23 Oct2005

Rocket (Eruca sativa) is a plant which grows wild in Western Asia and the Mediterranean region. aru1An ancient green, many believe it is mentioned in the Bible as “Oroth.” In Italy, the plant is known as rucchetta, rughetta and rucola and it is unknown how it acquired its now common American name arugula (probably just a bunch of importers and retailers who decided they needed a more Americanized or easier way to refer to it when they started importing it from Italy). At any rate, before it achieved widespread chi-chi status in U.S. salads during the past 15+ years, this green was eaten from North Africa to the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. It possesses a sharp taste, some say like horseradish, pepper, mustard, and the like. It works well with other strong flavors as long as the bitterness is balanced by other ingredients such as salty pancetta, flavorful vinegars, sweet figs or fruits, etc.

I have always liked rocket or arugula in small doses and missed it so aru2much during a posting in Jakarta that my wife grew it on a plant box in our tiny balcony… the weather was so hot and humid there that the resulting greens, even when picked just 4 inches tall, were wickedly bitter. Even the birds stayed away from it. So I have always assumed that you couldn’t grow this in the Philippines because it was too hot or too tropical. Thank goodness I was wrong. Several growers are now raising rocket/arugula and my favorite regular source is the herb section of Rustan’s Rockwell where small packets of baby arugula can be had for PHP60. These young tender leaves have just the right degree of flavor and bitterness. Other growers let the leaves get way too big and they are just too bitter to handle. At any rate, these small leaves in the photo above are about as good as they get for locally grown arugula. They are terrific when added to salads or as a foil for other ingredients. This second photo of wild rocket (Diplotaxis erucoides) was taken at a farmer’s market in New York… it is the current more chi-chi version of the bitter green. Also known as sylvetta in Europe, it would make your salad even more “authentic” if you were doing an Italian meal…



  1. beth says:

    Rucola ,dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, so perfect for Bresaola,then sprinkled with toasted pine nuts,and shaved parmigiano regiano,very good starter for an italian meal!

    Oct 24, 2005 | 3:20 am


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  3. Hchie says:

    I just love digging into a salad of greens and munching these crunchy, bitter leaves. I tried growing them but only got a handful from a packet of seeds. It’s wonderful topped on a rustic thin-crust pizza with cheese, shrimp, walnuts and pears.

    Oct 24, 2005 | 7:26 am

  4. rina says:

    i sometimes crave for a salad of rocket with tuna, diced tomatoes & kalamata olives simply dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper.

    Oct 24, 2005 | 3:09 pm

  5. Marketman says:

    I think you have passed a certain threshold in the food scene when you start searching for bitter greens like arugula… it must be the western equivalent of ampalaya or something… it is great with olive oil and lemon juice!

    Oct 25, 2005 | 5:11 am

  6. Gigi says:

    Shared some of my arugula salad with some co-workers who ten declared it as fascinating with the taste that they likened to “sinusunog na gulong ng kotse”. I immediately declared them as Culinary Peasants!

    Oct 25, 2005 | 9:47 am

  7. Baki says:

    I had good results with growing arugula in the dry season, means from december upt to march. Less humid and a semi-shadow place to grow will help. Try arugula sprouts in a boring green salad or on a sandwich…you have to sprout them yourself but its well worth the effort.
    Recently I have found a kind of sour tasting leaf on salcedo market at this herb guy. I remember this kind of greens from Greece and Germany and it comes from the portulaca family. Very nice in salads, on sandwiches or in a hot pot soup!

    Oct 25, 2005 | 5:11 pm


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