Crema Fría de Berros y Papas
When it's hot weather here at el Rancho, we look again for cold, easy to prepare foods to tide us over until the cool rains begin again. Last week, I made Cool Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup; this week, it was cool, fresh green soup of watercress and potatoes.
This soup is not very difficult to make, but you must buy 2 very large “manojos” or bunches of berros. We often get them at the vegetable stand of Juana and Arturo Padilla, in the Pátzcuaro mercado. There are other places to find it, but you have to look. This herb, Nasturtium officinale, is not always available here, so I try to take advantage of it when it is. Locally, it is very inexpensive. I paid 5 pesos for each manojo of berros.
Chilled Cream of Watercress and Potato Soup
• 1/2 kilo papas (white potatoes)
• 1/2 onion, or if you want to get fancy, buy a leek.
• Some celery bits and leaves, but not much. Optional.
• 2 manojos de berros.
• Butter, 3 tablespoons, approx. You could actually leave it out entirely, but it tastes good.
• Evaporated milk. Maybe two cans, probably three. I used 1 ltr. boxed leche semidescremada plus the cream, below. It turned out fine, and lighter than previously.
• Knorr Suiz caldo de pollo. I used 2 cubes. You may subsitute the powdered variety, or real chicken stock, if you wish.
•1 liter of water.
•Crema espesa, (crème fraîche) optional.
Salt, white pepper, picante páprika or cayenne pepper (opt), White Wine Worcestershire Sauce (opt).
Coarsely cube the peeled poatoes (I used 2 medium and 1 small, and I could have used a bit more more. But the potatoes vary in starchiness, so it's kind of hit or miss. I use them in this soup mostly as a thickener.)
Coarsely cube the peeled onion and use about 1 cup of it.
Chop the celery finely if using it.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pot over a medium flame. (I was using the bottom of an 8-qt pressure cooker.)
Put in the potatoes, onion and celery.
Let it sweat awhile over low heat, stirring occasionally. It shouldn't brown.
Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the berros in several waters, then disinfect with Microdyn or your favorite disinfectant, even 15 minutes is fine. This is very important.
When the vegs in the pot are nicely glistening, pour in the liter of water and 2 Knorr Suiza chicken cubes, or equivalent in powder. Vegetarian broth may be substituted.
I then pressure cooked it 12 minutes on high pressure.
Vent and open pot when time is up.
If using a regular pot, simply cook the vegetables, covered, on a low boil, until soft. The pressure cooker is fast and using less gas, and heats the kitchen less. You may need a little more water.
Add the evaporated milk; let's say, just 2 cans to start. Use a liter of milk in all. Part can be part-skimmed liquid milk, or fresh milk.
Remove the berros from the disinfectant soak and roll-blot thoroughly dry in a clean kitchen towel.
Note that the watercress in this recipe is uncooked, so you obtain a bright, green color, fresher flavor, and the undoubted multiple health benefits. Health Benefits of Watercress
More...note the health risks as well. Health benefits and cancer defense
Did you wash the berros very, very well, and disinfect thoroughly?
Now the slightly tedious part starts. Pluck at least 6 cups or so, and drop then into a bowl. Pluck away.
You can get help for this. Get someone who'll later enjoy eating the soup. Keep on pluckin'.
Next, the method of pureeing depends on whether you have a blender or a stick immersion blender. I prefer the stick blender for this job.
When you have enough leaves plucked, gradually begin stick blending the soup, adding handfuls of leaves and blend, add, blend, until the soup is smooth and no lumps remain.
If using a vertical blender. first puree the soup without the leaves, then add the leaves to the pureed soup, re-blending.
Puree the leaves in the potato base to whatever degree of coarseness you like. I puree approximately 3/4s of then finely and 1/4 coarsely, to add textural interest.
Add crema, about 1/2 to 1 cup, and blend in, if you want it to be extra rica.
Taste for seasoning. Mine didn't need but a touch of salt and I did use some ground white pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon picante pimentón (hot páprika, or cayenne, but not the smokey kind) A few of dashes shots of white wine worcestershire sauce are nice, but it's entirely optional.
Chill until serving time, at least 3 hours.
Special touches might include swirls of liquid crema or yoghurt on top. Toasted slivered almonds? Macadamias? It’s your choice. I used ground toasted almonds, because that’s what I had at hand. It would be even better with toasted slivered almonds. Those are swirls of Alpura brand Yoghurt Natural on the soup in the picture below.
Use one garnish but not more than one, other than the crema/yoghurt.
Our soup was fresh, green and slightly tart, due to the crema and yoghurt in the mixture. We ate it with home made whole wheat foccacia seasoned with fresh thyme leaves, and a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Making the focaccia isn't exactly trivial, but not difficult, and I may write out a recipe for that at a later date.