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July, 2008

Positively Ageless with Watercress...

By Cheryl Forberg

Watercress is underrated. This peppery green is an easy way to add crunch to a salad or zippy flavor to a ho hum soup.

Watercress and Cranberry Salad with Roast Shallot Dressing
Watercress is underrated. This peppery green is an easy way to add crunch to a salad or zippy flavor to a ho hum soup. But flavor and texture aren’t the only reasons to keep it on your weekly shopping list. Watercress is loaded with Vitamin C, B vitamins, and beta-carotene. It’s also a powerful source of antioxidants.

One in particular, phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) has been studied for its powerful anti-cancer effects, particularly towards lung cancer, by preventing activation of carcinogenic substances found in cigarette smoke and other air pollutants. This compound is also responsible for the peppery flavor that makes watercress so distinctive.

The deep green pigment of watercress leaves contain rich reserves of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are found in high concentrations in the lens and retina (especially the macular) of the eye, playing a protective role in promoting eye health.

Watercress is a great alternative to lettuce in a sandwich or a salad. Light dressings or vinaigrettes work best, as the small leaves can wilt under the weight of heavy or creamy dressings. This month’s recipe also features cranberries. There are few fruits as sour as this berry. You usually have to add a little sweetening power to balance the berry’s high acid content. But the sweet side of cranberries includes their excellent supply of vitamin C, fiber, potassium and, as is true for fruits and vegetables with vibrant color, they’re packed with powerful phytochemicals.
Watercress
The unique combination of these plant compounds, which include tannins (or proanthocyanidins), creates an anti-adhesion property that keeps bacteria from sticking, where they might otherwise blossom into a full-blown infection. That’s why cranberry juice is often suggested for the discomforts of a urinary tract infection. These benefits may be beneficial throughout the body, including our mouth and gums.

Last but not least, shallots are in the limelight this month. A member of the Allium family, shallots are a high quality nutrient source too. Quercetin, a phytochemical found in many green vegetables, is also prevalent in shallots as well as red and violet onions. Quercetin has several heart-healthy properties. Along with diallyl sulfide, it fights cancer. Both are antioxidants and both promote overall oxidative balance.

Sulfonate compounds, similar to the sulfur compounds found in cabbage and cruciferous vegetables are prominent in shallots, onions, chives and leeks. They interact beneficially with our liver's detoxification processes. Though roasted shallots are used to flavor this vinaigrette, yellow, white or red onions can be substituted as well.

Watercress and Cranberry Salad with Roast Shallot Dressing

Try it with different nuts and berries, too. Extra dressing keeps well in the refrigerator for up to one week. Add roasted chicken and this salad can be served as an entrée.

Yield: 8 servings

Roast Shallot Dressing:

6 ounces fresh shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
¼ cup plus
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Watercress and Cranberry Salad:
1 medium red apple
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 cup watercress, washed and dried
1 (3 oz.) package Melissa’s Dried Cranberries
1/2 cup Melissa’s Soy Nuts

Prepare dressing:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel shallots and cut into half lengthwise. Place shallots, cut side down, on baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn onion over and bake until brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes longer. Set aside to cool. Place shallots in bowl of a food processor; add lemon juice, mustard, and vinegar. Puree until smooth and thick. (Add 1 tablespoon of water if mixture is too thick to process). Add the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. There will be about 1cup of dressing.

Prepare salad:
Cut apple in half vertically, and remove core. Cut halves crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Stack the slices and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-wide slices, forming thin matchsticks. Toss apple sticks in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Add watercress, cranberries, and soy nuts to the apple sticks. Add enough dressing to coat greens, about 1/4 cup; toss well. Divide salad evenly among 8 plates. Serve immediately. Pass extra dressing separately.