W is for watercress

Watercress in bowl with fingers LRBy guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food /nutrition.Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable, along with cabbage, broccoli and kale. Its characteristic peppery taste is a reminder that it is closely related to radishes, mustard and cress and wasabi.

The official name of watercress is Nasturtium officinale. I’ve been growing nasturtiums on my kitchen windowsill and using the leaves in salads. They taste very much like watercress but, despite the name, watercress and nasturtiums are not closely related in the botanical sense.
We are entering the main watercress season (April to October).

Watercress is an aquatic plant growing near springs and slow-moving streams. Look for bunched organic watercress grown on English farms for maximum nutrition and flavour. Watercress has long been known for its health benefits. It was mentioned by both Hippocrates and the 18th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper.

Chemical analysis shows that watercress contains at least 15 essential vitamins and minerals. It has more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than oranges, per 100 grams. Watercress, like other cruciferous vegetables, contains many anti-cancer compounds. One of the most significant is gluconasturtiin, one of the glucosinolate compounds found in the cruciferous vegetables, which is broken to down to phenethyl isothiocyanate (PITC) by plant enzymes, when watercress is eaten. Lab studies show that PITC is very toxic to cancer cells, especially those from breast and prostate tumours.

There is also research showing that adding extra watercress to the diets of smokers decreased the concentration of the toxins found in cigarette smoke in their bodies. Eating watercress every day has also been shown to lower triglycerides in the blood and increase levels of lutein and betacarotene, which was linked with lower incidence of age-related macular degeneration and cataract.

Watercress and strawberry juice

Bag or bunch of watercress

Carton of strawberries, hulled

Juice alternate handfuls of berries and watercress.

Four Times Green Salad
Serves 2

Bag or bunch of watercress
One ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
Head of broccoli or packet of tenderstem
Bag or bunch of spinach or rocket

Cook the broccoli and allow to cool, then chop into one inch pieces. Combine with other ingredients and dress with a flaxseed oil/lemon/cider vinegar dressing. Toss and finish with chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, basil).  (If you are short of time, just mix the avocado with a pre-prepared bag of watercress, spinach and rocket].

This makes a super-healthy meal when served with an organic salmon or smoked mackerel fillet.

The Kitchen Sink Salad
So called because it contains everything but…I aim to use 12 different ingredients: the first six are – a pulse/grain, a protein, a red, yellow or orange vegetable, a green vegetable, a fruit and, of course, WATERCRESS. For the other six ingredients, just use your imagination, thinking about contrasting tastes, colours and textures! How many different combinations can you come up with?I made two versions last weekend

Serves 2 (and there’ll probably be plenty of leftovers)

Saturday’s salad

Bunch of watercress, chopped
Tin of mixed beans
100 g cubed feta cheese
Carton of cherry tomatoes, halved
One yellow pepper, diced
Carton of deli olives
Tablespoon of mixed seeds
Carton of alfalfa sprouts
Handful of hazelnuts
Handful of pomegranate seeds
Two handfuls of kale
Chopped mint
First ‘massage’ the kale with flax seed oil till it wilts. Then add all the other ingredients, except the mint, and finish with lemon juice and cider vinegar (about a tablespoon of each). Toss and finish with chopped mint.

Sunday’s salad

Bunch of watercress, chopped
Tin of kidney beans
Packet of cooked king prawns
Packet of plum tomatoes, halved
One avocado, peeled and chopped
Handful of sunflower seeds
Carton of radish/broccoli sprouts
Handful of almonds, chopped
Handful of dried cranberries
Bunch of asparagus

Boil the asparagus for five minutes, cool and chop into one inch pieces. Add all other ingredients, toss with a dressing made of mustard, flax seed oil, lemon juice and cider vinegar. Finish with chopped mint.

Yes, there’s a lot of mint this month…that’s because I’m waiting for our herb garden to be re-stocked and all I have at present is a vast and spreading clump of mint.

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