kitchen firsts: watercress and pea shoot salad with avocado dressing
Here it is folks, a double kitchen first! Two new greens in one salad. We tried pea shoots and watercress for the first time this week and I’ve never had a salad that looked so much like eating the contents of my lawn mower. But I’ve also never had a salad shock me so much with its tastiness! This is definitely my new go-to salad. I cannot wait to make it again; like, we will probably go get more watercress and pea shoots tomorrow.
Having never encountered watercress before, I’ve been quite curious about it ever since Rick Bayless started demonstrating such enthusiasm for it on Top Chef Masters (“I want real watercress, not this stuff!”). I suspect that the bunch of watercress I got from the store would probably fall closer to the ew, not this stuff side than he would approve of, but for my first taste of watercress I found it pretty tasty. It is really spicy and herby and gives a really nice contrast flavor to a salad– kind of like radish greens might taste, I imagine. I might not make an entire salad out of it, but it was a perfect spicy note among the other greens. It was actually thanks to Bayless (again) that we added pea shoots to the mix (a recommendation from his cookbook Mexican Everyday to complement watercress), and those, to me, were the real star of the salad. They are just so sweet and tasty, I am probably going to have to start throwing them on everything as a garnish. Plus, with both the watercress and the pea shoots you get the added bonus of getting to clip the greens fresh from the roots right before you make your salad, which is always fun! We supplemented our bunches of watercress and pea shoots with a little bit of plain old green leaf lettuce since we had some around and wanted to make a good-sized salad, and that rounded out our mix quite nicely.
The list of mix-ins for this salad came from a variety of sources. I’ve been planning to make a watercress salad for a few weeks now, so I’ve been looking through lots of recipes to see what kinds of things pair well. Working from an amalgamation of those recipes, we got the idea of adding cucumbers and avocados; the idea of red onions and cheese came from Rick Bayless again; and the bacon? That was Stephen’s idea. If you are serving a crowd with non-bacon type people, you can either omit the bacon, or if you’re serving to a mixed group, I’d make the bacon and keep it on the side because it goes so well with the rest of the salad for those that are so inclined.
The avocado dressing, also based on a Rick Bayless recipe, was not something he recommended with watercress but we absolutely looooved the combination. We modified his process and recipe a little bit to suit what we had (and my desire not to get my food processor or blender dirty), and the results really went great with the greens and our list of add-ins. The whole thing came together wonderfully, and as I said, I can’t wait to make it again. We have also used this dressing before in a variety of other salad contexts, and it never fails to disappoint, so feel free to play around with it!
Watercress and Pea Shoot Salad with Avocado Dressing
Adapted from all over, but mostly from different sources of Bayless awesomeness
Serves 2 as a main course salad, or 4 as an accompaniment
For the salad
1 bunch watercress, clipped from its roots, separated from any yucky bits, and washed
1 container of pea shoots, clipped from the roots and washed
A few large leaves of green leaf lettuce or other lettuce, washed and torn
1 small nub of red onion, sliced
1 small nub of cotija cheese, crumbled (you could substitute feta, or go with queso anejo as Rick suggests)
1/3 of a cucumber, sliced into whatever sized chunks you like in your salad
2 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy and then crumbled
1/2 an avocado, sliced into chunks (the other half will go in your dressing)
For the Avocado Dressing
1/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil, or olive oil if you want that olive oil flavor in your dressing
Juice of 1 small lime (about 1 generous T)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
scant 1/4 cup mayo (we use light mayo)
scant 1/2 T worcestershire sauce
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted, removed from the skin and then minced
Salt and pepper
First, get your bacon started so it will be ready to crumble later (just stick two strips in a pan over medium and cook until crispy, then remove to a plate lined with a paper towel until you’re ready to crumble them over the salad). While it cooks, work on your dressing. If you want to use your food processor, you’ll get a slightly smoother dressing, but I never want to dirty the food processor just for a dressing so I use my dressing shaker (actually just a pint size tupperware container with a screw on dispenser lid) to shake the dressing into submission. You could do this in any container with a lid, really, so I personally recommend saving yourself the dishes and making it in something that can double as a dressing saver (you’ll only use about half of what you make, and have the rest for your next salad!).
In your dressing container, combine oil, lime juice, garlic, mayo, worcestershire, salt, pepper, and diced avocado. Shake vigorously to combine well. It should look and taste creamy with a tang from the lime, and have little chunks of avocado still detectable. Set dressing aside while you prep your salad.
Rinse your greens and dry them in a salad spinner. Add them to your serving bowl, and top with about half of the dressing and toss it all together (depending on how many greens you’re using, you may need a little more or less than half, so just dress it to your taste). Then add your avocado chunks, cucumber chunks, and red onions, followed by the cotija and bacon crumbles. If you’re serving to a crowd and want it to look pretty, better to leave it like this with the garnishes on top, but if it’s just to eat right away go ahead and toss it all up! Serve right away, then go back to the store for more pea shoots. Enjoy!