Have a lot of watercress? Then make this healthy watercress soup, a French classic. It’s not only packed with vitamins but has a particularly gorgeous spicy flavour – even a bit cheesy without the cheese! Get the easy recipe below – but first, a visit to see watercress being harvested in the fields in Normandy, France.

French lion bowl of bright green watercress soup

How is Watercress Grown?

Come join me on a walk along watercress lane (I want to live in a street called Chemin des Cressonnières – isn’t it romantic?) in the Pays-de-Caux in Upper Normandy. It’s the way to see the French watercress fields, or Cressonnières in Veules-les-Roses.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) thrives in cool flowing streams, where it grows submerged, floating on the water, or spread over mud surfaces.

Don’t confuse it with the tiny ornamental watercress (genus Tropaeolum) that’s grown on the windowsill and famously put into British egg sandwiches – they are both completely different.

French street sign saying Chemin des Cressonnieres

French watercress lane – life in the slower lane!

Veules-les-Roses French Watercress Fields

Veules-les-Roses on the Normandy coast is one of the prettiest towns in France. It has two main attractions:

  • It’s home to the smallest river in France, the Veules. It’s the shortest sea-bound river at 1.194 km (about 3/4 of a mile), along which there are three restored 18th Century watermills.
  • It’s home to the beautiful watercress beds, (cressonnières) at the source of les Veules river.

watermill wheel churning in a river

The clear running water’s current of Veules-les-Roses has favoured the cultivation of watercress here since the 14th Century.

watercress field surrounded by pink roses

Harvesting watercress is done by hand with just a knife and ties to make each bundle.

The season lasts between September and May with December seeing the best of the harvest.

In April, there’s even a Fête du Cresson in Veules-les-Roses. So if you fancy partying around watercress and learning more about it in France, this is where to go.

For more on Normandy, read my top 10 reasons to visit Honfleur.

How is Watercress Harvested?

The bunches of watercress that are formed during harvesting are called chignons, when the roots of the stalks come outside the bunch.

Luckily these days, harvesting is done wearing rubber boots, rather than sodden feet steeped in 10cm of cold (about 10°C) water wearing clogs with heavy metal leggings!

man bending to harvest watercress in the field

Harvesting watercress in Normandy, France

What Does Watercress Taste Like?

Watercress is known for its fine leaves and particularly spicy taste. It isn’t bitter once cooked and if served as raw leaves in a salad, it’s deliciously peppery with hints of mustard. We love it raw in small doses and it’s delicious mixed with other salad leaves – served with this Onion Tarte Tatin, for example.

However, the strong peppery taste calms down when cooked. It’s not like the taste of spinach or even like this rocket (arugula) soup – once cooked in soup, it even has a slight taste of cheese to it. Don’t ask why but my daughters confirm they get that too.

spoonful of watercress soup before seasoning

Once blended, add salt and pepper to taste

Is Watercress Soup Good for You?

A comforting bowl of Soupe au Cresson is extremely healthy, as it contains iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C – and is a great antioxidant and source of protein. It’s even said to reduce the effects of skin ageing.

In France, it’s popular in Autumn and Winter at the market to see stacks piled high of neatly tied bouquets of watercress.

For more on watercress’s benefits, see the watercress French market produce page.

Each time I discuss watercress with the market sellers, there’s really only one recipe the French associate with it – and this is it! Approved by the French family – even my Corsican Parents-in-Law who adore soup. It receives a firm thumbs up each time. So now over to you to make it…

How to Make Watercress Soup

First prepare all your ingredients: chop an onion, a garlic clove, potato (floury variety best for soup, like Russet and Binje in France) and wash the watercress.

For more on French potatoes and other varieties for cooking, see the Market Produce Potato page.

bunch of watercress, a peeled potato, salt, nutmeg, pepper, garlic and onion

  • In a large saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil until melted (not browned). Sweat the chopped onion and garlic for about 5 minutes until translucent and add the ground or grated nutmeg.
  • Meanwhile chop the potato and chop off the head of the watercress bundle. Discard only the large, thick stalks and keep the thin ones with the little leaves on them. This makes watercress much easier to prepare.
  • Keep a few little leaves aside for the garnish.

Preparation for watercress soup

  • Over a medium heat, add the chopped potato, watercress and cover with the vegetable stock (or chicken if you prefer). Heat on high at first, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover with the lid slightly askew to let a little steam escape.
  • Cook gently for about 20 minutes or until the potato is soft.
  • Blitz the soup with an immersion blender then add salt and pepper to your taste (for salt, I use French fleur de sel, otherwise UK Maldon salt or US Celtic salt).

step-by-step photos for making watercress soup

How Long Can I Keep the Soup?

  • Cool then keep in the fridge covered for up to 2 days.
  • What’s more, the soup freezes well. Leave the soup to cool and chill in the fridge in large jam jars or sealed bags then transfer to the freezer. Use within 3 months.

How to Serve – Ideas

  • A crusty baguette with either a little butter or dip into good olive oil.
  • If serving as an elegant starter dish, top with the little watercress leaves, swirl in a dash of cream or a wee dollop of crème fraîche.
  • For something fun, why not surprise your guests with a mini savoury Mad Mac herb macaron? The recipe is on page 97 of Mad About Macarons;
  • Lovely served with fluffy cheese scones.

bowls of green watercress soup with a swirl of cream and topped with watercress leaves

Easy Watercress Soup Recipe

bowls of bright green watercress soup
5 from 1 vote

Watercress Soup (Soupe au Cresson)

Author: Jill Colonna
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course : Soup, Starter
Cuisine : French, British
Keyword : watercress recipe
Servings : 4 people
Calories : 124kcal

Description

A delicious French soup of fresh watercress made with potato. It's not just packed with vitamins but has a particularly gorgeous spicy flavour - even a bit cheesy!

