Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Watercress Salad with Homemade Dressing

Ditch the bottle. Ian Knauer has a killer recipe for whole-grain mustard salad dressing.

watercress salad
A homemade vinaigrette trumps store-bought versions every time. (Photo: Ian Knauer)
Ian Knauer is a regular contributor to TakePart. He worked for ‘Gourmet’ and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook ‘The Farm.’

Watercress has been growing in a stream at my family’s farm for generations. My grandparents would pick it every spring for salads, and chances are their grandparents did as well. I’ve been eating it every day for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still not sick of the stuff. I like to say that it grows wild, but one of my ancestors probably planted it there, and it just took. If you happen to live in a place with a slow-moving stream, try picking up some cress with roots attached and planting it there. There’s a chance that your great-great grandchildren will eat it in salads long after you’re gone.

I bet you’re thinking that a recipe for salad is a bit of a copout, but the secret to not-just-good-but-great salad is twofold—great greens and great dressing. And great dressing, although not hard to make, is an elusive muse. In order to capture it every time, you need to remember just one thing: balance. Hit every taste sensation (sour, sweet, bitter, salt, umami) and you’ll be golden.

Here’s my go-to dressing for watercress. I use apple cider vinegar for sour, a drizzle of honey for sweet, salt for salt, and whole-grain mustard for umami—the greens add enough bitter in this case. But play with the ingredients at home. Try substituting soy sauce for salt and umami. Use balsamic for acid and sweet. And so on, but keep the proportion of oil to vinegar for a perfect dressing every time.

Whole-Grain Mustard Salad Dressing

Makes about 1 1/3 cups

1 large shallot, finely diced

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Stir shallot, vinegar, and salt together in a bowl and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk in mustard, pepper and salt, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. Dressing keeps in refrigerator for up to a week.

Do you have a go-to recipe for homemade dressing? Tell us in the comments!

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