Cress is a common name for more than a dozen sharp, pungent, small-leafed greens that can be added to salads and sandwiches and soups and used as a base for roast beef or chicken.
Cress brings a dash of hot and spicy to stir-fries and purées and can be finely chopped and added to butter, mashed potatoes, dumplings, or white sauces.
You can sauté cress in butter for 10 minutes and serve it as a side vegetable.
Garden and curled cress, Upland cress, and watercress are perhaps the best known cresses. Most cresses are members of the mustard family so they all bring a peppery dash to other foods.
Here are how the best known cresses match up:
• Garden Cress also called peppergrass, and Curled Cress, a related variety (Lepidium sativum): Rather plain clover-like leaves that are eaten young in salads, sandwiches, soups, omelets, and with sliced hard-boiled eggs. The leaves of the curled cress are deeply cut and lacy-looking similar to parsley and chervil. All have a piquant, horseradish bite. Grows 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm) tall and are harvested in spring and fall.
• Upland Cress also called Early Winter Cress, American Cress, Belle Isle Cress and Scurvy Grass (Barbarea verna): Tiny, dark green, deeply lobed leaves from dandelion-like rosettes used in salads or to add a peppery taste to mixed greens for cooking. Use as a garnish or flavoring. Mild, lingering sharpness and delicate, peppery taste. Spring crop can grow hot-flavored in hot weather. Small plants grow 3 to 6 inches (7.5-15 cm) tall. A good winter greenhouse crop.
• Watercress (Nasturtium officinale): tiny lily-pad shaped leaves that form mats of floating stems and leaves in moist soil and flowing water. Leaves and stems are eaten in salads and used in soups, canapés, and omelets. Blend with butter to make a tangy spread for sandwiches. The seeds can be made into mustard. Watercress is winter hardy and can be harvested year-round. The plant grows from 8 to 20 inches (20-51 cm) tall.
Garden cress and Upland cress are native to Europe where they have grown wild near slow-running waterways since ancient times. These cresses came into broad cultivation in the nineteenth century.
Watercress is native to South America and was brought from Peru to Europe in the late seventeenth century. The Latin genus name for watercress, nasturtium, comes from the root words nasum (nose) and tortus (twisted) or twisted nose for the plant’s peppery kick.
Choose. Select cress with whole, deep green leaves that have a peppery aroma. Avoid leaves that are yellowing, slimy, or unpleasant smelling.
Some cress may be hydroponically grown and will come to market with their root-balls attached.
The flavor of cress deteriorates after flowering.
Store. Cress will keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Stand stems in a container of cold water and cover the tops with a plastic bag.
Prepare. Wash cress under cool running water, trim away the roots with scissors, pat dry with paper towels, or place in a salad spinner before using. Do this just before serving. To keep leaves crisp, do not let them soak. Tired leaves can be revived by rinsing in cool water.
Serve. Use raw garden cress or watercress to lend a peppery flavor to salads and sandwiches. Use a mixture of mustard and cress seedlings for a “mustard and cress” green salad. Use cress as spicy greens and garnishes.
- Cook cress as you would spinach. Sauté cress in butter for 10 minutes, serve as a vegetable. Use cress in stir-fries. You can boil cress with other greens like mustards and corn salad.
- Purée cress to make a chilled soup. Thicken cress soup with potatoes and cream.
- Blend cress with scallions, yogurt or buttermilk and serve with salmon.
- Serve as a bed for roast beef or roast chicken so that it wilts and absorbs juices.
Flavor partners. Cress has a flavor affinity with buttermilk, cucumber, egg, goat cheese, mushrooms, potatoes, rice, roasted meats, tofu, tomatoes, and yogurt.
Nutrition. Cress contains vitamins A and C and potassium.