It can sit on the plate next to a steak as a punchy side salad. It can be whirled into a pesto. It can be lightly sautéed along with fresh spring vegetables and tossed into a pasta. When it comes to the leafy green Cress from the Coaldale, AB-based Whole Leaf Greenhouse, there are numerous things chefs love about this green that’s more commonly known in Europe but is making its way onto more and more plates in North America.
Just ask Connie Desousa and John Jackson, co-owners of several restaurants including most notably Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB. “People who are unsure about what cress is can relate it to something like arugula—it’s really peppery,” says Desousa, a former Top Chef Canada: All Star competitor. “We love it because that pepperiness pairs really well with the meats on our menu at Charcut. It’s also grown here and the quality lasts a long time. It’s fresh and we have great feedback from our guests on it.”
And at a time when consumers are open to new-to-them products, seeing how chefs use cress could inspire some home dishes. “Being on menus is a way to introduce it to consumers—that’s how a lot of trendier greens that are healthy for us made their way to consumers. Once people try it and experiment with it, it catches on because it’s different and it’s a diverse green people should explore more,” says Jackson.
Chefs are working with cress in different ways, including incorporating them into pestos, adding them to pasta or layering them into sandwiches.
Varying its use
And both chefs are also using cress in newer ways in their professional kitchens. “You could layer it in sandwiches or blend and fold it into a dip or blitz it into a pesto,” says Desousa. “It’s a great garnish and accent to different dishes.”
Cress is also a versatile vegetable and not just relegated to cold dishes either. “Simply sautéing cress is great too with some olive oil, garlic and a splash of white wine or lemon juice,” says Jackson. “This might be one of the preferred ways, especially if it’s a bit older and not as vibrant.”
As the weather warms up and people become more active, the weather change naturally lends itself to a menu change. “We’re in spring so pureeing cress into soups also adds an incredible freshness,” says Jackson.
Connie Desousa (left) and John Jackson, co-owners of several restaurants including Charcut Roast House in Calgary, AB.
Tapping into health benefits
While both Desousa and Jackson note that flavor is king with ingredients for the dishes on their menu, a vegetable such as cress speaks to them as well in other ways. “Using local and sustainable products is one of our core values as chefs and restauranteurs. We try our best to source most of our ingredients locally and now more than ever to support local businesses,” says Desousa. But, both chefs also value a balanced lifestyle where health is a priority. “Cress is really high in vitamin C and it also increases the production of collagen and helps lower your blood pressure too,” Desousa says.
“But we’re also excited about it as chefs because it’s loaded with flavor. It’s not just a textural thing. It has flavor and depth and an interesting profile,” adds Jackson.