Watercress is a nutritious leafy green and can be a flavorful addition to a salad or soup if you can find it. The problem is that it is not one of the most popular salad greens. Whether you are having trouble finding it or just now realized that you were out and that you need it, you have come to the right place. Consider the following watercress substitutes:
Your best Bet: Arugula
If you want a readily available green that can deliver the same mild spicy kick that you would get from watercress, you will have a hard time finding a better option than arugula. Fully grown arugula leaves offer a better approximation of the watercress flavor since they have a more intense pepperiness when compared to the younger leaves. If you want something milder, opt for the baby arugula leaves instead or you can use fewer of the older leaves.
Another thing to keep in mind is that arugula has an excellent nutritional profile, but it is not quite as good for you as watercress; however, it does a better job of standing up to heat. Its leaves are hardier and will retain some of their texture. Watercress can turn mushy when cooked.
A decent second choice: Nasturtium
If you want to replace watercress, look for an alternative that will provide the same peppery bite. Both the flowers and the leaves of the nasturtium plant can give that flavor to your dish. Nasturtium typically offers an even more intense spicy flavor than that of watercress.
The botanical name for watercress is Nasturtium officinale, which highlights the similarities between these two plants. You can use nasturtium flowers or leaves, though the leaves might be a better replacement for watercress as far as appearance is concerned; they are shaped differently from watercress but are green, unlike the flowers. The leaves can be used to make most — if not all — of the soups salads that call for watercress. If you want something that is more visually striking, you can use the colorful flowers. Nasturtium leaves have many of the same nutrients as watercress.
In a pinch: Radish sprouts
Like arugula, radishes belong to the same botanical family as watercress. Like many other members of the Brassicaceae family, these root vegetables have a reputation for their peppery flavor. Radish sprouts taste exactly like radishes, which also means that they taste a lot like watercress. Unlike the common bright red roots, radish sprouts are greens. They look a lot more like watercress than most other substitutes. They are also nutrient-rich and can provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While they are not particularly common in grocery store produce sections, you can actually grow them yourself by sprouting radish seeds.
Dandelion leaves can stand in for watercress in a salad or as the green element in a sandwich. Dandelion leaves do not have as much of the peppery bite, but they do a better job of standing up to heat.
Kale is another easy-to-find member of the Brassicaceae family that can also provide some of the flavor that you would expect from watercress. Its leaves have a much tougher texture, which means that they can stand up to heat for a long time.
Radish roots will provide a similar flavor profile to that of watercress, though the texture and appearance will be considerably different.