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Mindful : August 2013
A Bowlful of Wild By Angela Mears In the world of leafy greens, arugula and iceberg lettuce are complete opposites. Arug ula is peppery, assertive, and wild; iceberg is crunchy and polite. Arugula is rich in vitamin C and potas- sium, while iceberg has little nutritional value, containing mostly water. Despite this, iceberg is the most popular lettuce in the United States, while arugula was little known in North America until recently. Which, aside from painting a rather puritan picture of the American palate, is just a damn shame. Arugula—or sal- ad rocket, as it’s known in much of the English-speaking world—is one of the meanest, tastiest greens there is. Its history is suggestive. As early as the first century CE, arugula was documented as an aphrodisiac. Virgil wrote of its libido-inducing proper- ties, and its leaves and seeds were used in lusty concoc- tions rumored to spice up life in the bedroom. Since then, arugula has come to sta nd for less stimu- lating virtues. In a n unex- pected turn, it has recently been evoked as a symbol for elitism and effete refine- ment—a perception at odds with its racy personality. Arugula, it seems, is widely considered an ingredient re- ser ved for highfalutin foodies. When presidential hopeful Barack Oba ma uttered the word to a ha ndful of Iowa fa rmers in 2008, it attracted enough attention to make the cover of Newsweek. For many, Obama’s arugula moment was a ripe sy mbol of his failure to connect with the plumbers of this world. But it seems even more remarkable, in hindsight, that so much meaning was invested in— and so much ha ndwringing suffered over—a salad green. Usually anxiety of that mag- nitude is reser ved for the kind of rocket we send into space. Imag ine the story retold with romaine or iceberg. It would seem absurd. Yet a ru- gula has no more claim to cul- tural or culinary loftiness than those more fa miliar greens. But it does possess more character than any lettuce out there, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we would imbue it with such power. I love the stuff because it makes salad burn. Truly good arugula bites back—not at all like the limp, sterile, prewashed lettuce you might come across in the produce section. So treat it with a firm hand. Puree it into an intense, garlicky pesto. Wilt it over a bubbling-hot pizza. Or ser ve it in a hearty salad with a potent combination of Dijon mustard, vinegar, shallots, and chives. At its best, arugula is cruel, intense, nose-burningly spicy, and heartbreakingly good. It doesn’t taste like refinement or courtesy or class. It tastes like wildness. It tastes like rockets. ● Angela Mears writes about food at thespinningplate.com. Makes 11⁄4 cups pesto Sea salt and pepper 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved 1⁄2 lime zest, finely grated 1⁄2 tsp ground coriander 1⁄3 cup walnut kernels 1⁄2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated 2 cups packed arugula leaves 1⁄2 cup packed coriander leaves 2⁄3 cup olive oil Squeeze of lime juice Arugula Pesto with Walnuts, Lime, and Coriander • In the bowl of a food processor, combine a pinch of sea salt, pepper, lime zest, garlic, ground coriander, walnuts, Parmesan, arugula, and coriander leaves. Work into a fine paste. • While the machine is running, pour the olive oil gradually until you reach your preferred pesto texture. • Transfer to a clean jar and stir in a squeeze of lime juice. Can be enjoyed with pasta or bread or used as a pizza base. • Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze. I love the stuff because it makes salad burn. August 2013 mindful 25 one taste