Watercress, one of my favorite brassica vegetables, delivers a distinctive peppery punch with every bite. Toss the leaves with some milder greens for a beautifully balanced salad, or stir a handful into simmering soup. Watercress also takes well to wilting, needing only a quick toss with something hot—cooked soba noodles, for instance—to soften its bite.
Watercress, which is grown in water (either cultivated or wild), and has small, rich green, rounded leaves and thick stems is sold in bunches. Upland cress, also known as land cress, has round, green leaves and light, wispy edible stems. It is often sold with the roots surrounded by a ball of dirt still attached. You will likely find only one type of cress at the store; use them interchangeably. Choose cress with bright green leaves; pass up bunches or bags with wilted, yellowed, or overly wet leaves.
Containing only about 4 calories per cup, watercress also offers extraordinary health benefits. Claiming the #1 spot in a recent “Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables” nutrient density study, watercress is high in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, folic acid, and cancer-fighting glucosinolates. It’s high time to work these delicious AND nutritious greens into your diet.
Spicy Soba Noodles with Wilted Watercress
Soba noodles, hearty and flavorful Japanese noodles made from either buckwheat only or buckwheat and wheat flour pair perfectly with peppery watercress and a spicy dressing. The hassle-free side dish could not be easier, requiring no cutting at all. The watercress does not need cooking; it just needs a quick wilt, so tossing it in the hot pan with the freshly cooked noodles and sauce will do the trick. Look for the soba noodles, chile-garlic sauce (a mixture of chile, garlic and vinegar), and toasted sesame oil in the Asian foods section of your grocery store. If you find watercress, a large bunch should be enough. If only upland cress is available, grab a couple small bunches.
8 ounces dried soba noodles
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 teaspoon chile garlic sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
6 cups stemmed watercress or upland cress
1 tablespoon neutral oil
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the soba noodles until done, about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Meanwhile, stir together the soy sauce, chile-garlic paste and sesame oil in a small bowl.
Drain the noodles in a colander set over the sink. Put the watercress in the hot pan. (If you’re using 100% buckwheat soba, the noodles may be excessively starchy. If so, give them a quick rinse with hot tap water.) Return the noodles to the pan along with the neutral oil. Using tongs, toss to combine. The watercress should wilt from the residual heat of the pan and the noodles. Add the sauce and toss until well incorporated. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Variation: Substitute 6 cups arugula for the cress. Most soba noodles are made from a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour. If you are following a gluten free diet, you’ll need to seek out 100 percent buckwheat soba. Eden and Mitoku are two good brands. You’ll also need to use wheat-free tamari or soy sauce.
Reprinted with permission from Brassicas by Laura B. Russell (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Photo credit: Sang An.