Ingredients

  • 25 g (1oz/¼ stick) butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 large potato (Binje) peeled, roughly chopped
  • 800 ml (1.5 pints/3 cups) vegetable stock (or chicken)
  • 1 large bunch of watercress 200g once prepared - smaller stalks included (big ones discarded)
  • good pinch Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Wash the watercress, drain and set aside. Chop off the leaves and keep the smaller stalks (discard the large, thick stalks) and reserve a few smaller leaves for the garnish.
  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion and garlic until cooked but not browned for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the nutmeg then the chopped potato, watercress leaves (including the smaller stalks) and stock. Heat to a boil then lower the heat and simmer, covered with the lid slightly askew to let some steam escape. Simmer gently for up to 20 minutes until the potato is cooked through.
  • Blitz the soup with an immersion blender or in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

Notes

Freezes well for up to 2 months.  Otherwise can keep in the fridge covered for up to 3 days.
If serving as an elegant starter dish, swirl in a little cream. Why not surprise your guests with a mini Mad Mac herb macaron? The recipe is on page 97 of Mad About Macarons.
Nutritional Information: 124 Calories per serving; 2g Protein; 9g Lipids; 8g carbohydrates.
Measures: Please note that all my recipes are best made using digital kitchen scales in precise metric grams. Both ounces (and cups) are given as a guide. 

This post was first published 5 November 2013 but has now been updated with new photos, more info and tips.

From the market

From the kitchen

19 responses to “Watercress Soup (Soupe au Cresson)”

    • Thanks Christina. Agreed. Looks like any other green soup but the taste is so beautifully different. Let’s just hope it’s easy to find watercress outside of France!

  1. Thank you. I have now learned something new. I never ever knew how watercress was grown and harvested. Now the ‘water’ in watercress makes a lot of sense. I somehow thought it was just grown like most other veggies…in the soil. You learn something new every day !

  2. I’ve missed so many of your posts Jill, but it’s always a pleasure to catch up! Watercress soup does sound very interesting, never tried it before, but perhaps I need all the vitamins to resist the creeping up cold. 🙂

  3. What is funny is that last Friday at the market husband pointed and said “Oh look! Cresson!” I love your little trip because I did not know there was a special place devoted to cresson! This is so interesting but more than that wow is it pretty! A great little adventure – even though I can imagine how disappointed you must be about your back and your safari 🙁 But a lovely little escapade, Jill! I love discovering new hidden parts of France like this!

    • Thanks, Jamie. Well, I guess it’s perhaps not so hidden now 😉
      Highly recommend you take a wee jaunt there – not far for you in Nantes.

  4. Dad grows watercress in the new greenhouse. In fact I think it must have been bought for this purpose. Those egg and cress sandwich fingers at Musselburgh sure has lasting memories. M & S sells brioche fingers so with egg filling we are sorted. We loved this area in Normandy as well – must go back. Especially poignant at Remembrance Day.

    • Interesting comment, Mum – as we’ve been used to garden cress in sandwiches – I take it that’s what Dad is growing in the new greenhouse? I’ve not really appreciated watercress until going to Normandy. The flavour between the garden – or mustard – cress is so different, although they are related.
      Yes, highly emotional going to Normandy on the landing beaches. Coming up in the next post.

  5. I think you’ve just helped me plan a weekend away Jill. Any good addresses? 😉
    First time I’ve seen watercress being harvested too. Soup looks great.

    • It’s a great spot for a weekend away – and this weekend is a long one too! I’ll put together a post on this soon, especially as I’ve just created an account on TripAdvisor as didn’t agree with the comments in this area. I highly recommend staying at the Casino Hotel in Saint-Valery-en-Caux just next to Veules-les-Roses. And in Veules, there’s a great crêperie, Le p’tit Veulais.

      • Hi Jill,

        I can’t thank you enough for your recommendations and for your email with more addresses. Enjoyed an amazing long weekend last week and you were spot on! Merci beaucoup J-P

  6. I’ve seen these gorgeous bunches of cresson at special marches and been soooo tempted.
    NOW I know where to go and what to do
    Big Merci!!

    • Highly recommended as another wee jaunt out of Paris – not that you’re stuck for great ideas, Carol!

  7. Hi Jill! Sorry to hear about your back problems! Africa is a fabulous place!

    Wanted to mention the email you sent me was full of blanks, weird designs, and stripes.

    Thank you!

    • Linda, I hear you – love Africa too but I’ll go back one day (pardon the pun!)
      Thanks for letting me know about the strange email – it’s perhaps a problem with Feedburner? Not good with techie issues like this but if anyone else had a problem with the email alert, please do let me know. Cheers!

  8. I’ve never seen watercress harvested before. I do enjoy it on sandwiches but soup not so much. Maybe because I’ve never tried yours. I’ll do that and let you know. 🙂

    • Isn’t that funny, Maureen? Me too – my first reaction was I’m familiar with cress in sandwiches (favourite filling on Scottish summer picnics) but this is so different as watercress. The peppery taste is a bit like roquette but it’s not. The soup is delicious – hope you try it!

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