Remember the old days when salad-style leafy greens meant lettuce and spinach and not much else? Not only were varieties not well known, they were not exactly appreciated either. I recall one episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy and Ethel carpooled to Florida with a woman who they wrongly thought was an ax murderess after hearing a report on the car radio. While on the road, Lucy, who was really hungry, accepted a sandwich of buttered watercress from the presumed murderess. Upon tasting it, she made a disgusting face and declared that she was eating “buttered grass!” Amazing how far we’ve come! Facing the modern world of mizuna, mache and arugula brings new hope for good health and greater variety in taste and cuisine.
Arugula, also known as rocket, is my focus this week. It’s a dark, beautiful leafy green, a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and a relative of the humble watercress that Lucy nearly choked on! Before 1990, arugula was barely cultivated; you’d mostly find it growing in the wild. Now, with its increasing popularity, you can find it in many grocery stores across the country. It’s delicious on sandwiches, in salads and wraps and even good stirred into hot cooked pasta, rice or vegetable dishes. And because it has a sharp bite, it’s a good palate cleanse, making it a nice addition to that occasional rich meal. You can purchase it on its own or as part of a salad mix such as combination packages of mixed baby greens or mesclun mix.Nutritionally speaking, arugula gets an A+ for being low in calories, fat-free and delivering vitamins A, C and folate, as well as calcium, potassium and magnesium. It’s also packed with antioxidants that help protect your cells, heart and immune system.If you’ve never tried arugula, you’re in for a spicy treat! Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Try this amazing recipe for Arugula Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Prosciutto.
Sliver it and add it to hot pasta, tortellini or rice at the last minute before serving.
Sauté it in olive oil or a little butter.
Use it as a bed for fruit or fruit salad. For example, try this Arugula Salad with Peaches and Blue Cheese.
Use it in place of lettuce on sandwiches.
Add to paninis and quesadillas. Here’s a recipe for Goat Cheese and Arugula Quesadillas.
Try it on grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes.
Add a bit to pesto for a nice peppery bite. This recipe for Arugula Pesto with Ricotta is a good one to follow.
Stir a bit into hot mashed potatoes or add it to sautéed new potatoes.
Add it to hot soups at the last minute before serving.
Toss it with a little light dressing and serve it topped with steak, chicken or fish. Here’s a good recipe for Arugula with Steak, Lemon and Parmesan.
Chop it up like parsley and use it as a garnish.
Use it along with or in place of spinach in many recipes. Here’s a start with Spinach and Arugula Stuffed Mushrooms.
However you decide to use arugula, if you’re not used to it, it can be quite pungent. Take it slow at first and combine it with other, less strong leafy greens such as butter lettuce and mache or tiny baby spinach. Soon, you’ll be adding it to many of your favorite dishes. Remember when buying arugula, the leaves should be darkish green, dry and firm, not wilted. There should be no spoiling leaves and the aroma should be fresh and sharp.Do you enjoy arugula? Do you have a favorite way to eat it or recipe you love it in? Let me know!