Food Lifestyle

How to Use Arugula: 7 Delicious Recipes for Every Season

8 min read

Arugula is a sharp, slightly bitter leafy green that has a long and honored history in Mediterranean cuisine. A truly versatile vegetable, it’s great both raw and cooked, and offers significant health benefits either way. So where and when can you find arugula? How can you tell when it’s at its peak? And what dishes are enhanced by this peppery green?

You wouldn’t expect a vegetable called “rocket” to be mild or boring. And arugula — also known as rucola, roka, roquette, and rocket — does not disappoint.

The Roman poet Virgil wrote that the plant could excite amorous desire in “drowsy people.” And according to some historians, it was forbidden in monastery gardens because it could inflame the passions of the monks, challenging their vows of celibacy.

With that kind of reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if arugula started to challenge kale as the “it” green of the 21st century.

Traditionally, recipes with arugula feature prominently in Mediterranean cuisine, using it in both its raw and cooked forms. It’s revered for its unique, peppery flavor, which allows it to pair well with many bitter and savory foods.

Are you curious to explore this leafy green that tastes zingy and “puts a pep in your step”? It’s definitely worth finding out how to grow it in your garden or choose the best arugula in the supermarket. And you’d do well to know how to store it and use it in recipes, too.

So here’s a collection of preparation tips and arugula recipes to introduce you to the wonders of this zippy plant, equipping you with a collection of ideas to use it to its full potential.

Arugula Taste and Nutrition

Fresh arugula salad

Arugula, also known as rocket in the UK, is a leafy green, typically used raw in salads. It’s a member of the brassica family (the cruciferous bunch), along with kale, cabbage, broccoli, and many others. (As far as I know, arugula was not the inspiration for Elton John’s hit song “Rocket Man.” But the lyrics are pretty ambiguous, so who knows?)

Arugula tastes bitter with a hint of pepper. And like many other bitter veggies, it can provide a number of potent health benefits.

As with other leafy greens, arugula is high in vitamin K. And it’s no slouch in the vitamin C and folate departments, either. It contains an anticancer compound known as isothiocyanate erucin, which has a similar chemical structure to the cancer-fighting superstar sulforaphane.

It also encourages your body to form nitric oxide, which can dilate blood vessels and combat high blood pressure — among other things.

When Is Arugula in Season and Where Can You Buy It?

Arugula is a hardy plant and can grow in a variety of soil and weather conditions. Eager to pop out of the ground in the early spring, its seeds can germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40°F/4°C.

Arugula isn’t a huge fan of extremely hot weather, however. If you’re trying to grow it in a zone that experiences brutal summers, you may have to plant it in semi-shade to keep it from wilting or bolting in the heat. In some climates, dropped seeds can overwinter and grow anew in the spring, turning it into something of a perennial crop.

It’s typically planted in early spring or fall, and arugula is in season from late spring to early winter. If you’d like to grow arugula yourself, here’s a handy guide.

One of the nice things about growing your own arugula is that you get to harvest the leaves when they’re small, tender, and at the peak of their flavor. While I respect and honor my elders, the taste of an old arugula plant is just not my cup of tea — or salad base.

Alternatively, you can grow arugula indoors either in soil or hydroponically using LED grow lights. Growing arugula with LED lights may even increase the amount grown as well as its nutrition levels.

Once you get to know arugula, you may not be willing to do without it outside of your growing season. Fortunately, you may be able to get it year-round in grocery stores in the US and other countries.

You can find arugula at most regular grocery stores, natural food stores, farmers markets, and CSAs.

How to Store and Wash Arugula

Top view cropped head close up of Afro American chef holding bowl with greenery and water on table

Like other greens, arugula will wilt if exposed to air for too long. It will fare better when wrapped in a produce bag or sealed in an airtight container. For maximum longevity and freshness, keep your arugula in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. And throw away any leaves that are slimy, brown, or smelly. To preserve the peppery leaves longer, place a paper towel or tea towel underneath the arugula in its storage container to catch excess moisture.

Don’t wash arugula until you’re ready to use it. The best method that I’ve found for washing salad greens is to use a salad spinner, as that can get them nicely clean and dry.

For more on washing produce, check out our article on How to Wash Vegetables and Fruits to Remove Pesticides.

Ways to Use Arugula

Arugula is often enjoyed raw, typically in dishes that contain ingredients that can balance out its sharpness. (According to an Italian cuisine historian, arugula was often mixed with lettuce in order to counteract its aphrodisiac properties.) In addition to salads, you can use arugula as a topping or finisher for pizza; blend it into sauces, dips, and dressings; turn it into an intensely green gazpacho; blend it in smoothies and juices; and use it in sandwiches and wraps.

You can also cook arugula. It can add zip to soups. It can also stand alone, sautéed, or as a side dish. Arugula can add vivid color and bright flavor to vegan quiches, frittatas, and nomlettes (no-egg omelets, which can be so tasty you just go “nom nom nom” while you eat). You can also add fresh arugula leaves to steaming hot pasta dishes — the heat will wilt the leaves and cut their sharpness a bit, while still leaving enough peppery flavor to be noticeable.

If you like the idea of cooking with leafy greens, arugula has lots of friends, which can also add sharpness to your meals.

