Watercress, also known as yellowcress, is a perennial plant that belongs to the cabbage family and is one of the oldest-known vegetables consumed by humans. Watercress has a peppery taste in its raw form, similar to that of mustard or wasabi, which tones down when cooked.
This green aquatic plant, which is native to Europe and Asia, can be used in salads, smoothies, sandwiches, soups, pesto, and thousands of other recipes. If you’re out of this flavorful ingredient or can’t find them in the supermarket, use these watercress substitutes in your dish to enjoy a similar result.
Arugula, which also goes by roquette, rucola, and rocket, is a herb that can be eaten both raw and cooked. It has a delicate, somewhat pungent, peppery flavor with spicy undertones. Arugula is also nutrient-rich and is from the same family as watercress, which makes it a good alternative.
The spiciness and pungent pepperiness of the leaves increases as they mature, so start with a little amount of arugula and adjust to taste to avoid making your food overly spicy. You can also use younger arugula leaves in the same amount as watercress in nutritious salads, pasta, burgers, and pizzas.
Arugula also works well in braising and stir-frying recipes as it’s harder than watercress but tends to get mushy if cooked for too long.
2. Nasturtium Leaves
Nasturtium, which also goes by Indian cress or monk’s cress, has brightly colored flowers and large, thick leaves. While the entire plant is edible, the leaves have a peppery, pungent flavor that is comparable to watercress. The leaves go with almost anything, but because they’re a seasonal ingredient, finding them in the store might be difficult.
If you can find it, you can use nasturtium leaves in equal amounts as watercress to boost the flavor and appearance of everything from salads and dips to sauces and desserts. You can eat it plain, dress it with vinegar, or season it with spices to achieve your preferred flavor profile. You can also use the pretty flowers of nasturtium as a garnish to elevate the aesthetic appearance of different foods.
Spinach is a fresh, pleasantly crisp leafy green that offers a variety of health benefits. While it is not in the same family as watercress, its mild, slightly sweet flavor — which, by the way, becomes quite bitter when wilted — can be a decent substitute for watercress.
This superfood is a popular ingredient in Asian and Indian cuisines and can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes. Make sure to add some chili flakes or a sprinkling of black pepper to the mix to imitate the peppery taste of watercress.
You can also eat spinach raw in salads or with dips, soups, and sauces. Another great way to consume spinach is to add it to your smoothies to meet your daily nutrient requirements.
Kale leaves have a bitter taste and tough texture, but they’re packed with nutrients and offer great health benefits. Kale belongs to the same plant family as watercress and is readily available year-round, which is why you should consider using it as a substitute for the original ingredient.
Kale is chock full of flavor and can be used in soups, stews, and salads. You can even sauté it with various extra virgin olive oil and various spices to elevate its flavor. Kale also works well in smoothies, frittatas, and pizzas to boost their nutritional value. Keep in mind that it is available in different varieties, so choose one that will produce the most similar results to the watercress.
5. Dandelion Green
Dandelion green is an edible plant with a sharp bitter and peppery flavor and distinctive jagged edges. It can withstand heat and is known for its high nutritional value and medicinal properties, making it an excellent substitute to use in place of watercress, especially if you’re trying to have a healthier diet.
When substituting watercress with dandelion green, you can use dandelion green both raw or cooked in salads, stews, sauces, soups, and more. If you’re put off by its distinct flavor, you can also sauté it. Its leaves are milder when young and bitter when matured, so if you have older leaves, adjust the amount used and add a dash of sweetener, acid, or seasonings to the mix to balance its bitter flavor.
Radicchio is a leafy vegetable with reddish-purple leaves and white vein-like patterns running through. It comes in round or elongated shapes and has a bitter taste with a hint of spice, which will enhance the flavor profile of any dish.
Radicchio can be consumed both cooked or raw, and it can also be roasted or sauteed with spices, seasonings, or balsamic to bring down its bitterness and infuse it with rich flavors. Just keep in mind that because it’s red, it’ll change the look of your food when using it as an alternative to watercress. But, this change in color is rarely a deal-breaker; in fact, it will enhance the aesthetic value of simple salads and sandwiches.
Endive, a member of the chicory family, has pungent, bitter-tasting leaves similar to regular cabbage and looks like tiny Chinese cabbage with tightly-rolled leaves. It has a tougher texture and is prized for its health benefits. You can find endive in different varieties, with each bringing a distinctive taste to the dish.
Endive can be eaten raw in salads or cooked and served as mains. Its sweet and nutty flavor softens when cooked; and as it withstands heat better than watercress, it works well in grilling, roasting, and braising preparations. However, because endive is only available during certain seasons, it may be harder to find.
8. Radish Sprouts
Radish sprouts belong to the same family as watercress. They have a peppery flavor and offer a lot of nutritional value, much like watercress. The main difficulty is finding radish sprouts in markets. But, if you really like them, you can consider growing radish sprouts at home since they don’t take much room.
Radish sprouts are commonly used as a garnish in Japan to add flavor to salads, but they can also be used in sandwiches and other recipes to amp up their nutritional content. As the two ingredients also share similarities in appearance, you can easily sneak radish sprouts into your dish instead of watercress without anyone noticing!