Arugula is known as "rucola" in Italy, as "roquette" in France, and—occasionally and most creatively—as "rocket" in Greece. A popular herb in both Greek and Italian cuisine and used as a salad green, it's sold as loose leaves or banded in bunches in the produce section of most large markets.
Origin, History, and Mythology
Arugula originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, but it's now grown in most parts of the world. Ancient Romans used the seeds to flavor olive oil, and it's said that arugula seed combinations have been used in aphrodisiacs dating back to the first century.
What Arugula Looks Like
Arugula leaves are a rich, dark green color. They're 6 to 8 inches long and similar in appearance to radish and white oak leaves, but they have a hint of red in the veins which are fibrous stem channels. Arugula is in the same family as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
How to Use Arugula
Arugula is predominantly used in fresh green salads. It has a peppery, mustard-like flavor, although the pale, younger leaves are often milder. It makes a tasty addition to other salad greens. The ancient Romans were said to combine it with romaine, chicory, mallow, lavender, and cheese.
Consider combining it with fruits, such as pears, or cheeses like Gorgonzola. It goes well on sandwiches, in chicken and tuna salads, egg dishes, pasta and tomato dishes, and in sautéed vegetables. You can also sauté it with your choice of other herbs and spices—it can stand in as a side dish on its own. Arugula is commonly featured in Clean Monday meals at the beginning of the Lenten period.
Wrap fresh arugula leaves in plastic or place them in a sealable plastic bag. They'll stay good for two days or so, possibly longer if you wait to wash them until just before you're ready to use them. The leaf quality will begin to drop off after three days.
Arugula is a rich source of iron. It's also high in vitamins A and C, and in nitrates and several antioxidants, which are reported to help fight and gastrointestinal ulcers and psoriasis. Like most salad greens, arugula is very low in calories.
You may not be able to find arugula in smaller neighborhood markets, but you can substitute watercress, baby spinach, endive, dandelion greens or radicchio in a pinch.
If you really like arugula and would like an ongoing fresh supply, you can grow your own. The seeds sprout well in sunny areas in spring and early summer. If you plant arugula any later in the summer, place it under a tree that doesn't have heavy foliage.
Arugula can reach maturity in as little as 10 days or as many as 45 days, depending on growing conditions. The late summer sun won't kill it—arugula is pretty hearty—but it will make the mature leaves more pungent and peppery. Use the leaves in your salads and cooking and plant the seeds for more arugula plants. If you pluck off the outer leaves first, more will grow.
Greek Name and Pronunciation
Arugula is pronounced RO-kah in Greek. Its Greek name is roka or ρόκα.