We’ve had the longest and most glorious New York spring that I’ve ever experienced here. Though today it’s gray and wet, I don’t even mind—that’s how good the good days have been: Lit-up green everywhere, trees swaying in some perfect breeze, wildflowers and rhododendrons and dogwood blossoms swaying with them, and the temperature oscillating between t-shirt and zip-up hoodie. It’s basically torture to not be outside. The spring greenery is taking over my kitchen, too. Shopping at the farmers market, I can’t escape or resist the supple little pea and sunflower shoots, baby heads of lettuce that appear as if they’ll bruise if I breathe on them, spring onions and snap peas and asparagus, all demanding to be eaten immediately.
I woke up last Sunday, up early to go for a hike with some friends, and I was already thinking about what I’d make for dinner that night. I spent the day climbing up a large rock to Breakneck Ridge, and up and down another summit, and all the while I fine-tuned that dinner in my head. By the time we were driving home, dinner was fully in focus. I wanted green crepes. I wanted to fill them with more green, in this case watercress, which I haven’t been able to resist because at this time of year it’s supple, spicy, and sweet, not tough or woody.
The final, crucial element is a cracker spread I came up with as part of lunch for the hike: radish top cream cheese. It feels like something that might have been served out of a bread bowl 25 years ago. But it utilizes the radish greens, which I sometimes struggle to find use for (though you can certainly toss them in with your salad greens, or add them to a stir-fry, or use as you would any other green; just make sure you’ve washed all the grit off). That cracker spread was a perfect snack up at the vista where we ate, overlooking the Hudson river—cool, savory, tangy, and easy to eat—and it’d be great on any cream cheese vessel you can think of, like sandwiches, as a dip, on a bagel, folded into an omelet or scrambled eggs.
But it found a perfect home in these crepes. I’d given this dinner so much thought that it would have been impossible for it to fail. The cream cheese keeps things just rich enough; the cilantro-loaded crepes are deceptively robust, taking on a slightly brittle exterior in the final encounter with the sauté pan; the watercress is barely wilted before you snatch it off the heat, guaranteeing some texture and delicate spice; and then a touch of lemon zest sharpens the flavors. Don’t be dismayed by the length or the component-heaviness of the recipe—steps can easily be split up, and your leftover cream cheese will not go to waste.
Green Spring Crepes with Radish Top Cream Cheese and Watercress
Serves 3 or 4
Radish Top Cream Cheese
Fresh greens from 1 bunch radishes, tough stems removed (2 to 3 cups, loosely packed)
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 small garlic clove
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Green Spring Crepes
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups gently packed cilantro leaves and tender stems (about half a bunch)
1 cup all-purpose flour (use up to 1/3 cup buckwheat or whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose here if you’d like)
1/2 teaspoon salt
For crepe assembly
1 small bunch watercress, tough stems removed (about 7 or 8 cups, loosely packed)
Salt and pepper
To make the cream cheese:
1. Bring a saucepan of water to boil, and add salt as you would to pasta cooking water. Prepare an ice bath. Submerge the greens in the boiling saltwater and blanch for about 45 seconds, just until wilted and vibrantly green, stirring periodically to shake off any remaining grit. Using tongs, a slotted spoon, or a spider, transfer to the ice bath to cool. Use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible. Roughly chop the greens.
2. Combine the greens and all remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning, adding more lemon, salt, and pepper as needed. Stored in an airtight container, the cream cheese will keep for 4 or 5 days.
To make the crepes:
1. Combine all ingredients, in the order listed, in a blender, and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the pitcher as needed. Let stand for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight. The batter should be slightly less thick than heavy cream. If it seems too thick, whisk in additional milk by the teaspoon.
2. Heat a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan, well-seasoned skillet, or crepe pan over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil and use a brush to distribute a very thin layer evenly over the pan and to soak up any excess oil (don’t overgrease it or your crepes will end up soggy). Using a ladle or measuring cup, swirl in a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, tilting as you do so as to quickly establish an even layer of batter. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect circle. Cook for about a minute and a half, until the edges begin to curl up and the bottom is lightly browned in parts. Carefully slip a narrow spatula under one edge, then flip the crepe over—I use my asbestos fingers to do this—to brown the other side. Cook for about 1 minute more, until little brown splotches appear on the bottom side and the crepe is pliant. Transfer to a plate. Continue in the same manner with remaining batter, stacking the finished crepes on the plate. You should have about 10 crepes. Refrigerated and wrapped tightly, the crepes will keep for a day or two.
1. Return the pan used to cook the crepes to the heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the watercress and cook, tossing constantly, until it just begins to wilt but still retains crunch—less than a minute. Transfer to a plate and dress with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
2. To assemble the crepes, lay out a crepe, pretty, shiny side down, on a work surface. Spread about a tablespoon of the cream cheese over one half of the crepe, then top with a handful of the watercress. Fold the crepe in half, and then in half again to make a quarter. Repeat with remaining crepes (or as many crepes as you’d like to eat—you want to assemble the crepes as you eat them, not store them for any length of time pre-assembled).
3. Wipe out excess oil from the pan and return it to medium heat. Add the crepes, 3 or 4 at a time, and cook until browned and slightly crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Serve immediately.