Watercress Soup: A Healthy Beginning

You could say my mother is a rather predictable person.

As soon as she hears a sniffle, a cough or simply looks you in the eye and surmises (usually correctly) that you’ve been up far too late the night before, mugs and bowls of liquids start appearing around the house. Like many Chinese, she’s a big believer in the healing powers of soup, that ingredients such as goji berries, preserved dates, lotus seeds and more have the ability to restore heaty (yang) or cooling (yin) energy to the body when tossed into a pot with pork or chicken and boiled together for hours.

Among her healing soups, my mother is particularly fond of making one for me: Watercress soup.

“You always cough and you have so many late nights — your body heat builds when you stay up late,” she’ll often say, pushing a steaming bowl of the stuff toward me. “This will cool you down.”

So, when my Let’s Lunch friends suggested sharing a recipe for a healthy dish for our first lunchdate of 2011, I immediately thought of watercress soup…

Getting my mother to share her recipe was a cinch. On the first day of 2011, having accurately guessed that the night before likely would have taken a toll on her daughters, my mother rose early and made her watercress soup.

The process is super easy — the hardest part is separating the watercress stalks from the leaves, which should take just one clean whack. Once that’s done, you simply put 20 cups of water in a pot and bring that to a boil, then toss in the stalks and pork. “The stalks take longer to soften,” my mother explains. If you throw the leaves in at this point, too, they will likely be mushy and too soft to eat by the time the soup is done, she notes. “If you don’t want to eat the leaves, then just put it all in at this point,” she says.

Once that’s boiled for about 20 minutes, you put in the Chinese “almonds” (which are actually apricot kernels, even though they’re labeled as almonds in Asian grocery stores), preserved dates and the leaves, boil the concoction for 90 minutes and the soup is ready to go.

My mother likes this soup because the Chinese believe that watercress and almonds are supposed to be good for your lungs and respiratory system. And, she likes to note, I’m terribly prone to coughs.

Health reasons aside, however, this soup is delicious. When made well, this watercress soup tastes meaty, green, savory, slightly earthy and sweet all at once. It’s lovely on its own but fantastic scooped over white rice as well.

Now if only all medicine tasted this good.


If you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

And don’t forget to see other Let’s Lunchers’ healthy dishes below:

Cathy’s Avocado, Grapefruit & Shrimp Tartine at Showfood Chef

Ellise’s Mandarin Orange & Arugula Salad with Honey Vinaigrette at Cowgirl Chef

Emma’s Quinoa with Grilled Veggies at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Linda’s Mesquite Date Muffins at Free Range Cookies

Mai Hoang’s Spicy Cauliflower at Cooking In The Fruit Bowl

Rashda’s Curried Black-Eyed Peas at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Steff’s Frittata attempt at The Kitchen Trials


My Mum’s Watercress Soup


1 bunch of watercress, stalks and leaves separated
1/2 TB Chinese “almonds” (Apricot kernels), broken up
8 preserved dates, each one cut in half
1 lb pork bones or any kind of pork
20 cups water
Salt to taste


Bring water to a boil in a large pot then add the watercress stalks and pork bones. (If you are not planning to eat the leaves, they can go in at this time, too.) Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes then add almonds, dates and leaves if you didn’t add them earlier. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours. Add salt to taste and serve.

10 thoughts on “Watercress Soup: A Healthy Beginning

  1. Hi Cheryl, I enjoyed meeting you at the YWCA evening – your food was delicious. I am the Italian cook who was asking for Chinatown store addresses.
    Also I particuliarly liked your Spicy Chinese Watercress – could you give me that reciepe?
    Lots of luck with
    your lovely book and thanks, Leith

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  6. I thought my mother-in-law invented watercress soup until I found this post! I’m in the process of documenting my in-law’s Chinese recipes and watercress soup is on my to-do list (my father-in-law recently retired after 20 years of owning a Chinese restaurant). I love watercress soup. It just seems to clean your system and your soul. Glad to have found you.

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