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.

Chickweed salad, pesto and gardeners first aid

Chickweed Stellaria media is a highly nutritious plant popular in Victorian times with the leisure class for use in salads and sandwiches.  Today it is called a weed.

I discovered this luscious patch of chickweed when searching for hen greens down our valley near the pond. A windrow of soil from the sediment was made when we reconstructed the pond in January.

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This is the pond in January – to the right and behind the pond is the long windrow or heap of composting soil – rather like a raised garden bed.
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Now the grass has regrown around the pond and the windrow is well covered with weeds.  On the right hand side are potatoes I sowed late January. Lexie our dog loves the fact that the pond is filling as she enjoys a swim.

Never curse the arrival of chickweed.  It indicates that your soil has a balanced pH and is fertile.  Apart from the sediment being rich in organic matter the chickweed has grown larger in the windrow because its location is moist and has some shade.

Not only will the hens benefit from this terrific patch of chickweed, so will I.

My first thought is to use it in a salad but unlike the previous salad posting it won’t just be an extra it will be the green star …because of it’s size and lushness.  I added some freshly shelled walnuts I purchased from Valda at the Otago Farmers Market, a few olives, and my favourite for lunchtime salads – fried Halloumi cheese. Dressing is just a squirt of lemon juice and a splash of avocado oil.

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These chickweed leaves are more the size of corn salad than the chickweed I would normally find growing in my veggie garden. You can replace the chickweed for either corn salad or miners lettuce as an alternative with this combination.

A warning though – chickweed doesn’t do well under refrigeration, you need to plan to use it on the day it is picked. So after my lunch I decided to use the rest with some Italian parsley that also needed to be harvested before being trampled to death by builders boots.

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I filled my food processor with around 50/50 chickweed and parsley – removing the long stems off both, so it was mainly leaf.

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This really reduces down when chopped. I crushed a small clove of garlic in salt and added it to the chopped greens.

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Then the freshly shelled walnuts (you can use any nuts you like). Pour in extra virgin olive oil to make a puree.

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Mix in a little parmesan if you want a more creamy texture and finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice.   The lemon juice prevents the pesto from losing it’s bright green colour and also adds an acid flavour balance.  Squeeze, then taste, then add more. You are better to be conservative and add to taste when it comes to lemon juice or vinegar.

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Finally drizzle over some oil to give the pesto some real gloss.

This pesto can be kept for at least a week in the fridge and there are lots of ways you can use this nutritious spread in a sandwich, pizza, added to pasta or as a flavour boost to any number of dishes.  

Chickweed is recognised for its medicinal qualities and a tissane or tea is used to reduce water retention in the body. It can be made into vinegar or an ointment and used as a poultice.  It has been called a gardeners first aid plant because it is said to draw out splinters in a much gentler way than a pair of tweezers will.  You can use  a poultice or dip your finger into a strong tea solution…and it is also good for relieving nettle stings.

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Raw it has a good helping of vitamin C and even has vitamin B, assorted minerals, and potassium and all for free in your garden.  It is most abundant late winter early spring and is best harvested before it produces it’s tiny star like white flowers and equally tiny seedpods.  Give it a go!