Watercress Soup

Watercress soup One of the differences between French and American dining is that the green salad is normally served after the meal, either with cheese or on its own. I remember Romain being very surprised when I told him that Americans usually ate cheese before a meal, with the apéritif. “Ah bon?” he replied, having a moment believing that we did that. (And this is from the only French person that insists on having his coffee with dessert, which is unusual in France as well.)

There are some exceptions; gut-busters like Hachis Parmentier (meat pie with mashed potato topping), and Brandade (salt cod puree), are often served with a salade verte, a few leaves of lettuce in a mustardy dressing. But most of the time, the salad arrives after the plat principal. (Curiously, we call the main course the entrée in America, whereas in France, the entrée is the first course – or the “entry” into the meal.) The after-dinner salad in France isn’t usually a complicated affair with tomatoes, eggs, croutons, and all other sorts of other things tossed in with it: it’s often a nice bowl of leafy greens with a punchy dressing.

Watercress soup

A friend who used to live in Paris was visiting last week and I invited her to dinner. I always like to serve guests who don’t live here certain French cheeses, like Brie de Meaux or a raw milk Saint-Nectaire, which are hard to get outside of France, and I know they miss them when they are not here. I know when I go away, the first thing I do when I get back is to go to a bakery, buy a fresh, crunchy baguette, slice it wide open, smear it with lots of salted butter from Brittany, and eat that. And then, I dive into the cheeses…

We had a nice dinner in my kitchen, and after the meal, out came the cheeses before we moved on to dessert. But – oops! – I’d forgotten to serve the watercress salad. In the winter, I move from leafy salads to winter greens, like Belgian endive, escarole, frisée, and peppery watercress. I had picked up a big bunch of watercress at the market and carefully washed it all in preparation for an after-dinner salad with the cheeses I’d selected for the night.

Watercress soup

It was like a gift when I spread out all the watercress leaves on my kitchen counter the next day, and found myself with an abundance of watercress. And as we all know, when life gives you lots of watercress, you make soup. Or whatever.

Watercress soup

Watercress soup is one of those great soups, like a lot of French dishes, that don’t necessarily require a lot of ingredients. Instead it depends on coaxing flavor out of the few ingredients that you have. Watercress has tons of flavor, for example, so keeping it simple highlights that vibrant green color and zesty flavor of the cress.

Watercress soup

I cooked up an onion with a big knob of butter until soft, added a few potatoes and simmered until the potatoes were tender. Then I grabbed handfuls of my well-washed watercress to the pot and stirred them in, letting them wilt. I did throw a curveball into the mix, adding a handful of frozen green peas to give it some extra body and color.

Watercress soup

In the end, I was rewarded with a nice, colorful pot of soup, which made the perfect lunch along with some of the leftover cheeses I had after our dinner, as well as slices of baguette. La soupe in parts of France refers to dinner (or supper), and soup is indeed a popular, family style meal in France, especially if served with bits and ends of cheese, charcuterie, and some good bread alongside.

But I gotta say, I’m a fan of soup for lunch as well, especially in the winter when I need something to warm me up. And let me tell you, it’s nice to open the refrigerator and find a pot of soup that I can dip into, rewarm a bowl for myself, and spoon up for a satisfying meal.

Watercress soup

The great thing about simple soups like this watercress soup, is that you can customize it with toppings, to take it in a variety of directions. I liked it with a swirl of goat milk yogurt and chopped chives. Garlic croutons would be nice, as would cubes of crisp bacon. Nuts or seeds, like pumpkin seeds, add a good crunch sprinkled over the top with a drizzle of olive or pumpkin seed oil. Or you can just serve it as it, with a selection of cheeses (that you might have leftover from guests the night before), and some good bread.

Watercress soup

Watercress Soup
Print Recipe
Six servings
Clean the watercress well in a couple of changes of cold water to make sure there’s no grit. You can use all the leaves and tender stems, but any stems that feel especially tough and woody, don’t use. I added peas to give it some extra body and to bolster the color, but you can leave them out if you wish. If you want a creamier soup, blend a few tablespoons of heavy cream or creme fraiche into the soup in step 3. You can garnish this soup in any number of ways, a few I mentioned in the post – from a spoonful of yogurt or cream swirled over the top with fresh herbs, to a handful of seeds or bits of crumbled bacon strewn over the top. It’s your call.
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups (1.5L) water
1 pound (450g) potatoes peeled and diced
8 ounces (225g, about 9 cups) watercress leaves and tender stems
1 cup (150g) fresh or frozen peas
1. In a Dutch oven or soup pot, melt the butter. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the water and diced potato and cook, partially covered, until the potato cubes are tender, about 10 minutes. When poked with a paring knife, the knife should meet no resistance.
2. Turn off the heat and add the watercress and peas, stirring a few times to wilt the cress.
3. Puree the soup using an immersion blender, or wait until the soup is lukewarm and puree until smooth in a blender. (Pureeing hot soup in a traditional blender will cause it to overflow, so wait until the soup is tepid.)
4. Once the soup is pureed, rewarm the soup in the pot, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Storage: The soup will keep for up to three or four days in the refrigerator. It can be frozen for up to two months.

