Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dark green vegetables can seem severe, especially to people who have not yet trained themselves to appreciate the pleasantly bitter, often-peppery flavor they impart.

Watercress is like that. It has a beautiful color, but when it comes to using watercress, it’s not always clear how to proceed.

For example, how much of the stems should you include? Is watercress good as a solo act or does it need other, gentler greens to tone it down?

For the moment, let’s avoid these simmering watercress issues and start with a soup that is easy and fast. In this thick, sensuous potato and mushroom soup, watercress is the accent.

Serve it for lunch, along with raisin pumpernickel rolls and some roasted beets, sliced thin, drizzled with toasted walnut oil, splashed with lemon juice and sprinkled with minced mint.

This soup tastes delicious with or without milk added. It can be prepared either by cooking all the vegetables in water, or by sauteing some of them in butter before adding to the soup.

Thus, you have the option of a rich-tasting and filling puree made with little or no butter or dairy products. If you choose to add the milk, you can use low-fat and still get a luxurious result.

Note that you can add either chopped onion or leeks. If using leeks, be sure to clean them thoroughly in lots of fresh cold water before chopping. And it doesn’t hurt to give them one more cold shower after chopping.

The puree can be made several days in advance.

Add everything except the milk and the optional garnishes. To serve, heat very gently and, if adding, make sure the milk is at room temperature before stirring it in.

Puree of watercress, mushroom and potato soup

3 fist-size Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks (about 1 pound)

½ pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped

3 cups chopped onions or leeks


1 to 1½ teaspoons salt

2 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

2 large bunches fresh watercress, chopped (about 2 cups, packed)

1 cup milk, at room temperature (possibly more), low-fat or otherwise, optional

2 tablespoons butter (if you wish to saute the vegetables), optional

Freshly ground black pepper, optional

A few parsley or basil leaves for garnish, optional

Method 1. Place potatoes, mushrooms and onion or leek in a kettle or Dutch oven.

Add 4 cups water and salt to taste and bring to a boil.

Lower heat to a simmer and partially cover. Cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Add watercress and remove from heat.

When cooled to a comfortable temperature (or carefully while it is still hot) puree the mixture in batches in a blender, or directly in the pot with an immersion blender. (If using a regular blender, return puree to pot.)

Return to stove and heat gently.

If you choose to add the milk, stir it in just before serving.

Taste to adjust salt, if necessary, then grind in some black pepper, if desired.

Serve hot, garnished with parsley or a few torn basil leaves, if desired.

Method 2. Place potatoes and 4 cups water in large saucepan and bring to a boil.

Lower heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add mushrooms, onion or leek, garlic and salt and saute for about 10 minutes, or until everything is tender.

Puree everything, along with watercress, in a regular blender or in a kettle, using an immersion blender.

Proceed as in Method 1, above.

Makes 4 to 6 servings without the addition of milk; 6 to 8, with milk added.


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