March 2008 Issue
Taste of the Season
Crunchy, piquant watercress is a sign of spring.
As winter slowly melts away, along with our urges for the hearty casseroles and substantial stews that got us through it, we crave flavors that taste greener, lighter and fresher — flavors that reflect our favorite things about the spring season.
For Chef Patrick McCafferty, chef/owner of Slims restaurant in Cincinnati, one ingredient stands out in this category. “Spring means watercress to me,” says McCafferty, who grows the pungent and peppery-tasting leafy green in his greenhouse, just two blocks from Slims. “That’s when it comes out of winter hibernation, when there’s sudden growth.”
Both a chef and a farmer (with somewhat of a chicken and the egg story to prove it), McCafferty says he has been growing watercress for more than 25 years, and uses it on a near daily basis in salads, soups and sauces at his restaurant. “I like its piquancy,” he explains, “and it’s a super food.”
The label “super food” is generally reserved for foods that deliver the most powerful dose of vitamins, antioxidants and other pro-health elements per serving. Watercress certainly fits this bill. According to the UK-based Web site www.watercress.co.uk
, gram for gram (or ounce for ounce), watercress is a better source of vitamins C, B1, B6, K and E, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc than other commonly labeled super foods such as apples and tomatoes, and just barely loses out to the mega nutrients in raw broccoli. Because of its health benefits, watercress has long held a prominent spot in European diets, and even gets its own festival in England each May.
While it might not share the same celebrity in the U.S., its light taste and healthy crunch is worth seeking out, and you’ll find it at bigger grocery stores and local farmer’s markets. Here, Chef McCafferty shares a suggestion for adding this spring flavor to your table.
Watercress and Red Mustard Greens Salad with Red Bell Peppers and Ginger-Tamari Dressing
2 small cloves garlic
1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
8 sprigs cilantro
4 small green onions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound watercress, washed, stems trimmed and spun dry
1/4 pound baby red mustard leaves or spinach, washed, stemmed and spun dry
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
Put the garlic, ginger, cilantro, green onions, water, vinegar and tamari into a blender, and process until smooth. Combine the oils and pour them into the blender in a steady stream while the motor is running. Blend until emulsified. Season to taste with pepper.
Assembly: Toss the watercress and mustard greens or spinach with the dressing. Divide greens among four plates. Sprinkle each salad with diced red pepper.