The Watercress File

For the past couple of weeks it’s been all about watercress, what with the soup trials going on in my kitchen to find a winning combination for the World Watercress Soup Championship and now this weekend making Watercress and Onion Bhaji with fresh Watercress Coconut Chutney. I feel happily brain washed by the watercress campaign as I add this last recipe to my collection and close the file.

Onion bhaji is fast food to relish; street food for hungry people or at least that’s how communities in India eat this spicy snack. How appropriate that Sophie Grigson chose to show us how to cook a variation of it on the streets of Alresford at the Watercress Festival last week, accompanied by Watercress Coconut Chutney. Luckily I was near the front of the audience and got to sample a forkful of each as they were passed round. Hmm … extremely delicious and very nice experience sharing food; a few people got excited and suddenly chatty as the walls came down on our great British reserve for a few moments.

Watercress and Onion Bhaji

Take: 40g watercress roughly chopped, 1 large onion sliced thinly, 1 small potato grated, 30g green lentils, 75g gram flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground turmeric, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp cumin seeds, one and a half tbsp chopped coriander, 20g flaked almonds, oil for shallow frying.

Soak lentils 4 hours, or open a tin. Spread onion in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 mins. Absorb moisture with kitchen towel. Mix and sift dry ingredients over a bowl, add watercress, fresh coriander, almonds, potato, onion and lentils.

Get stuck in with both hands and mix it all up until the ingredients are well combined. Make several patties (about 1 tbsp in size) and shallow fry in batches in hot oil, turning half way through cooking time until brown and crispy on both sides. Drain on kitchen towel and serve with Watercress Coconut Chutney.

Take: 120g desiccated coconut, bunch of watercress, handful of mint leaves, 3 green chillies, chopped and de-seeded, 4 garlic cloves, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp sugar, juice of 1-2 limes, salt

Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor to a puree, add a little water if necessary, season to taste. Add a large helping to a plate of bhajis and enjoy the fusion of local and far away exotic flavours. Very moreish!

 

Real Fast Food @ The Watercress Festival

It was food heaven on the streets of Alresford today. The broad streets of this picturesque English market town were full of people marketing (in the real sense of the word) and cooking their own produce for people with an appetite for real food, by that I mean food that hasn’t been tampered with by all sorts of substances I wouldn’t normally keep in my kitchen cupboard, or processed to death in a factory.

 

There was a fabulous amount of choice and enterprise amongst the stall holders, a feast for hungry eyes.

The Isle of Wight came up trumps with some very fancy looking mushrooms, garlic and asparagus which I had to buy.

 

I’m always on a quest to compare and contrast my taste for asparagus. And for my supper I steamed it and served with lots of fresh leaves from my garden. Now that’s what I call real fast food. A well deserved 8 out of 10 for the asparagus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all Hampshire food at the festival, a few neighbours had managed to cross the border.

 

 

 

This is jam heaven, a business entirely dedicated to one of my must have cupboard ingredients: Chilli Jam and not just one variant but lots of them as well as chutneys. How about one called Pearfection or a sauce called Mean Green?

I’d be in word heaven if it was my job to come up with all those product names. As the sign says: It’s cool to be hot!

Apart from a few men in black trying to look mean, the mood on the streets was festive. Real food events seem to lift everyone’s spirits; helped along by a rocking good jazz band and imbibation of local ales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My debut into the World Watercress Soup Championship was Watercress and Wild Garlic (discovered in my local woodland), sadly not a winning combo. The winning soup for the traditional recipe was made with shallots and the winner of the speciality soup, called Soupe Henri Louis so named after the glug of Pernod that went into it. Congratulations to both winners! I had to say that didn’t I?

Sophie Grigson was out on the street cooking up interest on the many ways with watercress. I managed to get a taste of the Watercress and Onion Bhajee with fresh watercress coconut chutney as it went round. It was amazing, I’ll be trying that at home, more on than later.

That’s Sophie on the left, behind the smoke and mirrors doing a great job entertaining us with her food stories.

It was a grand day out!

 

 

World Watercress Soup Championship

The World Watercress Soup Championship is happening less than twenty miles away in the small Hampshire market town of Alresford on Sunday, 20 May 2012.

I’m on it, making soup and waking up in the middle of the night dreaming soup! Blame it all on the bunch of watercress in my salad box this week as a change from the veg box. I’ve ignored this Oh so good for you semi aquatic vegetable for many years for no particular reason. The Victorians believed watercress to be a cure for all sorts of ailments, even freckles, boy oh boy, wish I’d known that when I was twelve. Now it’s back on the menu I could be eating a lot more of it . . . found some great recipe ideas here.

There are two competition categories: best variant on the classic recipe and best speciality version. Had a go at a tried and tested recipe I’ve used before which is so simple and very delicious. Watercress takes on a sweetness of its own accord with an onion and a potato.

Take: 1 small chopped onion, 100g watercress, 1 medium potato diced, olive oil, 500ml vegetable stock, crème fraîche, seasoning

Heat olive oil, sauté onion until translucent, add potato, sweat gently for 2 mins. Add vegetable stock and simmer until potato cooked. Remove from heat, add watercress, stir. If you do it this way round it keeps the brightness of the watercress green and less cooking time is better for holding on to all the goodness. Put soup into food processor and wiz until potato is blended. I like to see and taste bits of green in my soup but some prefer to blitz until the whole thing has turned Kermit green and then stir in a white circle of cream, or crème fraîche for the finishing touch.

I’ve discovered a lot that’s really special about this unassuming plant like where and how it grows in Hampshire (and Dorset); fed by gentle chalk streams providing mineral rich spring water. Can’t think of a nicer place to be; hanging out with the otters and looking for fresh water trout. The watercress farmers are working together to make sure their practices support wildlife and the proof is: otters are back!  Meanwhile downtown in Alresford, a different kind of wildlife will be out on the streets, it’s going to be hectic, 15,000 people could turn up for the festival which celebrates the start of National Watercress Week. I know where I’d rather be but for the sake of soup I’ll be there!