The monks at West Park served this side at a silent Saturday lunch a couple of years ago at about this time of year.
As I tried to recreate their tangle of steamed watercress, spinach, and peas at home, I realized this recipe captures just what's going on this time of year. (And now, every time I see watercress, I think of monks.)
The frozen peas remind me of the long winter we've spent eating peas from the freezer, but here the peas are an accent, a garnish that adds some sweetness. The mineral flavor of the spinach holds the richness of the newly thawed ground.
While watercress does bring the peppery bite cooks mention whenever watercress comes up, I find watercress, especially when cooked, also holds a lingering rose flavor. And, like bok choy, watercress keeps its springy crunch, even when steamed. Biting through a watercress stems is just like trimming the ends of tulips before dropping them into a vase. That's why I leave the watercress stems on in this recipe, while tearing the spinach stems off.
Steamed Watercress, Spinach, and Peas
About 5 ounces of fresh spinach, cleaned thoroughly and drained
About 5 ounces of fresh watercress, cleaned thoroughly and drained
1/4 cup frozen peas
Salt, to taste
Put the steamer over to boil on high heat. While waiting for the steamer to boil, remove any tough stems from the spinach.
When the water in the steamer reaches a boil, layer the spinach in the bottom of the steamer. Then pour the frozen peas in next. Last, place the layer of watercress on top.
Place the lid on top of the steamer. The vegetables should take about five minutes to steam, but begin checking them at three minutes. Depending on how tender your green are, they will cook fast.
Remove to platter, toss with some salt to blend the flavors, and serve immediately. Think of monks or spring.