Quick and Easy Watercress Salad with Apples

published Aug 8, 2021
Watercress Salad

A simple vinaigrette works to mellow the natural bite of watercress.

Serves4 to 6

Prep10 minutes to 12 minutes

Cook6 minutes to 8 minutes

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A closeup of a Watercress salad in a white dish
Credit: Kelli Foster

Anytime my salad routine is feeling a little stale, my favorite way to liven things up is by trading in my regular salad greens and grabbing a bunch (or bag) of peppery watercress. It’s the main star in this simple side salad that comes together in a flash and goes with just about everything. Combined with slices of tart green apple, toasted almonds, salty pecorino, and a simple vinaigrette, this watercress salad is an irresistible mix of flavors and textures, and bound to be a new favorite.

What Does Watercress Taste Like?

If you’re used to greens like romaine or bibb lettuce, know that watercress comes with more punchy flavor. Raw watercress has a distinct peppery taste, and can sometimes be a little spicy or bitter on its own. Usually the more mature a bunch of watercress, the more intense the flavor is likely to be. Here, a simple vinaigrette works to mellow the bite, as do the contrasting sweet and salty ingredients. 

Can You Eat Watercress Raw?

Absolutely! And because it has so much flavor, watercress makes a great candidate for the base of a simple salad. Looking for more ways to eat raw watercress? Try topping it on sandwiches, or adding it to wraps and grain bowls. This straddles the line between raw and cooked, but it’s also a fun addition folded into the center of an omelet.

How to Prepare Watercress for Salad

You’re likely to find watercress in one of two forms (or maybe both) at your grocer: bags or bunches. The benefit of bagged watercress is convenience: It’s already washed and trimmed, so there’s little to no prep required at home. If you’re starting with a bunch of watercress, there’s a little prep work you’ll need to do before making the salad.

To prepare watercress for salad, you’ll first trim off the thick stems. You’ll be left with the leaves and tender stems, which is what you’ll use for the base of the salad. Wash the leaves and tender stems well and dry with a salad spinner or towel. Remove and discard any yellowed, wilty, or spoiled leaves. 

Credit: Kelli Foster

Turning Watercress Salad into a Main Dish

This simple watercress salad makes a wonderful and simple side dish to round out a meal, although you can also bulk it up to serve as a main, which will feed two people. Here are some of our favorite ways to turn watercress salad into a main.

  • Top with chicken. Grilled chicken breast, shredded chicken, rotisserie chicken, or even leftovers from the fridge are all fair game here.
  • Top with sliced steak. A few slices of steak (any kind will work!) are great for making this salad a meal; the richness of the meat is a nice complement to the peppery greens.
  • Add salmon. A cooked salmon fillet or even a few slices of smoked salmon are a good partner to watercress salad. 
  • Top with scallops. Buttery seared scallops are also great with watercress. Not only will a few scallops turn this salad into a meal, but it will also feel totally impressive. 
  • Mix with farro (or other cooked grains). You’ve got two choices here: You can either serve the watercress salad over a bed of farro or your favorite cooked grains, or toss it all together. 

Watercress Salad

A simple vinaigrette works to mellow the natural bite of watercress.

Prep time 10 minutes to 12 minutes

Cook time 6 minutes to 8 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


For the dressing (yields about generous 1/3 cup):

  • 3 tablespoons

    white wine or champagne vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    Dijon mustard

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 1/3 cup

    whole almonds

  • 1 teaspoon

    olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2

    small red onion

  • 1/2 cup

    cold water

  • 6 ounces

    watercress (about 2 bunches)

  • 1

    medium Granny Smith apple

  • 2 ounces

    shaved Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2/3 cup)


Make the vinaigrette:

  1. Place 3 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until the salt is dissolved. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and continue whisking until emulsified.

Make the salad:

  1. Place 1/3 cups almonds, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the almonds darken in color slightly and are very fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Immediately transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let cool while you prepare the onion.

  2. Thinly slice 1/2 small red onion. Place in a small bowl, cover with 1/2 cup cold water, and set aside for 10 minutes to make the onion less potent. Coarsely chop the almonds.

  3. Prepare the following, adding them to a large bowl as you complete them: If needed, trim the stems from 6 ounces watercress. Core and thinly slice 1 Granny Smith apple. Use a vegetable peeler to shave 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2/3 cup).

  4. Drain the onion and add to the bowl. Top with the almonds. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat. Add more dressing if desired (you may have some left over). Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The dressing can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve. The almonds can be toasted up to 1 day in advance; once cool, store in an airtight container at room temperature.