It’s the time of year when many of us are watching our weight and health, so all things green and leafy are definitely on the January menu.
And you don’t get much more beneficial than watercress, one of the most nutrient-packed foods that’s around and grown in Hampshire and West Sussex.
The peppery-tasting green has attracted the buzzword ‘superfood’ in the past because of its abundant health properties. With its range of vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals, it’s great for your energy levels, immune system, liver, blood, bones. hair, eyes and skin.
‘Personally I don’t think you can get anything that’s healthier. Along with broccoli, it’s one of the most beneficial foods there are,’ says watercress farmer Edd Scales.
Edd runs Hairspring Watercress on Mill Farm at Hambrook, near Chichester.
And the good news is that the mild weather means more of the fresh stuff is available.
Edd sells to wholesalers and retailers, but will also sell bunches from the farm.
And there are several other growers in the area, which is rich in the chalk water reserves that are ideal for watercress. Some of them have formed the Watercress Alliance, which promotes the taste and health benefits of the crop.
The alliance is promoting the watercress soup diet. Details and recipes can be found at watercress.co.uk. Or try a Hairspring Watercress recipe at hairspring.org.uk
Classic Watercress Soup
Makes three bowls of soup – approx 100 kcal each
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock
2 small potatoes, diced
3 large bunches of watercress, stems removed
A pinch of salt and freshly milled black pepper
1. In a large saucepan sweat the onion in two or three tablespoons of stock or water. 2. Add the rest of the stock and potatoes together with the seasoning. Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Add the watercress, and stir for three minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in a liquidiser. The soup is delicious served hot or chilled.
Recipe from watercress.co.uk
Golden Chicken and Watercress Bake
2 x 3lb oven ready chickens
Salt and pepper
Vegetables for flavouring stock
2 bunches watercress
2½lb old potatoes
2oz butter or margarine
2oz plain white flour
10 fl. oz milk
10 fl. oz single cream
4 oz strong Cheddar or Lancashire cheese.
1. Place chickens in large pans of salted water with slices of vegetables to flavour. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 50 minutes or until the chickens are cooked through. Cool in the liquid for about 30 minutes.
2. Lift out the chickens, reserving the stock. Cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces, discarding the skin and bone. Place in a large shallow oven proof dish. Finely chop the watercress, mix with the chicken, cover and refrigerate. Reduce down the cooking liquor until well reduced. Strain and set aside. Skim off any fat.
3. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut into large pieces. Boil in salted water for five minutes only. Drain and cut into one inch pieces.
4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour with one level tsp. paprika and cook, stirring for one minute. Mix in the milk with ¾ pint reserved stock (freeze any remaining stock). Season and bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Simmer for three to four minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the cream and grated cheese. Adjust seasoning. Pour over the chicken and watercress. Top with potatoes.
5. Bake uncovered at 200C, 400F, gas mark 6 for about one hour. or until the potatoes are cooked and golden brown. Sprinkle with more paprika to serve.
Recipe from hairspring.org.uk.