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Watercress: Big Leaves With a Little Bite

May 23, 1991|DONNA DEANE | TIMES FOOD STYLIST

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Watercress Soup

Smoked salmon on pumpernickel bread with capers, thin red onion slices, fresh ground pepper

Hard-cooked egg slices

Raspberry sundae

Watercress is now in abundant supply in local markets. But you might not recognize it right away. The leaves are especially large and beautiful this year. They were the inspiration for this wonderful watercress soup.

When shopping for watercress, look for bright-green bunches with full leaves that show no signs of yellowing or wilting. Try to select those with small, tender stems rather than large, tough ones.

Watercress is a very delicate salad green that belongs to the mustard family. It tends to wilt quite easily, making proper storage essential. After washing it in cold water, shake off the excess water and put it in a covered container in the refrigerator. Or place the stems in a container of cold water, cover the leaves with damp paper towels and refrigerate.

Watercress, which is too frequently relegated to the garnish part of the plate, may be used in stir-fry dishes, salads, sandwiches and soups. This soup combines the pungent flavor of watercress with the subtle sweetness of leeks.

When buying leeks, select small, tender ones with long white stems. Split the leeks in half lengthwise, not quite through the root end. Rinse under cold water to remove dirt trapped between the layers, then pat dry with paper towels. Trim the green ends, cut off the root, then slice crosswise.

After sauteing the leeks and garlic, add chicken broth. After simmering the soup and pureeing, add the cream and cook until soup begins to thicken. The watercress is added during the last few minutes of cooking; the soup is then seasoned to taste.

This soup would go well with smoked salmon. Lay slices on pumpernickel bread, add a few capers and paper-thin onion slices for garnish. Arrange a few hard-cooked egg slices alongside the sandwich and you have a very satisfying light dinner.

For a quick and delicious dessert, buy frozen sweetened raspberries and thaw them in the microwave. Spoon over scoops of vanilla ice cream for a raspberry sundae.

WATERCRESS SOUP

Staples

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons butter

White pepper

Salt

Shopping

4 small leeks

3 (14 1/2-cans) clear chicken broth (or 4 cups homemade chicken stock or commercial frozen chicken stock, thawed)

1/2 pint whipping cream

1 bunch watercress

1. Cut 4 leeks in half almost to root end. Clean well under running water. Cut off root end and green portion. Thinly slice white portion of leeks.

2. Mince 1 clove garlic.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan until melted.

4. Add leeks and garlic to saucepan and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.

5. Add 4 cups chicken broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

6. Puree in blender then return to saucepan.

7. Stir in 1 cup whipping cream. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

8. Remove leaves from 1 bunch watercress. Chop leaves and add to cream soup. Bring to simmer. Cook 4 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with white pepper and salt.

Makes 3 1/2 cups or 4 servings.

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