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.

Gathering nettles with rubber gloves

 

Impress your friends with a nettle and parsley salsa verde or pesto.  It’s a thick green sauce or paste that you can use in a number of ways.  Harvesting nettles can be a stinging business but it’s  worth putting on rubber gloves to gather them for a highly nutritious spring hit after winter. I’ve learnt from a foraging friend that you can get rid of the prickles by simply running  the nettles under hot water.

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Daffodils with Hawthorn trees in the background.

We are well into spring at Portobello.  Spring started in September with drifts of daffodils, followed a couple of weeks later by masses of pink and white blossom and now in October most of the deciduous trees are greening up.

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Cherry blossom

Spring is my favourite season as there are visual changes on the property everyday.

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Early spring is the best time to gather nettles.  For eating purposes you need to gather them before they start to go to seed. If you have missed out on the spring nettles you can look out for them again in autumn.

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Nettle flowers are pretty inconspicuous and you first see green bobbles of buds in whorls right down the stem. You can still use nettles in flower as a rich garden fertiliser by just soaking in water or boiled up and bottled and used as a hair rinse but they are too strong flavoured for eating.

 

Salsa verde is usually made up of green herbs in oil and vinegar or lemon juice with some good quality bread added to make a thick green sauce.  Alternatively if you want to avoid gluten replace the bread for nuts. If you add parmesan cheese, you now officially have a pesto.  My version here is a gluten free salsa verde replacing the bread with nuts. 20160908_172223

You can make this sauce/paste with whatever greens you have on hand and a mix of fresh spring herbs will deliver you lots of nutrients as well.  My rule is that the bulk should be something with a mild enough flavour like parsley, chickweed or watercress as some of the other culinary herbs are strongly flavoured so are best used sparingly.

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I tend to add garlic by making a paste – one small clove (or to taste) finely cut and then squashed with flaked or ordinary salt to dissolve the garlic into a paste.

Cashews are particularly delicious with the parsley and nettles adding a sweet nuttiness but you can use any nuts.

Supposedly the nettles lose their sting with the crushing and cutting action of the food processor, but to be safe I run them under the hot tap and the stinging hairs become harmless.

Add enough oil to create a puree, then lemon juice to taste.  The lemon juice helps keep the bright green colour. It’s as simple as that.

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You can use salsa verde as you would pesto with cheese and crackers, or mix through pasta with parmesan. I like to use it as a base for an open sandwich for lunch.   Our grandson Beau lapped this up when he was staying with us over the school holidays.

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I pan roasted spring broccolini straight from the garden with a little tamari and sprinkling of sesame seeds at the end of cooking. You can hasten the process by blanching the broccolini first and then frying.  A boiled egg from the henhouse that Beau gathered himself was popped on top of the bread,salsa and broccolini.  The finishing touch is some wild garlic onion flowers.  Great nutrition for a growing 6 year old.

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This massive patch of nettles I discovered at the family farm in Southland…again under macrocarpas and where sheep had been grazing.

Nettle Urtica urens grows in phosphorus and nitrogen rich soil often near where animals are housed. I’ve discovered on our property they are under the macrocarpa trees.  It may be that the sheep and horses shelter under the macrocarpas so there is plenty of manure to enrich the soil, but there is also a dense layer of humus from the tree.   This spring green weed is therefore rich in vitamins and minerals including silica which is important for nail and hair condition.

First Aid if you do get a nettle burn or sting….

This really works, grab a dock leaf and rub the affected area.

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Docks usually have large leaves like comfrey but are smooth and often have these spots on their leaves….and they are incredibly hard to get out as they have a massive tap root which means they are bringing up minerals from way down into their leaves. So they are handy to add to your compost but make sure they don’t seed or you’ll get thousands of them!