Watercress Herb Salad

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Yotam Ottolenghi's Watercress salad

This delicious salad recipe is adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi published in the Wall Street Journal on July 23, 2011 (see original here). The name “Watercress Salad” does not come close to describing it’s complexity. A blend of watercress and herbs are layered with a nut and seed mixture,  fresh goat cheese, eggs and a bright lemon dressing. The combination of tastes and textures is new and very satisfying. Every bite is different, so the last bite is as interesting as the first. Truly a chef’s creation, and easy to make.

My daughter loved it and it has become her go-to meal — she tends to find a dish she likes and have it over and over. She makes it with prosciutto and manchego cheese instead of the eggs. The first time she asked me to put only a small amount of goat cheese (she called herself a goat-cheese virgin), but now she eats the cheese with a spoon. I love recipes like this, that can make you like a new ingredient. 

I happened to have most of the ingredients except for the greens, herbs and the cheese. In fact, some things, like the sesame seeds and the pumpkin seeds, I had used for something else months ago, and were just waiting in the freezer, so this recipe helped use them up.  I substituted dried dill for fresh.  And I can only get watercress right now at Wegman’s, so I have also made it with a spring mix with herbs.  The coriander seeds are somewhat hard (or maybe mine were hard) — you could mix some ground coriander seed in the dressing instead. I have grated some lemon rind into the dressing, which adds another lemony note. And by grating the lemon after the garlic you get all the garlic off the microplane. You can substitute other nuts or seeds and use other greens, but I suggest you try to include the cilantro, basil and dill, because I think the different herby notes are the backbone of the taste profile.

This is a low-carb recipe to begin with.  I added an extra egg and extra goat cheese to make it a more satisfying main course salad.  Both times I’ve made it I was not hungry for 4 hours, which is quite a feat for a salad.  I calculated the carb count as 5.76 net carbs per serving.  If you are not counting eggs and cheese in the carb count (a la Atkins) then it’s 4.1 net carb grams.

Every time I’ve made this I’ve thought it was better than anything I could get a a restaurant.

Watercress, Herb and Nut Salad

Serves 2 as a main course

  • 2 tablespoons chopped raw almonds (chopped medium-fine)  
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed 
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds – I used salted 
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds  
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ½ small clove garlic, grated fine — I used a microplane
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind (grate lemon after the garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra to taste  
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 3 cups watercress  
  • 1 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped  
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, tightly packed 
  • 4 ounces fresh, mild goat cheese, cut or scooped into smaller pieces  
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, each egg cut into 4 wedges  – see note below for boiling

1. Heat a small frypan over medium heat, add the almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and red pepper flakes, if using, and pan roast for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant.

Nuts and seeds roasting in pan.

2.  Make dressing: In a small bowl mix lemon juice, olive oil, pinch of salt and lemon rind with a small whisk or fork. Or place all ingredients in a jar or container, put on the lid and shake.

Ingredients for dressing: lemon, garlic, oil. Don't forget the salt and lemon rind. (this photo was for 1 serving)

3. Wash and dry the greens. Mix them lightly in a bowl.

The remaining ingredients: Eggs, goat cheese, watercress, dill, basil, cilantro.

4.  Assemble salad. From the bottom up, layer greens, seeds, egg and cheese, greens, seeds, egg and cheese, then dressing. That is, mentally divide all ingredients into 4 and use 2 parts for each bowl. For each serving, place a layer of the greens in a shallow bowl, sprinkle 1/4 of the seed mixture, 1/4 of the goat cheese and 4 egg wedges. Repeat the layers.  Drizzle the dressing on top.

Salad ready to serve:

Note:  Boiling eggs can have two pitfalls. They can crack as they boil, or they can be hard to peel.  Neither one will happen if you  remember it’s all about temperature rate change. Whaaat??  Before boiling, any change to the eggs temperature should be gradual, otherwise they may crack.  If eggs are cold, start with cold water. (To speed things up I often put the eggs in the pot, fill it with cold water and then gradually add hot water from the tap.)  After they are cooked, a sudden temperature change will make the eggs easier to peel (egg and shell expand/contract differently).  Also, if the eggs are older they will be easier to peel. There are other ways to time the eggs, like bringing them to a boil, covering the pan, turning off the heat and waiting 10 minutes, then shocking them in ice water, but I’m usually in a hurry when I’m making them for this salad. You can boil the eggs ahead, of course, but the warm eggs do add a temperature interest to the salad.

So, to hard boil eggs: Place eggs in saucepan with water to cover.  Use cold tap water if the eggs are cold. Place saucepan over high heat.  As soon as the water boils, lover the heat to simmer (just a few bubbles) and set the timer for 7-8 minutes.  When the timer goes off, immediately pour the boiling water out in the sink and fill the saucepan with cold tap water and ice. Wait a couple of minutes before peeling.    


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