Arugula: Spice of Life

Arugula. Arrugula. Rocket Salad. Roquette. Rugola… It has many names but it’s all the same thing. This peppery, leafy green has become quite popular with chefs over the past 10 years. It’s that long leaf salad green with scalloped leaves and a strong, distinct peppery flavor. It’s often found in mesclun salad mixes, or even alone as a bagged salad.

I vaguely recall when we first got a request for “Rocket Salad.” It must have been in the 1970s when we were just beginning to market fresh herbs. (That’s right, fresh cut herbs have only been widely sold in supermarkets for 30 years. Before that time, home cooks had to use dried herbs. What a flavor revolution!) We got one of our small growers to plant a few rows on their farm and we sold maybe five small bags a week.

I think Arugula is still most popular in Europe. When I first visited Berlin four years ago, my most memorable meal was at a glorious, glass-enclosed restaurant. My host ordered an incredible grilled vegetable salad. On a large oval platter, the chef had arranged a colorful medley of grilled eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers on a thick bed of Arugula. It was lightly topped with crumbled feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Even now, my mouth waters when I think of that salad. When I returned home, I concocted my own version of the salad. “Karen’s Famous Grilled Vegetables” is now a staple when we entertain at home.

During my trip to Berlin earlier this month, I enjoyed an Arugula (or Rauke) salad every night, garnished with cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Whenever I taste Arugula, I think of Berlin!

The narrow, delicate small-leaf variety is most popular in Europe, although it is seen here in upscale markets, often labeled as Wild Rocket or Baby Arugula. The larger, broader-leaf Arugula has leaves that measure about 4 inches long and is delicious wilted in warm salads.

Arugula is not always easy to find in supermarkets. Upscale markets may have it in the bagged salad section. (You can also find it at some farmers markets.) If you can’t find it at your store, be sure to request it from your produce manager. And if you have a home garden, Arugula is a natural to plant in the late spring and summer. But don’t plant too much, and watch it carefully. Arugula tends to grow fast and can become a little “tough” if left in the ground too long.

Make your next salad a little different — make Arugula your “Spice of Life!”