Salas Greens: Ins And Outs Of Watercress

Tips to adding watercress to your everyday menu.

Watercress, a leafy green vegetable, is stepping out of the gourmet shops and becoming more popular in the regular stream of grocery stores. With a little extra care in it's handling, this "salad alternative" can add variation and a new flavor to your menu.

As a hardy perennial of the mustard family, watercress flourishes with pure water, good soil and high quality environment issues. These ideal conditions are present in the Unites States and have made watercress one of the most cultivated crops. With strict sanitary controls, and vigilance during harvesting, packing and shipping, this perishable product is now available to more than restaurants and wholesale outlets. Look in the produce isle on your next visit to the grocery store and try this wonderful vegetable that's actually been used for centuries.

Watercress preparation is simple. Purchase the healthiest looking bunch that is bright green with sturdy stems. Rinse with cold water and trim stems if desired. The stems are slightly bitter and not as tender as the leaves, but personal preference should dictate trimming or not. Dry in a salad spinner or with paper towels. Watercress is highly perishable and will wilt but will keep for a few days if kept cool and dry.

Substitute watercress into a number of everyday dishes. Try some mixed into your leafy salad mixture or by itself with walnuts, dried cranberries and a light lemony dressing. Use as a garnish on soups, dips or any dish that needs a little color. Spread on a sandwich in place of or in addition to lettuce for a change of taste to that turkey on white. Use in tacos or layered Mexican dips for a change of pace.

As a side dish similar to spinach, quickly steam in a pan with a bit of lemon or garlic. Use as a base to serve appetizers or to stack a freshly grilled piece of fish, scallops, or chicken on. And don't be afraid to try it with stir-fry or Asian-oriented dishes as the peppery flavor complements well.

As an herb, dice watercress and add to stuffing, sauces, mashed potatoes, eggs or even bread dough for a unique but not overpowering flavor.

Even desserts such as smoothies can benefit. Blend watercress, a mixture of apple, peach, or pineapple with yogurt and ice, and it kicks up the nutritional value without diluting the flavors.

As you incorporate watercress into your diet and meals, you'll be following a rich history that dates back to the age of the Persians, Greeks and Romans. Roman emperors ate watercress to help them make bold decision, Persian Kings ordered soldiers to eat watercress to sustain their health on long marches into battle, and many doctors used it to ease aches and pains, prevent scurvy and aid in digestion. These historical uses are still a good representative of the wonders of this vegetable.

In addition to adding watercress to your diet for variety, there are extra ordinary health benefits to be gained. Watercress is loaded with vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, folic acid and Lucien - all wonderful health and preventative measures.

So be creative and enjoy!

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