It’s so early in the season that not much is growing yet. But I do have some perennial vegetables that never let me down. One of my favorites to add to salads this time of year is watercress.
You can often find watercress growing in the wild in clean streams and springs where it floats its roots in the running water. I have a stream (artificial but filled with clean water from my sump pumps), and a few years ago a friend gave me a bedraggled clump of watercress. I tossed it in the stream, not thinking much more about it.
Happily, it took hold and has been with me ever since. It moves around, but always comes back. It seems to overwinter along the sides of the stream, and then when the stream comes back to life in the spring finds its way into the flowing water.
Watercress is a member of the mustard family, just like broccoli, radish, mustard and kale. You can identify the members of this family by the fact that their flowers have only four petals. They are also filled with sulfur compounds called sulphoraphanes that give them their distinctive odor and taste. These compounds are anticarcinogenic, making them healthy additions to the diet.
Right now in the garden I have sorrel, spring onions, spinach and, of course, watercress with its peppery tang. All of these ingredients are fairly strong-flavored, so adding them to a salad made with milder kale and romaine gives the palate a burst of the essence of spring. If you can’t grow your own watercress, it’s often available in grocery stores and the farmers market. Look for it with the microgreens (also a tasty addition to this salad). Feel free to substitute any greens you have in your own garden or yard — dandelion, early endive, chickweed, mizuna, mustard or even the first tasty leaves of purslane.
SPRING SALAD WITH WATERCRESS AND SORREL
2 cups torn romaine or other leaf lettuce (I like to add a few shreds of sorrel as well for a lemony burst.)
1 cup chopped kale or chard
1/4 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup torn watercress
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons high quality olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crumbled feta or bleu cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the chopped kale or chard in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the garlic. Massage with your hands until the amount of greens is reduced and the greens are dark green and soft. Add the lettuce, green onions and watercress. Toss lightly and dress with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Serve in wide bowls to show off the greens, top with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.