keeps for a day or so if I stand the bunch in a shallow bucket of water, in a shady place.
Wild watercress may carry parasites or contamination, if it has been growing in polluted waterways. However, we’ve been eating the watercress sold by Rotorangi for a few years and have never had any ill effects.
I’ve recently heard that a Raglan grower, Moa Stone Estate, is producing certified organic watercress, grown in fresh well water. This sounds wonderful, but I haven’t (yet) found it for sale locally.
A couple of years ago my husband Matthew tried to transplant watercress into the "water hole" at the bottom of our garden, but it died out. (So did the tadpoles.)
What to do with watercress
I like watercress best in salads and sandwiches. I use it in the same way as rocket or other peppery greens. If you find the taste of watercress on its own is too strong, or if you don’t have enough for one salad, combine it with a milder lettuce.
One of my favourite combinations is a salad of watercress tossed with a mustardy balsamic vinaigrette. Pull the leafy sprigs of watercress off the thick stalks and break them into bite-sized pieces. (Put the stalks in the compost.) After tossing the watercress with vinaigrette I add squeaky pieces of fried halloumi cheese from Cilantro (also at the farmers' market).
Watercress salad with fried halloumi - a match made in heaven.
Combine in a small jar: 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. Mix together and taste. Add more vinegar and salt if you think it needs it.