Watercress may not be the center of attention when it comes to leafy greens, but it certainly deserves more recognition than it gets. It is an aquatic leafy green that has been used since ancient times – both for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Watercress leafy greens come from the watercress plant, known for its white tiny flowers, pale green stems, and vibrant, green leaves.
As nutritious as it is, some people aren’t fond of the watercress flavor. If this is the case with you, check out the best substitutes for watercress to find the best option for you.
The best substitutes for watercress
Watercress is a leafy green vegetable originating from Europe and Asia, available all year round, but its peak season is winter. Aside from being rich in important nutrients, watercress has an interesting flavor profile many people appreciate in their salads and dishes.
When it comes to flavor, it could be described as slightly peppery, with a dose of zing that can spice up any dish. However, this flavor isn’t too dominant, and you can easily combine watercress with other ingredients.
Besides its unique flavor, watercress can also add more brightness, vibrancy, color, and spice to your dishes. It is amazing in soups (especially when puréed), it elevates any salad, but you can also layer it in sandwiches, add it in dips and sauces, or use it as garnish.
If you’re not very familiar with this vegetable, you may not be aware that there are different types of watercress available:
- Leafy green: simply known as watercress has the most pungency out of all varieties;
- Garden cress: is more on the pungent side, and it resembles horseradish. You’ll love upland cress if you’re looking for a more delicate, neutral flavor, while Korean watercress is bitter, but crunchier and provides more texture.
Cress is very perishable in general, and unfortunately, there is no such thing as canned watercress. Since fresh watercress cannot be stored for longer periods of time, it is advised to use it up in a few days.
The best way to store it is by covering it with a damp cloth while wrapping the leafy parts in plastic. You could also store watercress by placing the stems into a glass of water, while also wrapping the leafy ends with a plastic bag.
Either way, watercress should be stored in the fridge. Whether you don’t really appreciate the watercress flavor, or you just need a good substitute, we’ve got a few solutions for you.
Arugula is among the most popular leafy greens since it has quite a unique, layered flavor profile. It is peppery, spicy, and just a tad bit tangy. This watercress substitute is a delicious addition to sandwiches and salads, but it can also be cooked.
The peppery, dominant flavor of fresh arugula pairs well with many ingredients, including cheese and citrus, but it is also often used on top of pizza, or added into soups and pasta sauces. When cooked, the flavor is slightly milder.
2. Indian cress
Also known as nasturtium leaves, Indian cress has flat, bright green leaves and trailing vines. Its small to medium leaves have a slightly peppery and tangy flavor, with hints of sweetness and pungency.
However, the pungency largely depends upon the quality of the soil. Indian cress is ideal for raw applications, such as salads, sandwiches, and garnish, but you can also add them to a vinegar solution for a few weeks to get an aromatic, pungent dressing.
Endives, also known as endive lettuce, or endive leaves, belonging to the chicory family. This means that they have a unique pungency that adds that kick of flavor you want in your salads. They also have a crisp texture which is great for salads and sandwiches.
When cooked, endives tend to lose a certain amount of their natural pungency and bitterness, becoming milder and sweeter.
4. Chinese cabbage
It is more on the sweet side, so don’t expect it to deliver that pungent kick you get from the watercress. However, it is delicious in salads, and it adds an irresistible crunch when used raw.
If you want to steer clear of any pungent, tart, peppery flavor, but you still need a good watercress alternative among leafy greens, go with spinach. It is one of the most versatile options out there, and there’s hardly anything you can’t do with it.
When used raw, it has a slightly bitter flavor. However, its sweetness is much more dominant – especially when cooked. You can use it in baked dishes, salads, sauces, soups, or as a side dish on its own.
6. Radish sprouts
Since they belong to the same family, radish sprouts can be used in place of watercress. They’re quite similar to watercress leaves, and not only in appearance, as radish sprouts also have a slightly peppery, pungent flavor.
