Nicky’s Watercress and/or Landcress Soup

This is an utterly delicious and incredibly nutritious soup. It’s also extremely easy, you just can’t go wrong. Watercress is one of the most nutritious plants you can eat. Hippocrates was one of the first to recognise the potential health benefits of it – funny how it’s now being hailed as the latest ‘New Superfood’Seems to have taken us a little bit of  time to catch up doesn’t it!? Couple of thousand years or so??

Watercress is a very rich source of plant phytochemicals and antioxidents and in trials has been proven to have anti-cancer properties, also possibly being of help in halting age related macular degeneration. The University of Ulster found that daily consumption resulted in 100% increase in plasma lutein, 33% increase in beta-carotene, and a significant decrease in oxidative damage to white blood cells. Watercress contains- (wait for it!) – Vits. B1, B2, B6, C, E, folic acid, potassium, manganese, calcium, iron, copper, iodine, carotein, lutein and zeaxanthin and more. Phew!  It’s a wonder it doesn’t taste absolutely foul – I’m sure if they developed a pill with all those in, it would!!  Landcress is almost equally nutritious, but has been much less investigated so far, from a nutritional point of view. It contains, iron, calcium, betacarotenes and Vit C, and although so far unproven, I think that as a member of the brassica family, it may well also contain certain sulphur compounds, like sulforaphane, which have also been shown to be anti-cancer, as it tastes very similar to others of that family which have already been proven to contain that particular phytonutrient.

I tend to use both Landcress and watercress, or a mixture of the two, for most recipes, they taste virtually identical so are interchangeable, landcress being possibly the more peppery of the two – particularly the older leaves. I think for a single ingredient salad, watercress may just have the edge for me, being just slightly milder – particularly in the summer, when landcress can become very hot and peppery. A mix of the two is nice though, with a sweet fruity dressing. Apart from this lovely soothing soupreal (hug-in-a-bowl) comfort food, these cresses are also very good as a sauce for meat, fish or pasta, and delicious as a salad, particularly with an orange, cider vinegar and honey dressing (goes well with duck). Of course when eaten uncooked, as a salad, they are really at their best by far, nutritionally speaking!  As a juice they’re good mixed with apple, carrot or orange juice, but don’t take the juice on it’s own, as it’s very strong unless you’re feeling masochistic!  When I’m drinking juices – I like to do a bit of ‘creative visualisation’ and imagine them going straight into my system, spring cleaning everything. Feels very virtuous and good for the soul!!

I think that one of the many great things about eating pure, clean organic food often not talked about is that it definitely improves the discriminatory powers of one’s taste buds, greatly enhancing flavours, thus enabling one to use far less salt and other seasonings!

Here’s the recipe: it’s not rocket science or set in stone, so if you feel like you’d like a bit more of anything in it, feel free, go ahead and throw it in! That’s how recipes develop and become your own – and they’re always the best!  It makes 4 ‘greedy person’s’ large bowls, 6 ‘normal person’s’ medium bowls or 8 small ‘ladies-who-lunch’ dainty bowls. As you’ve probably already guessed – we don’t do ‘dainty’ in this house!! Or calorie counting – so do it yourself! As usual all the ingredients are organic (taken for granted):

45g (1&1/2oz) butter (you can use a tablespoon or so of rapeseed or sunflower oil instead if you want to be virtuous – butter tastes better!)
225g (8oz) peeled and diced potato (I like a floury Record or Sante for this, but whatever you have is fine)
175g (6oz) peeled and chopped onion
600ml (1 pint) home made (preferably) chicken stock (or stock cube made chicken stock/vegetable stock is OK)
600ml (1 pint) milk (or 3/4 low fat milk and 1/4 cream, or whatever mix you like)
225g (8oz) roughly chopped landcress/watercress or mix of the two – (about 1/2 loosely filled carrier bag when picking) or a bit more if you like it stronger – I do.
Salt and black pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan (one with a heavy base if possible to avoid burning). Throw in the chopped onion and potato, stir around a bit and leave to sweat on a really gentle heat for about 10 minutes, with the lid on, stirring occasionally. Then add the stock and milk and bring gently to the boil. Simmer gently until the onion and potato are soft – about another 10- 15 mins. Watch it doesn’t boil over. Stir in the chopped watercress/landcress, bring back to boil and simmer for 5-7 mins with the lid off, so it doesn’t lose it’s lovely colour. Blitz in a blender, or use a hand blender in the saucepan (less washing up with a hand blender!) Then taste and season with black pepper and a little salt if necessary. Serve topped with a swirl of cream and a couple of tiny leaves, (looks very impressive) and some fresh crusty (preferably home baked) bread. Yummy!

Growing Tips for Watercress and Landcress:
Contrary to popular belief and the accepted wisdom of the usual ‘so-called’ experts (sorry I know I keep saying it – but I just love de-bunking their ‘book-learned,’ unpractised myths!) Watercress does not need Chilterns, spring-fed, chalk streams to grow in. It’s very easy to grow yourself, in the garden. Quite apart from the fact that you’ll definitely avoid liver fluke by growing it yourself (we won’t go there!), it costs a small fortune bought pre-packed from the supermarket, probably picked days ago, so growing it yourself will not only save you loads of moneybut you’ll never get it fresher!

Both of these plants are easily grown from seed, multi-sown in small plug tray modules, given the usual TLC, then planted out into nice fertile, humus-rich, moisture retentive soil. They’re both very productive, either over winter in the tunnel or cloches, and also a damp shady place outside in the summer. You’ll need a decent – sized bed of either, to produce a useful crop – about a 3ft x 8ft bed with 24 plugs of multisown plants space 30cm/1ft apart. Two beds that size, one of each, give us pickings for soups and salads etc. all through the winter, if sown in late August. In the spring when I want to clear the beds for other crops, I always pick the last and freeze it in portion sized bags for soups and sauces – it’s so handy. No need to blanchas I’ve said previously. Just wash, spin dry in a salad spinner, weigh into handy portions, mark it well (it’s amazing how alike stuff looks when it’s frozen – even if you open the bags and sniff you often can’t tell what’s in them!), then freeze as fast as you can! Once frozen, you can do that very satisfying ‘scrunchy thing’, squashing all the air out of it, and return to the freezer. It’s really useful to have a few bags in the freezer to make a quick soup or whatever. You can freeze things like spinach, baby leaf kale and herbs etc. in exactly the same way.



Categorized as Recipes