Watercress and Eggs

Watercress and eggs are natural partners on the plate and with spring comes lots of fresh watercress and the first eggs from our hens. Vitamins make watercress a super food. A watercress omelette makes a super quick and easy meal.

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Our girls free range in the afternoons and are bantam crossed with larger mixed heritage hens.

Our hen advisor, my sister Kerry, told me to grab free pullets on offer in late summer as a start to our hen apprenticeship. They lay petite eggs – a number 5 size at the supermarket.

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The top brown egg is a normal sized egg amongst my girl’s smaller eggs.

I’ve always been a fan of eggs more than hens but I have to admit I’m rather fond of our girls …except for when they get into my vegetable garden and uproot freshly planted things after that illusive bug.

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Watercress has hollow stems so that it can easily float on water. It’s official name may be nasturtium but it is no relative – although both have a peppery taste.

I’m so lucky to have an abundant supply of watercress Nasturtium officinale  that I can forage to add a mustardy tang to a salad. It’s from the mustard or Brassicaceae family  of plants and is closely related to rocket, garden cress and radishes.

The pungency or the mustard punch of watercress is best complemented by the addition of something sweet like oranges, apple and pear or something creamy or bland like avocado or potato.

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A foraged salad for lunch of watercress, thinly sliced crisp apple, smoked salmon topped with pickled onion weed bulbs and nasturtium seeds and drizzled with Augustines quince dressing.

One of my favourite sandwiches is egg and watercress.

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A toasted egg, wild garlic and watercress sandwich.

This easy watercress omelette is simply delicious.

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Watercress ideally needs to be eaten the same day as picked.  It can only be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days and the best way to keep it is to wash, take off stems and laid on damp kitchen paper inside a plastic bag in the fridge.

The ingredients are 2 of my smaller eggs per person with chopped parsley and 2 tbsp of water per egg, salt and pepper. Grate some cheddar cheese or any cheese of your choice.  20161016_205043

The watercress is washed and I couldn’t resist using some stems of wild onion weed, keeping the flower-heads aside for later….but this is not necessary.

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Cast iron pans are the best for making good omelettes and while you can make one omelette at a time, I find it’s best to make two at once if cooking for two. Melt butter and then divide the egg mix between the two pans.

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Once it starts to bubble push with a fork to assist all the egg to disperse and cook evenly. Once it sets on top pile on the greens and cheese on one half.

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Then run a spatula or fish slice around the outside edge of the omelette lifting and sliding under the omelette to gently flip over to cover the filling.

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Sometimes it won’t look as perfect as this but it will still taste great.  Once you see the cheese melting and the watercress wilting it’s ready to serve.  I used whole stems so it was a little chewy.  If you have the time just strip the leaves from the stems to avoid this. Sprinkle the wild garlic flowers over the top or garnish as you will.

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Watercress is an aquatic or semi aquatic plant so needs plenty of water and can be found near streams or in boggy places.   Be careful when collecting watercress as it will pick up contaminates very easily.  As we do not run animals anywhere near our watercress and the water source has been filtered through natural bush I know our cress is clean and safe to eat raw. If you come across it on land where you don’t know its history or land use, do not collect and eat raw – you could use it if you cook it well first.

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Watercress growing on our valley floor in amongst giant chickweed, buttercup and grass.

Watercress is a very healthy vegetable and gram for gram contains more vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene and vitamin A than apples, tomatoes and broccoli, more vitamin E than broccoli, more calcium than whole milk and more iron than spinach. It’s this combination and chain reaction of vitamins that makes watercress a super food.
If you cook it then the vitamin C will reduce but the other vitamins will remain.

In the UK a nutritionist did an experiment with women eating a bag of watercress raw a day.  It was the only alteration to their diet and the changes to their skin were noticeable..even wrinkles disappearing.
Read more at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2216852/Eat-way-facelift-Watercress-latest-wonder-food-battle-anti-ageing.html#ixzz4O1W28r3j

I’m not sure I want to consume a bag of watercress daily, but it’s a good food to eat plenty of when in season – spring and autumn. Once it flowers it becomes too strong or bitter to enjoy. Most of the watercress you buy is hydroponically grown and as an aquatic plant is well suited to this method of cultivation.  But for me half the pleasure of watercress is putting on my gumboots and harvesting it myself  from the wet spots in our valleys.

Onion Weed – just as good as spring onions

 Onion weed I use to curse as a gardener – then I discovered I could eat it and I have changed my attitude.   I now think of recipes that I can use when I weed this invasive plant.   All of the plant can be eaten.   The flowers – a  pretty white with a green line –  are similar to the spring bulb snowdrops.

The onion weed flower – you can eat it

It does escape into the cultivated garden and it can easily be pulled like a spring onion in this situation.   But its favourite habitat is under trees and you will need a spade to harvest them there.

Lili the cat is not at all interested in the onion weed around her

You will need to hose or soak the onions in water to get rid of all the excess soil, and there is usually a thick and slightly slimy skin over the older bulbets, but these come away quite easily to reveal something similar to spring onions.

Onion weed harvested and ready to used like spring onions

In summer the tops die down but underneath the bulbs, usually the size of marbles, can be dug up and pickled like cocktail onions or sauted whole.  Like onions they have a papery tough first skin but if soaked in water this can easily be removed.   I haven’t pickled them yet but perhaps I will give it try later in the year.

How I use onion weed in a foragers salad….

Left over Cabbage & Lentils with my Foragers Salad using Wild Onion Weed

When I am working in the garden I keep aside any tasty thinnings and edible weeds to be used for a lunch salad.   Yesterday I had collected a wild parsnip, horseradish root, miners lettuce, rocket, Southland pea and broad bean shoots.

I reheated the lentils, bacon and cabbage leftovers and put it on toast.  I then added the collected greens and grated parsnip (yes fresh parsnip is quite delicious grated raw).   I had some leftover whipped cream in the fridge so I added the finely grated peeled horseradish root, half a dozen pickled nasturium seeds (you can use capers instead), chopped chervil, a squeeze of lime juice and seasoned with salt.  This made a wonderful peppery-cream dressing.   On top I added chopped previously collected and prepared  wild onion, with the flowers of the wild onion, broad bean and the “purrrple” Southland salad pea.   I drizzled this with some hemp oil – but a good olive oil or my favourite avocado and lime oil would be just as delicious.  It looked and tasted a treat – fresh and nourishing.

Edible flowers decorative and tasty – broadbean, Southland salad pea and wild onion flowers

I am introducing you to my wild weed and flower salads.  I love to create these to add colour, texture and a nourishing freshness to the standard lettuce salad.   This may be intimidating for some of you at first.  I suggest you slowly add these vitamin and mineral packed gems into your family’s diet as it takes time to introduce people to something different.

I have been adding flowers and herbs into salads since the 1980’s, and have gained confidence in what looks and tastes good.   I remember back then our friend Ian said, “I didn’t think I would be eating a flower arrangement for dinner!”.  I think he thought I was a little loopy putting viola and borage blooms and calendula petals into a salad but now it’s common that restaurants add edible flowers and herbs.  

I intend over time to introduce you to many more herbs, wild plants and other edible parts of vegetables not usually used, e.g. broad bean green shoots and flowers.   I hope you try the humble onion weed – leaves, bulbets and flowers.