Arugula

17. January 2011

The holidays may be over, but at my house the guest room still looks like gift-wrap central. The fridge is a disgusting mess and a pile of Christmas cards is still scattered over the kitchen table. And did I just see the cat fly through the living room with a Christmas tree ornament in her mouth?! I think it’s time for a major clean-up.

But for me, getting “clean” this time of year also means “eating” clean for the first time in weeks. After all the sugary Christmas cookies, homemade toffee, Chex mix and egg nog… I’m a mess inside as well as out. I know it’s bad because I’m actually starting to crave… salad!

Something green! That’s what I need. And I’m going to start with my favorite leafy green… arugula.

I began my love affair with arugula several years ago at a popular Coronado bistro. I decided to give the arugula salad a try and I’ve been hooked ever since. Popular for ages in Italy and France, arugula caught on in the US and Britain in the 90’s.

If you’re a “foodie,” you may know the tasty leaf by some of its other names… rugola, rucola, roquette, garden rocket, Mediterranean rocket or Italian cress.

Whatever you call it, arugula is unique. Some describe the spicy little leaf as bitter. But others… including myself, characterize the flavor as “peppery-mustardy.” It truly has a flavor all its own.

In fact, because arugula is so potent on its own, it’s often mixed with milder greens to produce a nice, balanced salad. I’ve never tried it, but arugula can also be sautéed in olive oil. Chefs say you can substitute most any green for arugula, but the closest matches are Belgian endive, escarole and dandelion greens.

You can get as creative as you like with arugula, but I think it’s most fabulous combined with fruit and cheese. My favorite arugula salad combo, created by my friend, Rene’, includes arugula, feta cheese crumbles and pomegranate seeds tossed with a nice balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

So simple, but fancy enough to serve to guests.

You could also head to Coronado… the scene of my first encounter with arugula. Stop in at Tartine’s on 1st Avenue and order their salad made with arugula, shaved parmesan and sweet chunks of cantaloupe… tossed with an amazing homemade vinaigrette dressing. (I think it’s a secret recipe!) The freshly baked baguette on the side is just an added bonus.

And speaking of added bonuses… did I mention arugula is one of those leafy greens packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants? It’s time to “clean up” from the holidays… inside and out.

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.