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Purple Onion Arugula

Fresh arugula adds a zippy bite to everything from pizza to salad.

Arugula seems to be topping off everything right now. Pizzas, sandwiches and salads are all getting a zippy bite from this fresh and peppery green. Yet this tasty vegetable has been around for many, many years. It is mentioned in both the Bible and the Talmud. The plant originated in the coastal Mediterranean area and is widely popular in Europe, especially among Italians.

At The Purple Onion, arugula is one of our most popular greens. Its small, tender leaves and thin stems make the whole plant edible and easy to quickly wash for serving. It doesn’t get limp quite as quickly as some other greens and lettuces, which means added crunch in a recipe.

Also known as garden rocket and roquette, arugula is a member of the Brassica family along with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and collard greens. It is low in sugar, calories, carbohydrates and fat, but rich in nutrients including vitamins C, B, K and A, as well as calcium, potassium and folate. The leafy green vegetable is full of beta-carotene and antioxidants that boost the immune system and may promote eye and bone health.

Fine, you say. But what can I do with it besides sprinkle it over a pizza like they do on the food shows? Plenty, we say! From dressings to salads to main courses, you can incorporate this bright green vegetable into your menus all summer long.

Fresh arugula does have a distinct spicy kick that can be bright, tart and peppery. Sometimes it will be even slightly bitter, but that depends on the maturity of the greens. If your arugula is too spicy to stand alone, make up a mix of leafy greens and combine it with baby romaine, baby spinach and frisee.

Once you get your arugula home, you should store it in the refrigerator. The best way to do this is to wash and dry the leaves, then wrap them in a cloth or paper towel and place them in a perforated plastic bag, or a zip top bag that is left slightly open. Place the arugula in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator. It will keep for around 10 days, but will be most flavorful in three to six days.

One way to enjoy arugula is in a tangy Green Gazpacho sipper. This drinkable soup tastes like the farmers market in a glass and will hit the spot on a warm afternoon. Because coldness will dull flavors, be sure to season the soup well while it is still warm.

Let the arugula shine in the Arugula Salad with Olive Oil, Lemon and Parmesan Cheese. This quick and simple salad is a perfect starter for a meal featuring grilled proteins and vegetables. It comes together in just a few minutes and needs few ingredients.

If you want to experiment with arugula in other salads or main dishes, consider making this Lime and Herb Dressing. With a blend of chiles, arugula, mint and lime, it will hold its own on a grain salad, meat or fish. Consider surprising your family with a fresh berry salad that features summer ripe strawberries and blueberries, goat cheese and arugula with this dressing.

When it comes to the main course, give arugula a starring role in a falafel pita, mushroom pizza or even a steak salad. Again, it’s that bright taste that takes these recipes up a notch and gives the dishes a change from iceberg, romaine or Bibb lettuces.

The Falafel Pita Sliders only take a few minutes to compose, but the dried chickpeas, if you use them, must soak for eight hours (or overnight) so plan accordingly. With plenty of fresh summer veggies and a tangy yogurt dill sauce, these are full of flavor.

The Mushroom and Arugula Pizza takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, especially if you use a store-bought or frozen pizza crust. We like the idea of using a whole-wheat pizza crust for this, but a regular crust is fine, too.

The Steak and Arugula Salad can be made with leftover grilled steak from the day before or with a just-grilled strip steak. Either way, it’s a light and tasty main course for a warm summer night.

Allan Hathaway is the owner of The Purple Onion and WV Marketplace at Charleston’s Capitol Market. For more information, visit the web pages at capitolmarket.net/merchants/purple-onion and capitolmarket.net/merchants/wv-marketplace; call The Purple Onion at 304-342-4414 and WV Marketplace at 304-720-2244. Email Allan at purpleonionco@aol.com.