Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sopa silvestre - a crema de agrião

Watercress soup ( recipe below) and a watercress sandwich

Its the green gladiator wielding his sword on behalf of a healthy immune system.If you want strong bones, bags of energy and a better ability to see in the dark,( why on earth would you!!!)this is what you need.This plant is delicious and packed with vitamins and minerals.It's available free for the gathering in almost every inhabited and many uninhabited parts of the world . . . .and what´s more  you can turn a summer hike into a "go green" shopping expedition with other bushels of free food for the gathering along the way.
The rather amazing wild food I'm talking about is watercress (Nasturtium officinale). And unless a friend has pointed it out to you, you could well have walked right past bushels of the "weed" on any tramp through the woods that took you along a stream, spring, small lake,tributary or other body of water.
Many years ago I stumbled upon watercress quite by accident while out on a river excursion along the River Stour in Suffolk. A childhood memory  of gathering from a small rowing boat, wild watercress growing along the banks of the River Stour in Suffolk,where this pungent member of the mustard family grows abundantly.To think that we could have have overlooked a small fortune (at supermarket prices) of the cress,and possibility of preserving a strong memory and taste that is still with me today. It is certainly reassuring that in these times of agroculture that one can still gather nutritious greens from hedgerow and stream.
As Euell Gibbons always said, "You don't need to learn about all the plants you don't want to forage. Just know—really know—the few you do want to harvest from the wilds."
In the case of watercress, you'll be looking for a floating and/or creeping plant with leaves made up of three to five oval-shaped leaflets. This cress can grow to be quite "leggy" and tall and, in the spring, exhibits clusters of small, white, four-petaled flowers.
Never pull up the whole plant when you're harvesting watercress (it's just a waste of time since the stem below water is tough and bitter). Instead, twist or pinch the plant's foliage off at the water's surface. You should have no trouble gathering a basketful in just a few minutes, since the cress tends to grow quite profusely anywhere it gets a start.
The process of growing watercress depends on much pure water,no longer just from natural springs but from deep boreholes and a constant washing of the watercress.
When foraging for wild watercress beware of where you’re looking: the water quality of the water in which it grows is important for fear of Fasciola Hepatica.Also called the “common liver fluke,” the Fasciola Hepatica is a parasite known to wreak more havoc on livers than a whiskey-fueled bender. They cause damage to ruminants and humans that eat wild watercress where juvenile flukes reside.
This shouldn’t however deter a gourmand from enjoying their exotic flavour.As I´ve discovered while shopping in the Algarve it’s much spicier than any cultivated variety. Foraging watercress requires a little gumshoe detective work. Investigate upstream. If you find livestock, farms, or housing developments, try elsewhere.
The more usual method of buying watercress is by the bunch.All bunches should be labelled,a guarantee of quality.In the old days they were packed in chip baskets; now cardboard does the job more efficiently if less attractively.Vacuum packed watercress comes expensive,but there is no waste and it will keep in the salad drawer of the refrigerator in good condition for a week.
How much should one eat?- Eat watercress daily if you can. In some regions it's more widely available during the spring and summer when it's cultivated outdoors. But since it can also be grown hydroponically in greenhouses, you can find it year-round in many grocery stores and at your local farmer's market.
Cream of watercress soup
Watercress makes one of the best of all soups,whether you make it with potatoes or as a cream soup.My version uses no potato.
300g (10oz)watercress
1 medium onion chopped
60g (2oz) butter
1 heaped tablespoon flour
1 litre (2 pints) light chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
250ml (8fl oz) whipping cream or thick yoghurt
Separate the leaves of the watercress from their stalks and set the leaves aside. Chop the stalks finely and and cook with the onion and butter for about five minutes till softened but not coloured.Stir in the flour and cook for another couple of minutes.Gradually add the stock and seasoning.Simmer for half an hour the allow to cool before blending.When cool pour the soup into the blender and add the reserved watercress leaves.Blend until very smooth.return the soup to the pan and re-heat gently.Judge the consistency and add more water if you like,bearing in mind you are going to add the cream*.Beat the cream or the yoghurt or a half and half mixture and pour into the soup.Stir for a couple of minutes over a low heat and correct the seasoning.

Chilled watercress soup
The soup can be chilled.Follow the recipe up to the asterisk,keeping it on the liquid side as it will thicken as it cools.When chilled add the cream and/or yoghurt 

Other watercress tips
  • You can cook it, but watercress is better for you when you eat it raw. Tuck it into a sandwich in place of lettuce.This is the best of all watercress dishes.Nothing can challenge the perfect combination of good bread,salty butter and peppery crisp watercress.Make sure you use plenty of watercress so that is bursting cheerfully out all over.
  • Toss it with your favourite vegetables and eat it in a salad,with walnuts and Portuguese pears.Dress it with a roquefort or any other creamy blue cheese dressing.Dress it with a walnut oil or the uber fashionable Argan oil.
  • Watercress is great in pesto -- just replace the basil with watercress -- and soups.
  • Use watercress as a wonderfully detoxifying ingredient in a juice or smoothie.

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