Mexico Life
Pasta with arugula and chickpeas Arugula adds a natural kick that can invigorate a plain pasta dish.

Transform a staple dish into a special occasion with arugula

Its subtle bite freshens up old standby recipes yet doesn't take over

When I first started seeing arugula in Mazatlán, it was at our local farmers’ market, grown by Gail Blackburn, an expat who’d had a long and successful career in the Pacific Northwest of the United States as a farmer before she moved to Mexico.

Each week, customers and local chefs snatched it up from her stand, and she couldn’t grow enough to meet the demand.

That was 10 years ago, and nowadays it’s not unusual (at least here) to find packaged arugula in the grocery stores and for it to be included on menus in salads and sandwiches, either the whole leaves or microgreens.

The peppery, wasabi-like bite of arugula adds a naturally spicy kick that wakes up the taste buds and complements other milder, sweeter lettuces and greens.

And although the most common way to eat this green, leafy vegetable is raw, in salads, it’s not a lettuce; it’s actually a member of the cabbage family.

Cooking with arugula
Arugula’s wasabi-like bite complements milder, sweeter greens.

When cooked, say in pasta soups or as a side dish, the flavor mellows but still provides a nice change from other greens like spinach and chard.

In certain regions of Italy, raw arugula, also known as rocket, is sprinkled on pizza just before serving.

Arugula’s history is not without controversy; in ancient Roman times, monasteries were forbidden to grow it because of its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

The many varieties of arugula have varying degrees of spiciness. And while the narrow, notched leaves are all the same deep green, you’ll find different sizes and widths, some with pointy ends, some rounded. The small baby arugula will be the most tender and mild, if you can find it.

Mango, Arugula & Brie Sandwich

A tropical take on a classic French sandwich!

  • 8 slices rustic bread such as ciabatta or focaccia
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 oz. brie, thinly sliced
  • 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 oz. arugula
  • Optional: caramelized onions, drizzle of honey

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Brush both sides of bread slices liberally with olive oil; layer brie on inside of the bread.

Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Place mango slices and arugula on bread, add any optional ingredients and close sandwiches carefully.

Place in the preheated pan and put a second heavy skillet (such as cast iron or a skillet with a can in it) on top, like making a basic grilled cheese sandwich.

Lower heat to medium-low. Cook sandwich until brie is fully melted and bread is golden, 3–5 minutes per side.

Serve immediately.

Pan roasted salmon with arugula and avocado
This pan-roasted salmon is an elegant dish you can whip up in 20 minutes or less.

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Arugula & Avocado Salad

  • 4 salmon filets
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup + 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups baby arugula
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into ½-inch cubes

Press salmon filets between paper towels to dry; season all sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1/3 cup oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add salmon with the skin side down; immediately reduce heat to medium-low.

Cook, pressing gently on back of filets, until skin is crisp, about 6 minutes. Flip salmon and cook on second side.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix arugula, lemon juice, remaining 3 Tbsp. oil and avocado. Season with salt and pepper; toss in grated cheese.

Remove salmon from pan. Spoon salad onto plates, top with salmon and serve.

Potato Salad with Chorizo & Arugula

  • 1¾ lbs. potatoes, baby or fingerling if available
  • Salt
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano or thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced, divided
  • Sherry vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 4 oz. good quality chorizo, diced
  • 2 oz. arugula

In a medium saucepan, place herbs, potatoes, some salt and enough water to cover. Cook until potatoes are tender but still firm. Remove from heat, drain and allow to cool. Discard herbs.

Put half the diced onion in a bowl. Add just enough sherry vinegar to cover; set aside. In a skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Add remaining onion to skillet, increase heat to high, and cook, stirring, until starting to brown, about three minutes.

If potatoes are small, leave whole; otherwise, cut into halves or quarters. Transfer to large bowl; add chorizo, sautéed onion and any remaining cooking oil. Add your now quick-pickled onions (reserve the vinegar) and stir to combine.

Dress with more olive oil or vinegar, salt and pepper. Just before serving, add arugula and toss.

potato salad with arugula
Take the time to find fresh oregano or thyme and sherry vinegar to make this arugula, chorizo and potato salad a standout.

Arugula Pesto

  • 2 cups packed fresh arugula leaves, rinsed and dried
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Place arugula, walnuts and garlic in a food processor or blender. Pulse until finely chopped, scraping sides as necessary. With food processor/blender running, add oil in slow, steady stream. Continue processing until smooth, scraping sides. Add Parmesan and lemon juice; pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Store refrigerated for up to a week.

Arugula Salad with Perfect Vinaigrette

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups arugula

Combine everything except arugula in a jar and shake well. Toss arugula with vinaigrette. — Food Network / Tyler Florence

shells with arugula and chickpeas
No need to cook the arugula in this recipe. The warm pasta will wilt the delicate greens to perfection.

Pasta Shells with Chickpeas & Arugula

  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ tsp. EACH thyme and oregano
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • ½ lb. pasta shells
  • ¼ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups arugula

In a large bowl, whisk vinegar, garlic, ½ tsp. each of salt, pepper, thyme, oregano and olive oil. Add chickpeas and mozzarella; stir. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Cook pasta al dente, drain and add to bowl with chickpea mixture. Add a handful of arugula and a sprinkling of parmesan and stir. Continue this process until all the arugula and most of the Parmesan have been added. The arugula will wilt slightly due to the warm pasta.

Season to taste with more salt and pepper, sprinkle with the remaining grated Parmesan, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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