This herbaceous leafy green seems to be cropping up everywhere these days, from pizzas and salads to uniquely featured menu items. Yet, arugula still remains elusive to many who have never cooked with it and wonder how to incorporate it with meals. Never fear! Arugula is a highly versatile, peppery-tasting leafy green vegetable that is part of the mustard family (along with broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts). It originated in the Mediterranean region and is popular in many traditional Italian, Moroccan, and Turkish dishes. It thrives in the spring season in North Idaho and is very easy to grow, making it a fresh and healthy alternative to your basic lettuce varieties.
Long before our time, arugula was used as a digestive and prized for its aphrodisiac properties by the Ancient Romans. Until recently, arugula was mostly used as a garnish where you might see it sitting unassumingly next to a braised pork chop on your dinner plate. These days, arugula has become more popular in many salad and grain dishes, flatbreads, and pizzas as part of the “foodie” culture.
Arugula is chock-full of plant compounds called carotenoids, which maintain healthy vision and are the precursors to vitamin A needed for cellular regeneration to prevent aging. Arugula also packs a hefty amount of B vitamins needed for energy, vitamin C required for a strong immune system, and potassium for healthy bones and muscles. Plus, arugula only has 5 calories per cup, so no need to feel guilty indulging!
Choose arugula that is free from any wilting or yellow/brown discoloration. Arugula spoils fast (within two to three days), so use up when you purchase. Here are some tips for using arugula:
• Add to scrambled eggs or omelets
• Toss on pizzas with marinara sauce
• Add to lasagna dishes or a summer pasta dish with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice for a pop of color and flavor
• Toss with cooked grains like rice, couscous, or faro and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese or Parmesan and brightly colored heirloom tomatoes
• Make a quick arugula salad with sliced apples, walnuts, and your favorite vinaigrette dressing
• Add to a toasted sandwich or whole grain wrap with hummus and sliced tomatoes
Arugula Walnut Pesto
This spin-off from traditional pesto uses peppery arugula and is made vegan by swapping Parmesan cheese for nutritional yeast flakes. It is a wonderful accompaniment to pizza, spread on water crackers for an appetizer, tossed in pasta, or even topped on scrambled eggs.
Makes 1 cup pesto sauce (approx. 67 calories/2 tablespoon serving)
• 4 cups packed fresh arugula
• 1 cup packed fresh basil
• ¼ cup chopped walnuts
• 2 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
• ¼ tsp. salt
• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Directions: Using a high powered blender or handheld immersion blender, combine all ingredients and pulse until ground into a paste. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days, or double the batch and freeze for later.
Article and original recipe by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Registered Dietitian and freelance nutrition writer based out of Coeur d’Alene. She maintains a blog at www.plantasticeating.com