Other bitter greens to try in place of arugula in recipes include:

  • Kale
  • Dandelion greens
  • Radish greens
  • Parsley
  • Frisée
  • Watercress
  • Escarole

Arugula Recipes

If you’re curious about cooking with arugula beyond the usual salad, but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered!

Arugula’s distinct peppery zing shines through whether it’s enjoyed raw or cooked. It’s a game changer in soups, a perfect topping on pizzas, a zesty base for dressings, and so much more. Dive into our arugula recipe collection to see for yourself how this lively green can bring excitement to your dishes. And get ready to discover the many ways arugula can spice up your meals!

1. Savory Breakfast Polenta with Mushrooms and Arugula

Savory Breakfast Polenta with Mushrooms and Arugula

Arugula adds the perfect peppery bite to this filling, Savory Breakfast Polenta with Mushrooms and Arugula. The combination of creamy polenta with sautéed umami mushrooms and fresh greens is simply marvelous. Plus, arugula is full of folate and vitamins K and C, making this dish a nutrient powerhouse. With all the other wholesome ingredients you’ll get in one nourishing bite, you’ve got a meal that will help you feel unstoppable!

2. Blackberry Arugula Salad

Blackberry Arugula Salad offers a beautiful array of colors, flavors, and phytonutrients. This salad of blackberries paired with zesty arugula boasts wholesome servings of calcium, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin K, folate, and potassium to keep your body’s external defenses healthy and strong. Topped with zingy Vegan Feta and sweet Candied Walnuts, it’s no wonder this salad tastes like sweet vitality in every bite.

3. Creamy Arugula and White Bean Soup

Creamy Arugula and White Bean Soup

Arugula brings a pop of vibrant green to this soup, along with a peppery kick. It perfectly complements the savory blend of celery, fresh cilantro, and earthy white beans. With the addition of silky potatoes and creamy avocado, this dish is a texture and flavor delight. With every bite of Creamy Arugula and White Bean Soup, you’ll get fiber from the leafy greens and beans, vitamin E and healthy fats from the avocado and hemp seeds, protein from the beans, and vitamin C from the tomatoes and arugula. While each ingredient shines in its own right, arugula steals the spotlight with its bold flavor and color, making this soup a standout celebration of plant power.

4. Mighty Green Tortilla Pesto Pizza

Mighty Green Tortilla Pesto Pizza

Arugula shines in this Mighty Green Tortilla Pesto Pizza! Get a double dose of greens with the kale pesto and fresh arugula topping. You can also swap out the kale for arugula in the tasty Kale Walnut Basil Pesto to add an even stronger peppery punch. Top it all off with Vegan Walnut Parmesan for a savory, green-packed, and utterly delicious pizza experience!

5. Banh Mi Bowl

Banh Mi Bowl

Arugula adds just the right amount of bitterness to this mouthwatering plant-based Banh Mi Bowl. Inspired by classic Vietnamese street food, this bowl has no shortage of flavor or nutrition. Crispy marinated tofu, zingy and crunchy pickled veggies, and fresh arugula and cilantro are piled high on top of brown rice (or your favorite grain) and drizzled with mouthwatering, homemade Sriracha Mayo for a meal that is simple, refreshing, and delicious! As you may have guessed, this nourishing grain bowl is bursting with plenty of hearty plant-based protein, beneficial fiber, and a rainbow of veggies that make for some seriously delicious and nutritious eats. The other best part is that this meal comes together in just 30 minutes.

6. Arugula Tahini Dressing

Concept of tasty food with tahini sauce on beige textured background Bila

Elevate your salads or grain bowls with this creamy Arugula Tahini Dressing, where the peppery taste of arugula meets the smooth, nutty flavor of tahini. Blended with zesty lemon juice and sharp shallots, and seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper, this dressing adds flavor to any dish. Whether drizzled over fresh greens or used as a dip, this arugula dressing brings a vibrant, healthy twist to your meals, making it a must-try for salad lovers and flavor seekers alike!

7. Bloomed Wild Rice with Sweet Peas, Arugula, and Pistachios

Bloomed Wild Rice with Sweet Peas, Arugula, and Pistachios

Arugula takes center stage in our Bloomed Wild Rice with Sweet Peas, Arugula, and Pistachios, a dish that marries the unique peppery flavor of arugula with the nutty depth of wild rice. The sweetness of the peas and the satisfying crunch of pistachios complement the bold arugula, creating a harmony of flavors and textures. And arugula doesn’t just add a spicy kick; it also infuses the dish with its lush green color and wealth of nutrition, from antioxidants to essential vitamins. This arugula recipe celebrates the colors and tastes of fresh, wholesome ingredients for a delightful culinary experience.

Get to Know Arugula!

Arugula, the peppery green, deserves a spot in your culinary repertoire. From raw to cooked dishes, there are tons of ways to incorporate arugula in plant-based recipes.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or an amateur home cook, arugula provides a simple yet impactful way to enrich your diet with its unique blend of taste and health benefits.

Expand your palate and embrace more bitter foods like arugula!

Tell us in the comments:

  • Are you a fan of arugula? If so, how do you use it?
  • What other bitter foods are part of your diet?
  • Which arugula recipe will you try next?

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