Watercress – The Best Summer Ingredient?

For a true taste of summer there’s nothing quite like watercress -  I love it in my lunch boxes and I know you will too.  Lush and green and with its distinctive peppery taste, it’s the original superfood and quintessentially British. From picnics in the park with friends and laid-back barbecues in the garden, to formal summer entertaining, no menu is complete this summer without watercress.


For centuries watercress has been an integral ingredient in the British diet as it used to grow wild in abundance.  Watercress has been revered for its health giving properties down the ages.  Greek soldiers were given it as a tonic before going into battle and the 16th century herbalist Culpepper claimed it could cleanse the blood.


Nowadays watercress is widely known as one of nature’s superfoods as it is brimming with more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals.  Grown in pure spring water, it contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and is packed with useful antioxidants.  New research is showing how it is emerging as an important player in the field of cancer prevention.


Watercress is so versatile it can be used throughout the year, but particularly lends itself to summer menus.  As well as using this lush leaf as the basis for a refreshing salad, you can stir it into pasta, serve it with your burgers at barbecues, add it to sandwiches for perfect picnics and throw it into stir fries to give them a kick.


The following new recipes are easy to prepare and all contain satisfying and energy boosting ingredients.  They are also great for folic acid (needed for cell division and supports the immune system),  iron (essential for making red blood cells and to reduce tiredness), calcium and magnesium (for bones and teeth – magnesium also helps to reduce tiredness and is a nutrient that often goes short in people’s diets*) and vitamin C (for skin and nervous system health, and aids iron absorption). They also brim with body and skin protecting antioxidants – and the different nutrients and colourful plant compounds in watercress and the other ‘superfoods’ work together to optimise their health promoting benefits.


For an elegant summer meal, try watercress and salmon fish cakes.  A light summer salad which is bursting with goodness is watercress, quinoa, feta and broccoli salad or for an equally tasty dish which will impress guests at any summer occasion, try watercress, sweet potato and goat’s cheese salad. For a fresh and fruity meal, watercress, chicken and mango pasta salad makes the most of ingredients which are high in vitamin C, while watercress, spiced tomato and chick pea soup is reminiscent of the flavours of the Mediterranean.


Watercress, Spiced Tomato and Chick Pea Soup

Preparation: 10 mins Cooking: 15 mins Serves 4

Per serving: 162 calories, 5.4g fat, 0.4g saturates, 1.12g salt. Counts as 4 of your 5-a-day and contains around 1/4 of the RDA for iron and folic acid, and over half the RDA for vitamin C


1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2-1tsp crushed flaked chilli

2 (397g) cans chopped tomatoes

1 (400g) can chick peas, drained then a few reserved for garnish

750ml/11/4pt vegetable stock

2 tbsp tomato puree

1 (100g) bag watercress

a squeeze of lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper


1.     Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and saute for 4 mins until soft. Stir in the garlic and chilli and cook for 30 seconds.

2.     Add the tomatoes, chick peas, stock and puree, stir well and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 mins.

3.     Transfer to food processor, add the watercress, then blend until just smooth. Return to the pan, add the lemon juice, then season to taste. Gently reheat then serve in bowls. Decorate with the reserved chick peas and more watercress if liked.


Watercress and Salmon Fish Cakes

Preparation: 15-20mins Cooking: 30-35 mins Serves 4

Per serving: 491 calories, 16.9g fat, 3.2g saturates, 2.1g salt. Contains around 1/4 of the RDA for iron and calcium and 1/5 RDA for magnesium, 1/3 of the RDA for folic acid,  44% of the RDA for vitamin C and over 100% RDA for vitamin D (needed for calcium absorption and bone health).


700g/1 1/2lb old potatoes

1 (418g) can red salmon, flaked

1 (100g) bag watercress, chopped

2 large eggs, beaten

125g/41/2oz dried natural breadcrumbs

a little flour for dusting

oil for brushing

salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the watercress mayonnaise:

90ml/6tbsp virtually fat free mayonnaise

juice of half a lemon

5ml/1 tsp wholegrain mustard

50g/2oz watercress, finely chopped


1.     Peel the potatoes and cut into even chunks. Place in a pan, cover with cold water, add a little salt, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15mins or until tender. Drain well and return to the pan.

