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Wet, wild watercress wows diners

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One of the new vegetables my husband Mark has added to our garden is watercress, a close relative of garden cress. Watercress is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables we eat, traceable back to the ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans. Soldiers in those civilizations were encouraged to eat lots of watercress, as it was observed that the troops were in better shape when the plant was included in their diet. The ancient Greeks believed that watercress would cure a deranged mind.

Watercress is easily grown in flats or pots in a home garden with an ample water supply. It is fast growing, germinating in 24 hours and ready to harvest in a matter of days. You can easily transplant it to permanently wet places in your garden. Depending on where and when it grows, it can be sweet, spicy and tender or inedible.

Members of the mustard family, watercress and garden cress develop their sweet spicy flavor only when they have cool temperatures and a steady supply of water. Therefore the best-tasting cresses will be found in spring and fall.

Watercress is usually sold as a bunch and garden cress is usually sold as cut leaves. With both, you want small, fresh-looking leaves and thin stems. Be sure to taste watercress before you buy it as it loses its sweetness quickly, leaving only the hot, bitter flavor components. Avoid watercress that has flowered: The tiny flowers are pretty but cause the leaves to taste extremely bitter and peppery.

Use watercress as soon as possible. Wash, dry and refrigerate as you would any delicate lettuce.

You can use bouquets of watercress, raw and undressed, as an accompaniment to meat or fish. It is especially good with lamb, duck and smoked salmon. The sweetest and most mild watercresses are used in salads, both alone and with other greens and in those fancy tea party sandwiches.

Watercress is one of the main ingredients in V8 vegetable juice. It contains significant amounts of iron, calcium and folic acid and vitamins A and C.

Look for watercress at the farmers' markets and grocery stores and give these tasty recipes below a try. You could serve Watercress Sandwiches as an appetizer to a picnic including the Five:30 recipe for Honey Garlic Chicken and Watercress, Strawberry and Aspara-gus salad, featuring three readily available foods: local watercress, strawberries and asparagus.

Bon Appetit! Eat Something New!

Watercress Sandwiches

½ cup watercress

¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped

¼ cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons chives, chopped

Sliced white bread

Finely chop the watercress and parsley together, blend herbs with butter, cream cheese and chives. Spread on bread, and make into sandwiches. Cut off crusts and slice diagonally into quarters.

Watercress, Strawberry and Asparagus Salad

Makes 6 servings

Dressing:

¼ cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons honey

Salad:

1 bunch watercress

2 cups fresh asparagus cut in 1 inch pieces

2 cups fresh strawberries

In a small bowl combine all the dressing ingredients and mix well. Chill the dressing until ready to use.

Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender, but still crisp. Drain and rinse in cold water.

In a large bowl, mix the watercress, strawberries and asparagus and toss with the dressing. Serve immediately.

B and W Quality Growers, Inc.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mailing brandall@lakeoswe

goreview.com .

Five:30

A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less.

Honey Garlic Chicken

Serves 4

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

Place chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound gently with a meat mallet to a uniform thickness of about ½ inch.

Arrange chicken in a single layer in a baking dish. Combine lemon juice, honey, soy sauce and garlic in a bowl and pour over the chicken; turn to coat chicken with marinade. Marinate for 15 minutes (or up to 40 minutes).

You can either broil the chicken or grill it. If broiling, preheat broiler and place chicken on a broiling pan about 5 inches from heat source. Broil 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is opaque, basting occasionally with marinade.

If grilling, preheat barbecue grill and place chicken on grill and baste only after turning the chicken to avoid the honey burning onto the chicken.