Watercress is a fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plant native from Europe to central Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. These plants are members of the family Brassicaceae or cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress and mustard — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavor. Though easily grown from seed, it is usually propagated by bits of stem which readily take root in wet soil and need no further attention. Its natural season is from mid-autumn until spring. After its flower buds appear, the leaves become too rank in flavor to be edible.
It’s an ingredient that stands up to all kinds of savory combinations and is a ready-made substitute for lettuce during those months when there’s a dearth of green at the market. Here, it provides a solid base for a late-winter vegetable salad.
Roasted winter vegetable and watercress salad, with glazed cashews, peanuts and dried fruit
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1 container brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 lb. mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1/2 lb. potatoes, peeled — This recipe uses heirloom potatoes such as Purple Peruvians, but you can substitute any variety of potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, Red Bliss, or La Ratte fingerlings
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch watercress, trimmed
juice of half a lemon
Glazed cashews, peanuts and dried fruit garnish
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup cashews
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons orange flower water
1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped dried pineapple, dried cranberries or golden raisins
For the roasted vegetables:
Boil potatoes until tender. Drain completely, then place in a shallow roasting pan along with the mushrooms and combine with olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 F or until potatoes are lightly browned. Remove from heat and place in a warmed serving platter.
Place brussel sprouts in the same roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, add a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 F. You’ll know the sprouts are done when their insides are tender even though the exteriors are a bright emerald green. It’s okay if some leaves have browned. Remove from heat and place in a warmed serving platter until ready for use.
For the watercress:
Divide watercress in half. Blanch half the watercress in 1 cup boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds, enough to wilt the leaves and partially cook the stems. Drain, then immediately shock the watercress in ice-cold water. Let cool, then combine blanched watercress with uncooked watercress. Leaves and stalks should be “loose”.
The vinaigrette is an emulsion of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a litte parsley.
For the cashew garnish:
The garnish can be made ahead of time.
Put the sugar and water in a pan and heat gently, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar. When all the sugar has dissolved (undissolved sugar will cause crystallization), increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is clear, skimming foam from the surface, if necessary. If the syrup is too thin, boil until the right consistency is achieved, then remove from heat. Cool completely, then stir in orange flower water. Syrup keeps up to three weeks covered, in the refrigerator. Use it to cook fruit, to moisten sponge cake or as a base for fruit ices and sorbet.
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Spread cashews and peanuts in a single layer over a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to burn the nuts. Remove from heat, then let cool.
In a large skillet, bring four tablespoons infused simple syrup to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Add nuts to the pan; stir and toss until nuts are thoroughly coated with the glaze, about 2-3 minutes. If nuts begin to burn, immediately remove from heat. Transfer nuts to a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and separate them with a pair of forks. Let cool, then combine with chopped dried fruit and sesame seeds. Nuts will keep for up to five days in a covered container in the refrigerator, although you’ll find that you won’t be able to stop yourself from eating them all before then.
Mound watercress in the center of a salad plate. Spoon roasted vegetables atop watercress. Sprinkle with cashew/fruit garnish, drizzle with vinaigrette. Sprinkle some chopped parsley, then serve immediately.
Time: One hour, not including prep. You can use pre-packaged roasted/glazed cashews instead of making your own — this will cut the prep time significantly. The advantage of course, of making your own, is that you get to control what goes into the final product.
This is my submission for Weekend Herb Blogging #275, currently hosted by Chris of Mele Cotte and organized by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly foodblogging event that was originally begun by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.