What Is Arugula and What to Do with It

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If you’re looking to add more leafy greens into your diet, don’t forget to use arugula amongst the spinach, kale, and broccoli – it’s packed full of goodness and has a distinctive peppery flavor that’s great for salads, sandwiches, and more.

Sautéed arugula, arugula salad, and pesto with arugula

So many of us resolve to eat more veggies when the new year rolls around. But who among us hasn’t been put off by a shelf of green vegetables we don’t know how to cook? Cruciferous veggies in particular have a myriad of benefits for our health, so I’m on a mission to demystify the best and make your plate more colorful. Today, we will be talking about all things arugula – what is it and what do we do with it?

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What Is Arugula

Despite its leafy green appearance, arugula is a cruciferous vegetable – one of the best vegetable groups for our health. Known as rocket in some countries, arugula leaves are part of the brassica family that grow native to the many regions of the Mediterranean.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that it has such a significant part of Mediterranean cuisine, particularly as a simple arugula salad – a restaurant staple in Italy and Greece. Usually dressed with olive oil or lemon juice and sprinkled with salt and pepper, the distinctive flavor of arugula differentiates it from its cruciferous companions and makes it a very versatile ingredient. 

Sautéed arugula, arugula salad, and pesto with arugula

Peppery arugula is not to be confused with baby arugula. Though they’re both the same plant, the baby kind is picked and harvested much earlier in the growth process. If you like to eat arugula, but don’t like the arugula taste, the baby variety is smaller in size, has a much milder taste, and is more tender in the mouth, making it perfect for an easy arugula salad or just as a garnish. 

What Does Arugula Taste Like

If you order an arugula salad in a restaurant, you’re in for a punchy, peppery flavor. It’s why it’s used as a garnish for many dishes – it adds an extra oomph to potentially blander dishes. It’s also a great flavor to build meals around; the best arugula salad recipe will complement the spicy, slightly nutty flavors rather than overwhelm them.

Benefits of Arugula

As a cruciferous vegetable, arugula is packed full of amazing health benefits. Dishes with it are naturally low-calorie and low fat, but high in Vitamin A, C, and K, as well as calcium, iron, and folate. Arugula is also naturally high in antioxidants. The use of arugula has also been shown to help support the normal functioning of the brain and liver, reduce inflammation around the body, and more.

Arugula leaves on a flat surface

Substitutes for Arugula

If you need something to use in place of arugula, it’s best to go to the other members of the brassica family first. You can swap it out for kale or baby kale, dandelion greens, baby spinach, or watercress. They’re all highly nutritious and are a great support for other flavors in a salad, sandwich, or as part of a garnish. 

How to Store Arugula

To keep your arugula fresh, you just need to use a fridge-safe bag or box. When it’s at its freshest, the arugula will be bright green with the stems still attached. Wash it thoroughly with cold water, then wrap the root stems in a damp piece of kitchen towel. Put it in a bag or container in the refrigerator – and you can use it for 3-7 days.

How to Use Arugula

There are many ways to use arugula beyond the traditional simple salad – and it’s such a versatile veggie. You can eat it raw or cooked, throw it on as a garnish, make pesto, or integrate it into your favorite meals or side dishes as a way to boost the nutrient count. 

Arugula salad in a bowl

Arugula Recipes

As an arugula fan myself, these are my three favorite recipes with this nutritious leafy green:

Sauteed Arugula

Simple, easy and so quick – this is how you make cooked arugula. I’m sure that my sauteed arugula recipe that’s packed with garlic and lemon will become a favorite of yours.

Cooked arugula topped with garlic and pine nuts

Arugula Pesto

Traditionally made with basil and pine nuts, this recipe infuses arugula with parmesan, adds some walnuts, and blitzes it up to make a delicious, creamy pesto sauce. It’s perfect for pouring over pasta or pizza, drizzling over a larger salad or just being used for dipping.

A small jar with homemade arugula pesto

Arugula Salad

Here’s a simple recipe for my lemon arugula salad with parmesan.

What to Put in Arugula Salad

  • Baby arugula: These have a much more mild flavor than the larger arugula leaves – perfect for a salad.
  • Shaved parmesan cheese: You can instead add feta or goat cheese or a plant-based alternative like nutritional yeast if you prefer.
  • Salad dressing: I’ve made a lemon dressing for arugula salad. For it, you’ll need balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, honey, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
Ingredients for arugula salad

How to Make Arugula Salad

Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. If the parmesan is not shaved, use a vegetable peeler to shave it into flakes.

Pour the lemon dressing over the arugula leaves and sprinkle with the cheese. You can also add any extra toppings you enjoy – I love to use dried cranberries to offset the deep taste of the arugula.

Steps for making arugula salad

Server with your favorite main. It goes great with salmon, shrimp, or mushrooms.

Enjoy.

More Ingredient How-Tos

If you try any of these recipes, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

Simple Arugula Salad

5 from 15 votes
By: Samira
If you’re looking to add more leafy greens into your diet, don't forget to use arugula amongst the spinach, kale, and broccoli – it's packed full of goodness and has a distinctive peppery flavor.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients  

  • 3 oz baby arugula 3 cups
  • 1.5 oz parmesan cheese 1/2 cup shaved

Salad Dressing

  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 Tbsp honey optional, omit if using balsamic glaze
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Instructions 

  • Rinse the arugula/rocket leaves well, then dry them with a salad spinner or clean kitchen towel.
  • Mix all of the ingredients together for the dressing.
    If the parmesan is not shaved, use a vegetable peeler to shave it into flakes. Alternatively, you can grate it.
  • Pour the dressing over the arugula leaves and sprinkle with the cheese. You can also add any extra toppings you enjoy (e.g. dried cranberries, walnuts, etc). Enjoy!

How to Make Ahead and Store?

  • Make ahead: you can prepare the arugula leaves and the dressing separately and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to three days. Then, when you’re ready to serve, assemble the prepared ingredients and add the parmesan.
    Store: once fully assembled and dressed, this salad is best eaten immediately. However, any leftovers could be stored in the refrigerator for an additional day.

Notes

  • Dry the arugula well: (after rinsing) if you don’t, you can end up with a soggy salad.
  • Use the ingredient amounts as a guideline: after making this salad a few times, you’ll come to know “by eye” what your preferred amounts are and won’t even need to refer to a recipe!
Check the blog post for more tips about arugula and information on how to sautee arugula and how to make arugula pesto. 
Course: Appetizer, Side
Cuisine: American
Freezer friendly: No
Shelf life: 1 Day

Nutrition

Calories: 270kcal, Carbohydrates: 15g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 20g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 12g, Cholesterol: 14mg, Sodium: 947mg, Potassium: 220mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 13g, Vitamin A: 1177IU, Vitamin C: 12mg, Calcium: 327mg, Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

5 from 15 votes (14 ratings without comment)

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4 Comments

  1. Katya Enriquez says:

    I tried making this today. But without the pomegranates because it’s not in season right now. But I did add a lot of the add ins. Just wasn’t too mucha fan of the fennel and vinegar taste. But other than that I had fun going out of my comfort zone and I thought the new taste pallet was fun to explore.

    1. Support @ Alphafoodie says:

      Hi Katya,
      Glad you gave the recipe a try. I hope one day you can try it with the pomegrante – it’s delicious 🙂

  2. Elizabeth says:

    5 stars
    Utterly delicious!
    Deceptively simple.
    Candied a few walnuts.
    Utter joy!

    1. Support @ Alphafoodie says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Elizabeth. Glad you enjoyed the recipe!