They’re a great addition to tuna salads, salmon wraps, watermelon salads, on top of chicken tacos, and egg salad sandwiches. These radish microgreens, as opposed to many other varieties, taste similar to the radish bulb.
7. Water spinach
Have you ever heard of water spinach? This watercress replacement is also referred to as Chinese water spinach or hollow vegetable, and it is quite popular in Asian cuisine. The term hollow vegetable comes from the fact that the stems of these leafy greens are hollow.
The name itself may be a bit misleading since water spinach and “regular” spinach aren’t related. Water spinach is ideal for stir-fries, but it is also popular in dishes with seafood and sauces such as belacan sauce.
8. Dandelion greens
Dandelion greens can be a delicious substitute for watercress both in raw and cooked applications. When used fresh, they’re quite pungent or even a bit spicy. However, when cooked, they become more mellow, and they can be used in place of spinach.
You’ll love dandelion greens if you appreciate that pungent, bitter, slightly spicy flavor. They’re an affordable, convenient option for salads, sauces, as well as garnish thanks to their vibrant colors and interesting shape.
Just like dandelion greens, purslane is yet another weed variant packed with important nutrients. When it comes to flavor, it is a spot-on substitution for watercress, since it also has that slightly sour, salty taste with a hint of bitterness.
When it comes to preparing purslane, you can treat it the same way you would spinach. If you use it fresh, the flavor and the texture will be much more intense. As far as cooked dishes go, purslane can be added to soups, sauces, and stir-fries.
Many people don’t enjoy kale, but we believe it is because they haven’t tried the right recipe. While kale certainly has a lot to offer when used fresh, it does reach a more complex flavor when properly cooked and combined with adequate ingredients.
The next time you have kale, try tossing it on top of a cooked pizza, or onto your pasta dish. You can also puree it to make kale pesto, make a kale and quinoa salad, sautee it with some peanut sauce and noodles, or add it to your veggie lasagna rolls.
Here’s a watercress substitute that those of you who are looking for that spicy bitterness will appreciate. Radicchio belongs to the chicory family, which is known for unique bitterness that is dominant, yet not overbearing.
Radicchio reminds of cabbage, but it is in fact a purple-white leafy vegetable packed with vitamins and minerals. If you want it to preserve its bitter, spicy flavor, use it raw in salads and sandwiches. However, you can also roast it or sautee it.
12. Collard greens
These greens are related to kale and spring greens, and they have thicker leaves with a predominantly bitter flavor. Since they have rather thick, chewy stems, they are usually removed prior to cooking.
They’re incredibly hearty, so they have numerous applications in the kitchen. Collard leaves can be stuffed or braised since they won’t fall apart or turn all mushy if you cook them for a longer period of time.
13. Beet greens
Beet greens have dark green leaves and scarlet stems, and they resemble Swiss chard when it comes to the flavor profile. However, they are more sweet than bitter when compared to other dark greens.
Beet greens are delicious in salads, stir-fries, but they can also be paired with cheese and your favorite condiments for a refreshing side dish. They’re also great in combination with roasted beets, and in all kinds of beet salads.
How to choose a watercress substitute
There’s a reason why we were told to eat our greens so many times that the voice still echoes in our ears. Greens are one of the healthiest, most convenient sources of valuable vitamins and minerals, and on top of these benefits – they’re simply delicious!
If you don’t have watercress at the moment, the good news about leafy greens is that they’re interchangeable in the majority of cases, and the differences in flavor and texture are usually minimal.
Arugula, spinach, radish sprouts, and water spinach are quite similar to watercress – especially in appearance. The only difference between these options is the level of bitterness and peppery flavor.
For more hearty leafy green options, you can choose Indian cress, kale, collard greens, or beet greens, which are more suitable for longer cooking.
There are also versatile, convenient options among weed veggies, including dandelion greens and purslane – both peppery and a bit spicy.
Finally, if you’re not looking strictly for leafy greens, there are options such as endives, Chinese cabbage, and radicchio, which become sweet and mellow when cooked. They’re crunchy, hearty, and delicious both raw and in cooked dishes.