As a great alternative (or companion) to spinach, here’s your guide to arugula, the tender leafy green. You’ll find easy ideas for using it as well as links to tasty arugula recipes. One considered a gourmet green, arugula is now almost as commonplace as spinach.
Arugula is traditionally a cool-weather green, making an early spring appearance with a follow-up in the fall, when it grows late into the season. These days, however, you can find arugula year-round in well-stocked supermarket and natural foods stores.
It’s a relative of the cruciferous (aka brassica) family of vegetables, which also includes kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Baby arugula leaves are less pungent than larger leaves that are allowed to grow larger before harvesting, though neither are bitter greens.
How does arugula taste? Arugula’s flavor is often described as peppery or mustardy, though these terms fail to capture its unique flavor.
Arugula can be used raw (in which form it retains more of its bite) or very lightly cooked. In the latter case, being very lightly wilted helps retain its character and color.
Though its flavor is more assertive, arugula is similar to spinach in the ways it can be used, and can be interchanged with it in many dishes, or it can be used to replace part of the amount of spinach called for.
By any other name: Sometimes arugula goes by its European name of “rocket” or “rocket salad.” Occasionally, you may also see it referred to as “rucola.”
A good-for-you green: Like other dark leafy greens, arugula is a nutrient dense food. It’s packed with vitamins A, C, K, and folate. As far as minerals, it’s particularly rich in calcium and potassium. It’s a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Here’s more about its nutritional profile.
How to buy and prepare arugula
Arugula is now commonly available as a baby green, packaged into 5-ounce or so containers and labeled “triple-washed.” Still, I like to give these kinds of greens a good rinse. If using in a salad, make sure the greens are well dried. If using in cooked dishes, just get rid of excess water and proceed to use as directed in the recipe.
Fuller-size arugula from your farm share or CSA should be well rinsed to make sure you get rid of any sand or grit. Larger leaves can be chopped. Arugula has tender stems, so you need not trim them away.
Easy ideas for using arugula
- Simply tossing some into your tossed green salad improvisations; it pairs well with tender lettuces
- Wilt into a basic garlicky greens sauté. See more about how to do that in the most basic, best way to cook leafy greens.
- Use it to embellish stuffed potatoes and sweet potatoes, as shown at top
- Add a couple of big handfuls to homemade hash browns
- Add to soups and stews at the last minute. It’s especially good in bean, lentil, and chickpea preparations
- Toss into stir-fries, also at the last minute
- Incorporate into warm pastas, grain pilafs, and risotto
- Embellish cold noodle dishes, pasta salads, bean salads and potato salads
- Use it in sandwiches, wraps, and vegan burgers in place of lettuce
- Wilt a big handful on pizza just before it comes out of a hot oven. Substitute arugula on this spinach pizza and on this kale pizza.
- Whirl into homemade dips — hummus and others — raw or lightly wilted
- Use it to make pesto
- Amp your avocado toast
Recipes using arugula
Arugula and Apple Waldorf-Style Salad: Inspired by the classic American Waldorf salad, this arugula and apple salad recipe features two kinds of apples along with celery, baby arugula, and walnuts. Grapes are added for extra refreshment.
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Arugula & Pumpkin Seeds: Butternut squash tossed with arugula and embellished with pumpkin seeds proves that a few well chosen ingredients can produce a salad with wow factor.
Pasta with Asparagus, Arugula, & Sun-Dried Tomatoes: Here’s a simple, light pasta dish featuring two sprightly vegetables — asparagus and arugula. Thought this dish says “spring,” you can serve it all year round, since asparagus has become available throughout the seasons.
Spinach or Arugula Scrambled Tofu: Here’s a colorful and tasty spinach or arugula scrambled tofu that’s festive enough for a company brunch, but simple enough to make for a weekend meal for you and yours.
Pasta with Leafy Greens Pesto: Leafy greens pesto using arugula (or spinach, watercress, or any combination) is a lighter, greener sauce for pasta, potatoes, and more.
Dairy-Free Arugula Pesto: Here’s a bold and fragrant arugula pesto made without the usual Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast is optional but highly recommended to give it a hint of cheesy flavor. This versatile pesto sauce, made with pine nuts or walnuts, can be used in several delicious ways.
Seitan & Polenta with Fresh Greens: There’s something enticing about the synergy between seitan and polenta. With the addition of greens (arugula is one of the options) the result is a great-looking, hearty dish.
Lemony Spinach (or Arugula) Rice with Fresh Herbs: In this simple side dish incorporating the fresh flavors of lemon and herbs, arugula is given as an alternative to spinach. Why serve plain rice when it’s so easy to embellish it?
Gingery Miso-Mushroom Soup: Here’s a light yet satisfying way to warm up most any time of year. And it’s vegan, unlike miso soup served in Japanese restaurants. Arugula is given as an optional add-in, along with other baby greens.
Baked Tofu Wraps with Greens, Apple, and Avocado: What makes these fast and easy baked tofu wraps so good — baby greens (and of course, arugula is an option), avocado, and the surprising pop of tart green apple.
Avocado and Tahini Dip with Baby Greens: This richly flavored dip makes a fantastic appetizer. Use your favorite baby greens — arugula, in this case, or vary with baby spinach, kale, or power greens mix.
Mixed Greens Salad with Avocado & Blueberries: This gorgeous salad is a snap to make and adds a splash of color (and lots of antioxidants) to the summer plate. A medley of mixed greens (with an arugula options), avocado, and blueberries, it’s the perfect addition to almost any kind of summer meal.
Tri-Color Potato & Arugula Salad:This salad combines three kinds of potatoes with arugula for an earthy flavor with plenty of eye appeal.
Can’t get enough greens?
Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas
Do you want more greens? See our Guide to 10 Leafy Greens Everyone Should be Eating.
See more Good Food Guides on this site.
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