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Just Picked: Watercress, not just for crustless sandwiches

Closely related to mustard greens, cabbage and arugula, watercress pairs particularly well with fresh citrus, such as orange and grapefruit, as well as roasted meats and egg dishes. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Closely related to mustard greens, cabbage and arugula, watercress pairs particularly well with fresh citrus, such as orange and grapefruit, as well as roasted meats and egg dishes. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Afternoon tea likely comes to mind with the mention of watercress, the semi-aquatic leafy green often used in crustless sandwiches.

Its slightly scalloped leaves lend a subtle spice to soups, sandwiches and salads. The flavor carries just a gentle hint of pepper, making watercress more palatable for people who find arugula overpowering.

Rich in vitamins A, C and K, watercress has been known as a healing herb since ancient times.

It’s recommended in weight-loss programs as well as cholesterol-lowering diets and is believed to help prevent cancer.

Once harvested, it should be consumed quickly. Watercress lasts two or three days in the fridge.

Closely related to mustard greens, cabbage and arugula, it pairs particularly well with fresh citrus, such as orange and grapefruit, as well as roasted meats and egg dishes.

Toss it into salads with thinly sliced pears, pomegranate seeds, roasted beets, cucumber or avocado.

Raw watercress also makes a flavorful bed for grilled peaches, poached eggs, roasted sweet potatoes, pork chops, salmon, steak or leg of lamb.

It’s good, too, as a zesty garnish, lending a crisp kick to dishes such as quiche and pizza.

Consider cooking it. Watercress can be wilted into rice, risotto or pasta, or sautéed – much like spinach or Swiss chard – with garlic. Purée it into soup with onion, cauliflower, potato, nettles, spinach, maybe even some heavy cream.

Of course, it can always be layered into sandwiches.

You don’t have to remove the crusts – unless you want to.

Here, it’s mixed with chicory and grapefruit, then dressed with soy sauce, ginger and garlic, and topped with seared beef, preferably wagyu.

The greens and fruit – along with the Japanese-style dressing that adds no fat – cut through the richness of the meat in this dish, adapted from a recipe by food writer Kimiko Barber.

Seared Beef Salad with Watercress, Chicory and Pink Grapefruit

From “Lidgate’s The Meat Cookbook” by Danny Lidgate and Hattie Ellis

For the salad

7-ounce sirloin steak, cut about 1- to 1 1/2-inches thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon beef drippings or vegetable oil

1 pink grapefruit, segmented

3 1/2 ounces watercress, trimmed

20 ounces red chicory, leaves separated and cut into long shards

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

For the dressing

1/2 small clove garlic, finely grated

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

1 teaspoon caster sugar

4 tablespoons soy sauce

Take the meat out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to take the chill off.

Rub the meat with salt and pepper. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a high heat. When really hot, add the beef drippings and let it melt. Alternatively, brush the meat with vegetable oil. Quickly sear the meat for just 1 to 1 ½ minutes on each side. Wagyu or well-hung sirloin is tender enough to eat very rare, but you can cook it for longer if you prefer to have it medium or medium-rare. Transfer the meat to a chopping board for a couple of minutes, until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining all the ingredients for it in a small bowl. Put the grapefruit and salad leaves on a large serving platter but do not dress yet.

Cut the meat into slices about ¼-inch thick and sprinkle with rice vinegar. Arrange the meat on top of the salad, drizzle with the dressing, then toss and serve.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings, depending on appetite

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