Related Recipes

Potato Leek Soup

Pear Fennel Soup

Split Pea Soup

Soupe au pistou



  • February 2, 2016 1:01pm

    This soup looks so delicious – what an amazing colour.

    I absolutely love watercress, so I will have to make it.

    With regards to salad after a meal, I didn’t know anyone that did this in the UK, until I started dating my boyfriend. His Mum used to cook dinner and after we’d eaten a salad of green leaves, spring onions and cucumber slathered in homemade dijon mustard based dressing would come out.

    It’s delicious and now over 10 years later I always serve a salad after our main course – even though people think it’s strange.

    • February 2, 2016 1:05pm
      David Lebovitz

      I remember about twenty or so years ago, going to a “European style” restaurant in New York, and there was a note on the menu above the salad course, suggesting that you order it “after your meal, as a palate-cleanser.” It was funny that they made a point of that but perhaps nowadays, it might seem a little less “exotic”?

      • February 2, 2016 4:30pm

        Even now a lot of restaurants still refer to it as a side salad in the UK and it will always come with the main course.

        It really works though, it’s a lovely way to round off a meal.

  • February 2, 2016 2:09pm

    The addition of peas seems like a great idea.
    I get that same craving after having been away from France for a few weeks – great crusty baguette, cheese and the best saucissons. Just ate an amazing saucisson de canard fumé with lunch.

  • February 2, 2016 2:50pm

    Watercress is one of those ingredients I love at restaurants, but don’t think to purchase and bring home. Thanks for the inspiration and this fresh way to use it. Also, after reading this, I am craving le beurre bretagne enough to book a one-way ticket to France!

  • February 2, 2016 3:19pm

    Well what do you know, I actually have a bag of watercress in my fridge that needs to be used! Now, if only I had some nice French bread to go with it…

  • Donna in CT
    February 2, 2016 4:00pm

    I’ve made Julia’s watercress soup many times, and I like the addition of the peas for color and sweetness.

    Growing up, we would often have watercress sandwiches on good homemade bread with LOTS of butter, sprinkled with salt and served at teatime by my English/Yankee mother, a tradition I continue. Yum.

    Hmm, I think I’ll go buy some and make both.

  • February 2, 2016 5:24pm

    Thanks for the idea of using goat milk yogurt! My Frenchman typically dumps in what I consider to be WAY too much crème fraîche, so this is a great dairy alternative. Merci!

  • Caroline
    February 2, 2016 5:26pm

    I’ve heard the salad before dinner tradition started in California. People there were so thrilled that they could grow lettuce year-round that they wanted to show it off! My Italian-American family always had it after dinner.

    • February 2, 2016 9:42pm

      That’s true. When I was growing up overseas in the ’60s, we traveled around America every other summer and saw the salad-before-entree phenomenon migrate eastward. Though I’ve spent my entire adult life in California, I still prefer my salad after the entree.

    • Tunie
      February 7, 2016 4:30am

      I love this kind of regional food history, thank you!

  • Jillian
    February 2, 2016 5:31pm

    This soup looks scrumptious. It is pretty chilly in Oregon right now and I just want to cuddle up on my couch with a bowl of this beautiful green soup and a crusty baguette.

    I love that you compared the use of the word entree in French and English. I just finished reading Dan Jurafsky’s ‘The Language of Food’, and there is an entire section (fittingly called Entree) on the evolution of food language. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in food, or linguistics, or both!

    • Joan
      February 3, 2016 8:23am

      Thank you Jillian for this book recommendation (and David for the recipe but I knew it and just wish I could get watercress here in Milan but it’s pretty unknown!), it’s on my Kindle now!

  • February 2, 2016 5:36pm

    It sounds like the French serve what we call side salads in America for a course, rather than a “meal salad”. I’ve never been in that fortunate circumstance where I have too much watercress, but if I were this would be the way to celebrate. It looks delicious, and I’m in love with the color.

  • Lynn Ziglar
    February 2, 2016 5:40pm

    I am from Winston-Salem, N.C. and we had a lovely French Restaurant in the 60″s….La Chaudiere. Very talked about was the simple salad served after dinner and then the cheese cart rolled around. Ah good memories!

