Monday, October 6, 2008

In Defense of Arugula

During this lengthy political season, some unkind and disrespectful words have been tossed about in reference to those who enjoy eating the leafy green vegetable known as arugula. Sadly, arugula eaters have been referred to as "effete elites" and accused of patronizing pricey organic food markets which cater to Volvo- driving, brie chomping North-Easterners.

In fact, arugula is a lowly aromatic Mediterranean weed which grows profusely in poor soil in central and southern Europe and the Americas and has been gathered and cultivated since at least the time of the Roman Empire. Today it is found in temperate climates all over the world. Its name is derived from the Italian "rucola"; the British call it "rocket", the French say "roquette", Farsi speakers know it as "mandab", and Israelis refer to it as "arogula".

A member of the brassica family, arugula is high in many nutrients including vitamin c, beta carotene, and potassium, and makes a pungent delicious and versatile addition to salads and vegetable dishes. The small white or yellow flowers of the wild plants are edible and its seeds can be used in place of mustard seeds.

Wild leafy greens were once an important staple for rural and farming people who gathered local seasonal greens to add variety to their simple diets; the recent rediscovery of less familiar greens has begun to expand the dismally small produce vocabulary of many Americans, for whom iceberg lettuce has long been the (one and only) king of salad greens.

So whether you call it rocket, roquette, or rucola, don't disrespect arugula! Try a handful in your favorite soup or salad, add a few leaves to an avocado sandwich, toss some into a bowl of pasta or with a few small steamed potatoes. Arugula is just a non-partisan weed, good for all the people.