Arugula is a wonderful salad green

Arugula in the garden
(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Arugula in the garden (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Arugula is popping up in our garden! This early spring green is a cool weather crop that grows best in late spring and early summer. Though not well known as lettuce or spinach, it is easy to grow and matures quickly. It is best sown early, since warm, dry summer weather will make the leaves smaller and even more pungent. The flowers, like the leaves, can be added to salads.

This sharp, zesty green is has long, slender, flat leaves attached to long stems. The larger the leaf, the stronger the flavor, so search for leaves just 2” to 3″ long. Make sure the leaves are bright green and crisp, and stems aren’t slimy or withered. It is often quite sandy, so cut off the tougher stems and wash leaves in several changes of water before use, then drain or spin dry in a salad spinner.

A Mediterranean native, arugula was wild-harvested until the twentieth century. The word derives from the Latin word for cabbage, eruca, although it is a member of the mustard family and not a cabbage. It has been used in Italy since Roman times; the ancient Romans considered it an aphrodisiac. The leaves were eaten and the seeds were collected for flavoring oils. Today, it is still widely used in Italian cuisine, and is popular in Turkey and other Mediterranean lands. It is very perishable, so it is still rare in supermarkets, but has become widely available at farmer’s markets. Pretty good for a vegetable that was virtually unknown outside the Mediterranean basin until the last 10 or 15 years!

Like most greens, arugula is low in calories (1/2 cup raw has just 2!) and high in vitamins A, C, folic acid, and the minerals calcium and iron. It is rich in fiber and contains cancer-fighting phytochemicals (indoles and isothiocyanates).

Arugula has many uses, but this time of year I like it best in salads. I find it a bit too strong to use alone in a salad, but it is great mixed with milder greens. Combine peppery arugula with crisp apples, toasted walnuts, sweet onion, and dried cherries; dress it with a vibrant vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice. Or, combine it with strawberries and almonds and dress with a creamy yogurt dressing. Or use it with other greens in an antipasto.

A little arugula can add a touch of spice to any salad without overwhelming it. It’s peppery tang can enrich and liven up fruit, pasta, bean, potato or grain salads.

Arugula is also great on a sandwich — like a grilled cheese with peaches and olives, a BLT with arugula, or an arugula and olive cream cheese sandwich.

Bright, spicy arugula can be used like a vegetable, either as a cooked or sautéed green. It is wonderful wilted, sautéed, stuffed into things before they cook or mixed with pasta. It is a wonderful pizza topping; just toss a handful of arugula on top of any pizza when it comes out of the oven. The heat of the pizza will wilt the leaves. This is especially good on a white or cheese pizza topped with mushrooms and tomatoes.

As an herb, it can be made into pesto or used sparingly to spice up a bland dish. Because arugula is prolific and matures quickly, pesto is a great way to store the greens. Pesto keeps in the fridge for a week or more, and freezes well.

Its spicy, slightly pungent flavor combines well with smooth, creamy sauces and cheeses, and marries well with sweet fruit, citrus, and nuts. The strong flavor adds zip to delicate fish and shellfish, pasta or rice, and is great in stir-fries. If arugula’s peppery, tangy flavor is too intense for your taste buds, replace some of the arugula in any recipe with spinach.

Spring Greens & Strawberry Salad

Ingredients:

1 small bunch lettuce – about 2 to 3 cups

1 small bunch arugula – about 2 to 3 cups

2/3 cup creme fraiche, sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (or more) strawberries

1 cup (or more) pecans or walnuts

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

Wash greens thoroughly. Remove and discard tough stems from arugula. Tear or chop into salad bowl.

Combine creme fraiche, maple syrup and salt. Fold into the greens.

Wash and slice berries. Stir berries, nuts and feta into salad, or use to garnish individual servings.

Makes two to three main dish servings or four to five side dish servings.

Option: Later in the season, use other berries, like raspberries or blackberries. Or try stone fruit, like peaches or plums.

Spring Antipasto

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 sweet onion

1 small bunch lettuce – about 2 to 3 cups

1 small bunch arugula – about 2 to 3 cups

1 small bunch spinach – about 2 to 3 cups

1 cup olives

1 dill pickle

1 large or 2 small tomatoes

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 cup diced cooked ham

Directions:

Cook eggs until hardboiled, about 7 minutes. Peel under cool water and set aside.

Crush garlic with salt. In bottom of salad bowl, combine garlic, salt, mustard, olive oil and vinegar.

Wash greens thoroughly. Remove and discard tough stems from arugula. Tear or chop into salad bowl.

Peel onion and slice into half rings.

Stir onion, lettuce and arugula into greens; toss to combine.

Chop eggs and stir in. Slice olives, and pickle and tomato, and stir in, along with cheese and ham.

Serves 3 – 4 as a main dish.

Potato Salad with Arugula

Ingredients:

6 small red-skinned potatoes (golf ball size)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup peas

2 scallion (or 1 very large)

1/2 cup arugula

1/2 cup spinach

1/2 cup fresh parsley

1 cup diced ham

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon sour cream

1 teaspoon mustard

Directions:

Scrub potatoes, place in pot with water and salt, bring to a boil, and lower heat to simmer. Cook 10-15 minutes. Wash and shred greens while potatoes are cooking. When potatoes are almost tender, add the peas and cook for 3 more minutes. Drain and let cool.

Quarter or dice potatoes and place in salad bowl with peas. Rinse and slice the scallion (white and green parts) and add, along with the prepared greens. Add the dice ham and stir everything to combine.

In a small bowl, blend mayonnaise, sour cream and mustard, and fold into the salad.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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