    • Pam
      February 2, 2016 11:41pm

      Omg!been there in the 80’s. Still remember the cheeses! Thank you for
      the post!

      Btw done soup but used spinach instead of watercress.

  • February 2, 2016 6:04pm

    I’ve been in France for almost a month now and have been working my way through as many cheeses as possible. It really is the best lunch with a great baguette and my favorite dessert!
    We always had the salad after the main course, it’s a great palate cleanser and makes room for cheese!

  • Elliec
    February 2, 2016 6:14pm

    I read recently that there is a reason Americans call the main course the entree. Back in the time of huge, splendid, many course dinners, the main course would sometimes arrive with a grand flourish and was called the entree.

  • February 2, 2016 6:16pm

    I’m for the ‘salad before or with the main course’, it’s a personal thing but generally, in Switzerland where I come from, it’s a ‘starter’ and often ordered as an ‘entrée’. In UK it’s the typical ‘side salad’ which I was fine with. I live now in F for 8 yrs and have yet to get used to the salad ‘after’…. But I love salad too much to wait until I’m already pretty ‘full’ – so I suffer (very slightly) in silence when eating out and get my fill again when at home.
    The idea with the added peas is genius; I very often ‘throw together’ a soup (I call them ‘fridge cleaners’) and I add a table spoon full of Greek yoghurt or fromage blanc or sour milk (in Switzie) right in the middle of the filled bol. Looks nice and everyone swirls it in their own way or eats the ‘dump’ on its own before going over to the soup. I’m contemplating a fridge lookover right now; you made me hungry.

  • Marianne
    February 2, 2016 6:36pm

    This is the way I make all green soups, from the first nettle soup in early spring, sorrel soup, chervil soup and others to the kale soup in winter, the last vegetable in my garden.

  • February 2, 2016 6:43pm

    In our house salad was always served at the end of our meal, or with the 2nd course. Watercress…something to think about and act on more often.

  • February 2, 2016 6:51pm

    The soup looks very good, of course, but I mostly love how you said you had “a nice dinner in my kitchen.” That sounds so lovely and homey.

  • February 2, 2016 6:55pm

    On a whim I buy watercress for no reason and not knowing what to do with it. And then at that very moment you write this blog post. extrememly serendipitous.

    • February 8, 2016 7:09am

      In fact I love eating vegetables significantly as an addition to the food and not a basic meal. But I was impressed by your words about watercress soup, no doubt I will soon be her experience, and I’ll tell you my opinion

  • milton gersh
    February 2, 2016 7:00pm

    Hi, David u have no idea how fortunate ur to be able to get good to excellent baguettes every day. Here where I live in sarasota,fl. There is no such animal. How I envy u. What makes it even worse is that I lived in Paris for a yr. & a half. thanks. milt

  • Jaime
    February 2, 2016 9:31pm

    Hi David. Thanks for another wonderful post. This one brought back a happy memory of my mother who absolutely loved watercress salad and soup. In the 1950s, my parents would go to small flowing streams in the woods of western Pennsylvania and gather their own!

  • February 2, 2016 10:25pm

    mmm, I have been eating watercress quite a bit last year and this recipe sounds and looks so so interesting. Than you so much for your inspiration and lovely work.

  • February 2, 2016 10:27pm

    Ah I love the color on this. I love the idea of salad after a meal, although I haven’t tried it. It does seem like a nice way to finish off!

  • February 2, 2016 11:02pm

    Ah the perfect fresh green spring is coming, color. I shall buy watercress at the market on Thursday and make your soup. I have some frozen peas, crème fraîche and some great cheeses left over from a dinner party Sunday evening. Merci, David!

  • ron shapley
    February 3, 2016 1:05am

    Speaking of wonderful French butter, is there any butter in the states comparable to French butter ?? Thanks Dave.


    • February 3, 2016 6:51am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, Kerrygold is really good butter an available at many supermarkets and Trader Joe’s.

    • Sylvie
      February 6, 2016 10:50am

      Harris Teeter here in the south have started to stock Amish butter. Big 2lb chunk you can divide and freeze. Sweetest butter I have tried here in the US. Reminds of French butter

  • February 3, 2016 2:44am

    What a good idea to add peas! Such a beautiful color, and pea soup is always welcome in my house.

  • barbara
    February 3, 2016 3:31am

    So excited to try this simple, but yummy-sounding watercress soup recipe! Especially since I’ve read seriousscientific/nutrition study that posit that it’s the most nutrient-dense green veggie–more than kale, broccoli, etc.!

