When you live in China, it’s hard sometimes to find leafy greens for a salad. Not that there is a lack of leafy greens, but in Chinese cuisine, greens are served cooked, not raw, and therefore Chinese greens are generally sturdier and a little bitter, with tougher stalks. They’re not tender enough to eat raw, except for romaine lettuce, which isn’t my favorite salad green anyway.
So, I have to be creative. Without mesclun lettuces, arugula, or other common salad greens, I’ve had to look at what is available at the market and improvised, resulting in salads like this Napa cabbage salad, and now, this watercress salad. I found a nice fresh bunch of watercress at the local vegetable market (and it was a steal at $0.50 a pound!), and served it with sweet orange segments and a honey mustard dressing. And it was REALLY good! I will definitely add this salad to my repertoire even when we don’t live in China anymore.
Watercress is a slightly bitter, peppery-tasting green in the mustard family with small leaves. It tastes quite a bit like arugula – perhaps a bit sharper tasting but very similar. Generally there is a tough central stalk that you will want to remove, pinching off the tender shoots and leaves. Since watercress usually grows in shallow water, the stalks may have sand and even teeny tiny snails clinging to the leaves. Remove any sand or little critters by rinsing the watercress in a sink half-full of water with 1-2 tablespoons of salt. The salt will cause any bugs to fall off the plants. Then remove the watercress from the salt water and rinse several times in a sink full of fresh water.
To avoid waste, you can keep the stalks to make vegetable stock later. (stalk stock…hee hee!)
Because watercress is a crunchy, sturdy green, it holds up well to a robust dressing, like this easy honey-mustard dressing that is a cinch to throw together.
Orange-Watercress Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing
1 large bunch watercress (about 1.5 pounds), rinsed and spun dry
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp prepared mustard (not Dijon)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
salt and pepper
Pinch off the tender shoots and leaves of the watercress, discarding the tough central stalk.
Peel oranges with a sharp knife, removing any of the white pith. Remove the sections of the orange by sliding a paring knife into the orange just beside the white membrane, right to the center, then turning your knife to “pop” the orange segment right out.
Arrange watercress and orange segments on a plate or in a bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad and serve.