My first memory of watercress was hearing about ladies luncheons where they served dainty watercress sandwiches, crusts cut off, of course. Since I didn’t grow up in a household where ladies luncheons were very prevalant, I am afraid I knew of this member of the mustard family long before it ever graced my tastebuds. Once you have had the pleasure, however, it is a taste you won’t easily forget. It has a bright pungent peppery flavor and is found growing wild along streams and brooks in the early spring. The cultivated variety is also found year round in some grocery and specialty stores. For my palate, the early spring variety has a more potent flavor so it is worth seeking out. I found it at the local farmers market but many people enjoy foraging for it.
I love the pairing of of this peppery green with the neutral flavor of couscous (also called Moroccan pasta). Add the sweetness of the mint, the crunch of the cucumber, and acidity of the vinaigrette and you have a winning combination. This is a refreshing salad that marries well with fish and chicken but can also serve as a perfect balance to a heavier protein such as beef or lamb. Kabobs on the grill with this on the side sound great to me. Not fond of couscous? Try substituting quinoa, rice, bulgur or other whole grains. Can’t find watercress? Arugula would serve as a perfect alternative as it also has an assertive peppery note.
- 1t each red wine vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1T shallot, minced
- 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, use a good quality
- 1/4 c fresh mint leaves, chopped
Whisk together and set aside (not in the refrigerator) for a minimum of 5 minutes to allow mint to infuse the oil. Can be made the night before.
- 1c chicken stock
- 1/2 t sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2c couscous, reular or whole wheat
- 3/4c cucumber, scraped, seeded and diced
- 3/4c stemmed watercress, packed
- 1/4c fresh mint leaves, chopped
Heat the stock in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from heat. Allow to stand until all stock is absorbed, about 5 minutes. fluff with a fork and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Gently stir in the cucumber, watercress, and mint to the couscous. Add the vinaigrette and stir gently until incorporated. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. The warm couscous will slightly wilt the watercress which is what you want. Serve immediately or allow to sit for a while and serve at room temperature.
My husband who dislikes cucumber and therefore meets recipes containing it with trepidation, loved this preparation. We ate it with pan fried fish for a light meal. The leftovers were consumed by me for breakfast this morning and it still tasted wonderful. I think for maximum flavor, serving it fresh is best but it makes for a great snack or lunchbox treat as well. I think additions such as dried cranberries or currants would add extra sweetness if that if a flavor profile that appeals to you.
I am always happy to hear your variations so let your imagination run wild and share your creations with me!