  • Lynn
    February 3, 2016 6:01am

    I had a lovely meal in the country outside of Florence, Italy twenty years ago that ended with a salad. I’ll never forget it and tasted dishes (and drinks) I’d never heard of — fried stuffed squash blossoms, grappa, rosemary sorbet served in a little thimble sized crock…the meal seemed to last forever.

  • Susan
    February 3, 2016 6:31am

    Ever bind/thicken the soup with rice blended in instead of potatoes?

  • Jeanne
    February 3, 2016 9:38am

    David, what salted butter do you reccomend here in France.? I’M looking for a good one.

  • February 3, 2016 10:22am

    Hi David, I love your post -it really captures how special a bowl of home made soup is & what it can do for your soul! We are in soup mode @ taste2taste especially with the recent snow in NY and rain in London.
    I feel inspired to make some watercress soup Lins x

  • Gavrielle
    February 3, 2016 12:43pm

    UK/NZ/Aus also call the US appetiser the entrée and the US entrée the main course.

    Watercress here in NZ used to have a great bite, as did radishes, and now neither of them do. They’re both so bland I’ve given up buying them. I wonder if it’s due to people’s taste moving towards blander/sweeter foods? Whatever the reason, it’s really annoying.

    • Susan
      February 4, 2016 12:26am

      If you’re in NZ, Gavrielle, and you think radishes don’t have enough flavor, you’re welcome to raid the ones in my garden. They’re so incredibly peppery that I can’t eat them raw, and this is coming from someone who eats gojuchang like it’s ketchup.

  • JudyMac
    February 3, 2016 5:17pm

    Sounds really good. Reminds me somewhat of the Leek and Potato soup that I make. Very simple and can be made very tasty.

  • Irene
    February 4, 2016 8:14am

    Chinese restaurants would stir in some scrambled eggs after pureeing, similar to egg drop soup. Plus some bits of chopped shrimp, glass noodles and diced tofu.

  • February 4, 2016 3:13pm

    Beautiful soup!

  • February 4, 2016 7:07pm

    This looks divine! What a great color! I’m American, but having lived in Paris for years with my French husband, I have definitely converted to preferring my salad after the main course. However, I wish my husband would drink coffee with dessert. This is something I don’t think I’ll ever give up. It would be nice to make our cafés at the same time. :)

  • Allison
    February 5, 2016 12:25am

    Simple foods with a couple of ingredients…I made leek and potato soup the other night, just those two vegetables, a little garlic and milk – cozy and satisfying on a winter evening. I will try your cress soup. Thank you for the recipe, it sounds good as well as being beautiful.

  • Christine
    February 5, 2016 4:06am

    My mom makes a Chinese watercress soup with pork bones. One of my childhood favorites.

  • February 5, 2016 4:56am

    Since we get watercress year-round here in Thailand this would be something that I could put on my restaurant menu. Looks good and I’ve never done anything with watercress before.

  • Sylvie
    February 6, 2016 10:47am

    I will pin this to Pinterest and will make. Watercrest is very healthy. Look up the benefits. Fights cancer (if you smoke it turns the cancerous parts of smoking into waste), and helps fight infections just like an antibiotic. And full of vitamins and antioxidants. My New Years resolution is to eat more vegetables and eat ones I would not have tried in the past. Thanks for yummy recipe.

  • Pipera
    February 6, 2016 12:25pm

    Old memories. Great memories with this soup and my grandma. She use to cook this. Glad I found this recipe. Thank you… Let me cry over my memories. xo

  • Ian D.
    February 7, 2016 4:53am

    Hey David, your website has a tab to look at all your older recipes, but is there a way to look at an archive of your non-recipe entries? Like trips, musings on Paris, etc. Those are really enjoyable and it would be nice to be able to filter your posts to look at them rather than pressing next page again and again. Something to think about for your next page update :)

    • February 7, 2016 8:21am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, if you look at the sidebar, you’ll see a list of Categories, and post (including non-recipe posts) are organized there.

  • Anne Holmes
    February 22, 2016 1:57am

    My only question is to ask the name & pattern of your soup bowls. They see very elegant & I love the style. Every spring we gather wild water cress along the streams in our area, and it would be perfect to make the soup & serve it in your bowls. Thank you for your recipe.

    • February 22, 2016 8:43am
      David Lebovitz

      They don’t have a name or pattern as they are vintage café au lait bowls. I get them at antique stores and flea markets in France, although they are hard to find nowadays. Pellivuyt still makes them and they are available new, although somewhat expensive. (In France, the are around €8-9 each, in the U.S., they are $20. BIA makes a similar bowl, which has scalloped sides, and are less-costly.)

      • Anne Holmes
        February 22, 2016 11:41pm

        Thank you so much for the info. I really love your recipes, blog, & books. Anne


Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!


Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...