2.     Preheat the oven to 220C/Fan, 200C/Gas or Mark 7. Place a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Add the salmon, watercress, one of the beaten eggs and seasoning to taste. Divide the mixture into 8, then shape each pieces into a round cake.

3.     Place the other beaten egg in a shallow bowl, and the breadcrumbs on a plate. Dust the cakes in flour, then dip in egg, then the breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the cakes are coated. Brush each cake all over with a little oil, then place them on the hot baking sheet.

4.     Bake for 20-25mins or until golden brown. Meanwhile, mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, watercress and ground black pepper to taste, spoon into a bowl. Serve the cakes with the watercress mayonnaise a few more watercress leaves and lemon wedges.


Watercress, Sweet Potato and Goat’s Cheese Salad

Preparation: 10 mins Cooking: 40 mins Serves 4

Per serving: 287 calories, 14.6g fat, 3.2g saturates, 0.52g salt. Counts as 2 of your 5-a-day and contains around 1/6 of the RDA for iron and 1/5 of the RDA for calcium and magnesium, 29% of the RDA for folic acid and well over 100% of the RDA for vitamin C


500g sweet potatoes

30ml/2tbsp harissa paste (see cook’s tip)

50g/2oz almonds

2 red peppers

1 (100g) bag watercress leaves

75g/3oz goats cheese, crumbled

15ml/ 1 tbsp olive oil

15ml/1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper


1.     Preheat the oven to 220C Fan, 200C Gas or Mark 7. Peel the potatoes then cut into long chunky wedges. Place in a baking tray with the harissa paste and toss until coated in the spice paste. Bake for 20 mins or until tender. Toast the almonds on a baking tray in the oven for 5 mins or until golden, then roughly chop.

2.     Roast the whole peppers on a baking tray below the potatoes for 15 mins or until charred and tender. Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a plastic bag to cool for 5 mins. Peel the skin off the peppers, discard with the core and seeds. Slice the flesh into thin strips.

3.     Toss the peppers, nuts and leaves together on a large platter with the olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt and plenty of ground black pepper. Scatter over the cheese and nuts and serve topped with the warm roast potato wedges.

Cooks tip

Harissa paste is used commonly in Tunisian and Moroccan cuisine. Most UK supermarkets sell it alongside the curry paste. It is a blend of spices, including chilli in a paste form. If you haven’t got any, mix a half teaspoon each of ground cumin, chilli and paprika along with a couple of spoonfuls of oil instead.


Watercress, Chicken and Mango Pasta Salad

Preparation: 15mins Cooking: 8-10mins Serves 4

Per serving: 328 calories, 7.0g fat, 1.4g saturates, 1.64g salt. Counts as 1 of your 5-a-day and contains a quarter of the RDA for iron, around 1/5 of the RDA for folic acid and magnesium and over 100% of the RDA for vitamin C.


150g/5oz wholewheat linguine or spaghetti

3 cooked skinless chicken breast fillets, about 100g each

4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced

45ml/3tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced

1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2.5cm/1in piece root ginger, peeled and grated

zest and juice 1 lime

30ml/2 tbsp dark soy sauce

15ml/1 tbsp sesame oil

1 ripe mango, peeled, stoned and diced

1 (100g) bag watercress leaves

45ml/3tbsp mixed seeds (optional)


1.     Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for 8mins or according to the pack instructions, until tender.

2.     Whilst the pasta cooks, break the chicken into bite sized pieces and place in a shallow bowl. Add the spring onions, coriander, pepper, chilli ginger, lime, soy and oil and mix well. Leave to marinate whilst the pasta cooks.

3.     Drain the pasta in a colander rinsing in cold water until cold. Drain well then transfer to a salad bowl. Add the mango and watercress to the pasta, along with the chicken mixture, then toss well to mix. Scatter over the seeds if using and serve.

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