Often overlooked, arugula is a nutritional powerhouse, adding a potent dose of antioxidants and cancer-fighting compounds to your summer meals. While other varieties of greens have been overly-farmed and nutritionally diluted over the years, according to a recent article by Jo Robinson in the New York Times, arugula "is very similar to its wild ancestor. Some varieties were domesticated as recently as the 1970s, thousands of years after most fruits and vegetables had come under our sway."
And why is this notion of ancestry so important when it comes to your foods? According to Robinson, "if we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties. Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers." Wild dandelions, for example, have up to seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, the dark leafy green that is arguably most heralded for its health benefits. Arugula, being slightly more common than wild dandelions and a bit more versatile, stands out as an easy, younger-generation supergreen to incorporate into your diet this week.
A Few Arugula Tips:
Baby arugula is slightly sweeter and more versatile than more mature arugula, which lands on the spicier side. So for those of you who think arugula is too strong, try the baby variety (hint: baby leaves are small; mature leaves will be between 2-4 inches).
How to Buy: Arugula leaves should be green (not yellow), fresh smelling, bright, firm and lively.
How to Store: Store arugula in the fridge in a closed plastic bag and use it before it becomes wilted.
How to Cook: Arugula is an excellent accompaniment to a variety of meals, ranging from breakfast to dinner. Because it is so flavorful, it only needs to be dressed lightly in salads, where slightly sweeter foods (such as berries, figs and tomatoes) will lend balance to its spice. If you want to cook warm dishes with arugula, simply toss it in at the very end in order to preserve its high nutritional content (it is excellent, by the way, as a finishing garnish on soups, and in otherwise plain halibut and chicken dishes). Get too much arugula from your CSA? Leftovers can easily be transformed into pesto. In a food processor or with a mortar and pestle, simply combine 2 cloves of garlic, 2 cups of arugula, 1/2 cup evoo, 1/4 cup of nuts (pine nuts or walnuts are preferable) 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, sea salt and pepper...and enjoy. Arugula pesto over roasted cauliflower adds an unexpected twist, and drizzled on top of fried eggs in the morning -- it's one of my favorite treats.