Spring is ripe for making tasty dishes out of fresh greens, including lettuces and an aquatic plant that's something of an unsung superfood -- watercress.
When Greenwood farmer Will Metts was asked to grow watercress, he said he wasn't familiar with it, but soon learned of its versatility and acclaimed nutritional value.
Watercress has a peppery flavor. Its leaves are soft and its stalks have some snap. Eat it raw in salads or on sandwiches. You may also cook it as a side dish or in soups and stews.
It's rich in some 15 vitamins and minerals, with high-levels of bone-building and strengthening vitamin K and vitamin A, important for eye health. Watercress also contains compounds that might help inhibit certain breast, lung, colon and prostate cancers.
"Watercress is an often overlooked green, but it's really good for you and can be used for lots of dishes, in lots of ways," Metts said. "It's a standard ingredient for sandwiches in Britain, for both common and high tea. It has more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk and more vitamin C than oranges."
Think about it, tea sandwiches made with egg salad and watercress would be most appropriate for Master's Week at Augusta National.
In addition to watercress, Metts grows a variety of lettuces, including arugula, oak leaf, buttercrunch and more, as well other crops such as kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes and chervil. He is also planting small fruit plants for future harvests and expects to have corn and tomatoes this summer.
Daniel Jackson, head chef at The Mill House restaurant in Greenwood, said the lettuces Metts grows are frequently used in salads served there.
"Our Caesar salad has a variety of Metts Organix green leaf lettuces, tossed with our house-made dressing and topped with house-made croutons and finished with fresh-grated Parmesan," Jackson said. "The different varieties of lettuce we receive from Will (Metts) are green oak leaf, purple oak leaf, Flame leaf lettuce, Buttercrunch and Beleah Rose."
For a heartier salad, order it topped with grilled chicken.
Metts, 28, operates a farm -- Metts Organix -- about 13 miles outside of the Greenwood city limits. His goal is to create a sustainable, community-oriented operation and he is working toward organic certification.
"Initial motivation for healthy food came from my father being diagnosed with cancer in 2011," Metts said, noting his father died in February of this year. "I developed a passion for growing things and I've always enjoyed working my hands and my mind at the same time."
However, Metts said he has learned that only a small percentage -- 10 percent -- of food available in South Carolina is actually grown in-state.
Wanting to do something about that, Metts delivers produce to select local restaurants to raise awareness about local food.
Since starting the farm, Metts has partnered with Inn on the Square, The Mill House and T.W. Boons. He has also sold produce at the Greenwood County Farmers Market and Uptown Market.
"The farm is in developmental stages and a work in progress," Metts said. "I usually pick everything the night before I go to market or the morning of. When I first started this, I was also working a full-time warehouse job at Stockman Oil. It all began with a small garden in the Greenwood Mill Village on Draper Avenue, until we transitioned to the farm property."
Now, Metts' farm is off Chipley Road. It includes modest greenhouses of crops grown using water and nutrients in hydroponic systems and row crops.
Metts and his fiancee, Holly Girard, are the only two who work the farm right now. Metts is looking into grant opportunities to fund farm interns and various upgrades.
A cost-sharing grant program through the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentives Progam enabled Metts to get a seasonal high tunnel for his farm.
The tunnel helps extend the growing season and reduce energy costs, among other benefits.
Metts, who grew up in Greenwood, is a January 2011 Lander University graduate, with a degree in economics and finance, but he has taken various farm-related courses through Clemson University and learned other farming techniques through social media networking.
A number of people in Metts' family have farmed, he said, but until he started on this venture, he had only previously worked small gardens with his parents.
"I like to maintain that weekly relationship with the restaurants," Metts said. "If they want to change out something, it's a 10-week process to change out a crop."
SALMON AND WATERCRESS TARTS
Recipe from: http://www.jusrol.co.uk/pastry-recipes/salmon-watercress-tart/
1 8-ounce can crescent dinner rolls or a pastry sheet
2 salmon fillets, skinned and diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small handful watercress leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons salsa
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Unroll dough into one large rectangle, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Press into 12x9-inch rectangle, firmly pressing perforations to seal.
Combine salmon, tomato and watercress in a bowl, along with salsa.
Spread mixture in an even layer on dough, leaving a half-inch border all around the dough rectangle.
Brush borders with beaten egg. Pinch up the border to form a "wall" around the filling. Brush again with beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes or until pastry is golden. Scatter with more watercress leaves and serve.
CHEF DAVID EPPS' WATERCRESS CHIMICHURRI SAUCE
This spicy sauce, with an Argentinian flair, is a great accompaniment to grilled meats. It can be made in a food processor or blender.
2 pounds watercress
5 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno pepper
1 serrano pepper
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all dry ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse until incorporated. Then, slowly add extra virgin olive oil until mixture is emulsified.