My South East London Kitchen

a blog by Gemma Thomas.

Cooking the Seasons: Watercress

The county I grew up in, Hampshire, is famous for watercress. A large proportion of the country’s crop is grown there, they have an annual watercress festival and even The Watercress Line, a section of heritage railway that runs from Alton to Alresford; so named as it was previously responsible for transporting all of the locally grown watercress to London. It is unlikely you will ever find a resident of Hampshire who did not go there on a school trip, myself included, which was why I could not write about watercress without mentioning it.

Despite this foray into the world of watercress production as a child, as an adult I found it rather difficult to find. Of course, you are far more likely to find watercress in a polythene bag in a supermarket chiller than you are in a railway cart; but, a few years ago, these were scarce. Rocket and spinach were there in abundance, but watercress seemed to have fallen out of fashion. More recently, with the resurgence of farmers markets and the emphasis on reducing food miles, it seems to be back in favour.

I don’t know if it’s a case of ‘you can take the girl out of Hampshire’ etc. etc., but I adore watercress. Cliches aside, it has many attributes.  The strong, peppery flavour brings life to a number of other ingredients, something the more mild leaves fail to do, and the robustness of the leaves takes it far beyond a little bit of salad to be plonked on the side of the plate.

For two of these dishes, the watercress provides the base for the meal to be built upon, which is a role it plays rather well. For the other two, it has a more central role in providing flavour. What I really wanted to make this week was watercress and Stilton muffins, but I couldn’t find the time. Hopefully they will be appearing here before the season is out.

Chorizo and watercress quesadillas

Chorizo and watercress quesadillas

Chorizo and Watercress Quesadillas
I learned to make quesadillas whilst staying with a friend in Los Angeles, and now make them often as a snack or dinner. They are a great way to use up any odds and ends that you have lurking around the fridge.

Olive oil
175g cooking chorizo, skins removed
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 tortillas
Large bunch watercress, leaves only
150g cheddar cheese, grated

Slice the chorizo.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the chorizo until crisp.  Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with a piece of kitchen paper, set aside.
Lower the heat under the pan and add the onions.  Cook in the chorizo oil over a low heat until very soft and translucent, but do not let them brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
In a new pan, heat some oil over a medium heat. Place the a tortilla in the pan. Working quickly, add one quarter of the chorizo, onions, watercress and cheese to one half of the tortilla. Carefully fold the other half of the tortilla over to make a semi-circular shape.  Cook for a couple of minutes, then carefully flip over to cook the other side.  Transfer to a board and repeat with the other three tortillas.
Cut each one in half and serve with hot sauce.


Oregano lamb with lentil and watercress salad

Oregano Lamb with Lentil and Watercress Salad
I have had this recipe bookmarked for some time, and have finally got around to making it. The original recipe was with spinach, but I think watercress works just as well.  It was also a good excuse to crack open the jar of home-pickled red and golden beetroot I had made earlier in the year.

4 lamb cutlets
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
Olive oil
400g tin of green lentils
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large bunch watercress, tough stems removed
20 slices pickled beetroot

Place the lamb cutlets on a plate and sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper and oregano.  Turn the cutlets over and repeat with the other half. Set aside.
In a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, heat a little olive oil over a medium heat.  Add the lentils, red onion and red wine vinegar and cook for 5-10 minutes.
In a separate pan, pan-fry the lamb cutlets in a little olive oil until cooked to your liking – mine were a few minutes on each side.
Divide the watercress among two large plates and arrange the slices of beetroot on top.  Top with the lentil mixture and, finally, the lamb.  Serve with toasted pitta.
Serves two. Adapted from a recipe by Souvlaki for the Soul.

Watercress and butterbean salad with prawns and baby potatoes

Watercress and butterbean salad with prawns and baby potatoes

Watercress and Butterbean Salad with Prawns and Baby Potatoes
This meal was an antidote to all the overindulgence over the Easter weekend. This is an example of how well watercress works as a base for a salad, although when it is out of season, you could use other leaves instead.

400g tin of butterbeans
1 clove of garlic, crushed
3 spring onions, finely sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
8-10 baby potatoes, scrubbed
1 large bunch watercress, tough stems removed
Cooked prawns
1 lemon

In a small bowl, combine the butterbeans, garlic, spring onion, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Set aside.
Cook the potatoes until tender and drain.
Divide the watrecress between the two plates and top with the beans and the cooked prawns. Divide the baby potatoes between the two plates. Squeeze the lemon over the whole plate and add extra seasoning if required.
Serves two.

Watercress soup with hot sauce

Watercress soup with hot sauce

Watercress Soup with Hot Sauce
We have a bit of a running joke in our house that we have hot sauce on everything (which is largely true). I made a batch of watercress soup for a weekend lunch and, right at the last minute, I thought a slick of hot sauce was just what was needed. This time I used The Rib Man’s Holy Fuck Hot Sauce with Bacon that I picked up at Brockley Market, but you could use any sauce you like.

Olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
1½ tsp plain flour
200ml whole milk
125ml hot water
200g watercress
50ml double cream
Pinch nutmeg
Hot sauce

Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over a medium heat and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent, but not browned, about five minutes.  Stir in the seasoning and flour and cook for an extra couple of minutes.
Gradually add the milk and water, stirring constantly, and heat for a few minutes until the mixture has thickened. Set aside.
Meanwhile, boil some water in a separate large saucepan, add the watercress and cook for about a minute until wilted.  Drain and refresh in cold water.  Squeeze out the moisture and add the watercress to the pan, stirring to combine.  Blend the soup, or use a hand blender, until fully pureed.  Return to the heat and add stir in the double cream and nutmeg.
Divide between two bowls and top with the hot sauce of your choice.

Other recipes using watercress:
Beetroot and Feta Salad


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This entry was posted on April 10, 2015 by in Big Plates and tagged , , , , , , , .
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