Watercress are common salad greens – in our home it was a hearty vegetable meal on Mondays- our primary day of prayer and abstinence from meat, long before the term ‘Meatless Monday’ became fashionable. Watercress Herbs Curry was one of the many herb curries made by Amma – which she termed ‘braised’. Although these dishes do not contain any powdered spice-the term braised in this instance implies cooked dry (i.e. until all water has evaporated). Back then acquiring watercress was not as simple as visiting the local supermarket –like most special foods it was acquired by a system of exchange between family members or perhaps one of Amma’s ‘friends’ who worked in the fields. Amma was well known for being a gentle heart-always giving food to the Zulu women called ‘mabayis’- whose living quarters were located close to our house. It was common practice for some women to bring Amma watercress or other herbs in exchange for food or clothes.
The Watercress (Nasturtium officinale ) featured in this recipe is the aquatic variant of cress different from the type found in gardens. The latter is named Upland Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) –which has a more nutty flavor. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale ) is available in most supermarkets in the salad section. Seeds for Upland Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) can be purchased in specialty seed/gardening stores…or perhaps you are fortunate to have them already growing wild in the garden like Amma had.
Apart from watercress there were several other herbs (edible weeds) picked from our garden.
My younger sister and I sometimes helped Amma pick herbs – the Upland Cress in our garden was very similar to the dandelion plants which my sister and I often picked but Amma was always very fussy about picking the right ‘herbs’ and not weeds as she called them.
One of the key characteristics that set Amma’s herbs curry from those cooked by others was that her herbs always looked appetizing – retaining a dark green color. Amma’s secret to achieving this was not to cook herbs with a closed pot but to place the lid slightly open. Apart from the green color this also helped evaporate the water resulting in perfectly dry herbs curry. This simple yet delicious form of curry comprises of minimal ingredients with delicious results and is nutritious too since most herbs are rich in nutrients.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 5 cups watercress
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1teaspoon crushed dried chillies or whole dried chillies (use desired limit)
- 1onion sliced fine
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1. Wash and prepare the herbs. 2. Heat a pan on medium heat. Add the oil. Add the onions. Fry until soft. Add the garlic.
3. Add chillie flakes. I prefer chillie flakes instead of whole chillie. This allows for even ‘heat’ distribution rather than unexpectedly biting into a whole chillie. Fry with the onions and garlic for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add cubed potatoes. Add the water. Stir then cover and allow to cook for 12-15 minutes or until the potatoes are semi cooked.
5. Add the watercress. Do not mix. Place the lid over the pot leaving a small gap or leave open. Allow to cook for 10 minutes or until the water has evaporated. Once dry remove from stove. Serve with rice or phutu.