Growing up, I loved hanging out at the nearby creek. I spent most of my days fishing for crawfish with a homemade fishing pole and a piece of bacon, while Mom collected watercress that grew abundantly along the muddy banks. Mom was very reluctant to cook up my catch of crawfish due to the questionable water, but she always took home the watercress where we had it in several dishes.
The most traditional and popular way to use watercress in Vietnamese home cooking is in a salad with stir-fried beef and a tangy vinegar fish sauce dressing (Bo Xao Xa Lach Xoong). This can be served as a simple appetizer or one of the many sides dishes in a traditional home cooked Vietnamese meal.
To make the salad, slice beef sirloin thinly then season with salt and pepper. Quickly pan-fry with a little vegetable oil and lots of garlic. Mix the stir-fried beef and all its juices with the watercress. The heat from the beef will wilt down the watercress and meld the flavors together. Lightly dress the salad with the fish sauce and vinegar dressing and top it with coarsely chopped roasted peanuts for a nice crunch.
Vietnamese Beef & Watercress Salad Recipe (Bo Xao Xa Lach Xoong)
Adapted from Luke Nguyen
1/2 lb sliced beef sirloin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion (slice thin)
4 cloves garlic (mince)
1 bunch watercress (cut into 1 inch segments)
1 tomato (optional; slice thin)
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce dipping sauce
2 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts (optional)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Combine tomatoes and watercress in a mixing bowl.
In a small bowl, mix together vinegar and sugar. Add to tomatoes and watercress salad and lightly tossed.
Season beef with pepper and salt.
In a frying pan, heat up vegetable oil on medium-high. Add onion and saute for 30 seconds. Add garlic and beef. Stir-fry for 1 minute until browned.
Add beef and all its juices to the watercress and tomato salad.
Add fish sauce dipping sauce. Lightly toss. Top with crushed peanuts.