How to Use Arugula in Cooking

Arugula is a versatile leafy green with a distinctive peppery flavor that can elevate various dishes beyond just salads.

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Its bold taste pairs exceptionally well with milder ingredients, serving as a counterbalance to their flavors.

Arugula leaves being tossed into a vibrant salad bowl with cherry tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil

Incorporating arugula into your cooking is straightforward and can yield delicious results.

Raw arugula can add a sharp bite to salads and sandwiches, while a slight sauté can mellow its flavor, making it a suitable addition to pastas and soups.

Due to its robust profile, it also complements the richness of cheeses and meats, making it an ideal topping for pizzas.

When considering healthful recipes, arugula’s nutritional benefits can be a key component, offering vitamins and antioxidants in your diet.

Arugula, a distinctive green cherished for its peppery flavor, is not only versatile in the kitchen but also a powerhouse of nutrients that benefit your health.

Historical Background

Arugula, known to some as rocket, roquette, or rucola, has roots in the Mediterranean region.

This leafy green has been recognized since ancient times not just as a food but also for its medicinal properties.

Its use in culinary practices dates back to the Roman era where it was added to dishes for a burst of flavor and nutritional value.

Nutritional Profile

Arugula is a nutrient-dense food, which means it’s low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals.

A serving of arugula provides:

  • Vitamins: An excellent source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C, crucial for maintaining good eyesight and immunity, respectively.
  • Minerals: Supplies calcium for strong bones, potassium which is essential for heart health, and iron, necessary for blood health.
  • Fiber: Contains dietary fiber that promotes digestive health.
  • Antioxidants: Enriched with antioxidants, arugula can help combat oxidative stress in your body.

By incorporating arugula into your diet, you’re not only adding a zesty flavor but also infusing your meals with essential nutrients that support your overall well-being.

Selecting and Storing Arugula

When you’re on the hunt for arugula, it’s crucial to choose leaves that promise the freshest taste and to store them properly to extend their shelf life.

Choosing the Best Leaves

To ensure you bring home fresh arugula, look for leaves that are vibrant green and crisp.

Leaves that are limp or have yellowing edges are past their prime.

If you come across pre-washed bags, these can save you time, but still check for any signs of spoilage within the package.

  • Look for: Vibrant green color, crisp texture
  • Avoid: Yellowing, wilting, or soggy leaves

Storage Tips

Proper storage is key to maintaining the freshness of arugula once you’ve selected the best leaves.

If the arugula is not pre-washed, give it a gentle rinse under cold water before storing.

Dry it thoroughly using a salad spinner or by patting it with paper towels.

Store your arugula in the refrigerator in a container lined with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

  • For pre-washed arugula: Directly store in the refrigerator
  • For unwashed arugula:
    1. Rinse gently
    2. Dry thoroughly
    3. Store in a paper towel-lined container

Remember to consume it within a few days for optimal flavor and texture.

Preparation Techniques

When cooking with arugula, proper preparation is crucial to ensure that the greens blend well with other ingredients while maintaining their unique peppery flavor. Here’s how to clean, handle, and dress arugula for a variety of dishes.

Cleaning and Handling

Before using arugula, it’s important to clean it thoroughly to remove any dirt or grit.

Place the arugula leaves in a large bowl of cold water and gently swirl them to loosen any debris.

After a few minutes, lift the leaves out and transfer them to a colander to drain.

You can then pat the leaves dry with a clean kitchen towel or spin them in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

Note on Handling: Arugula wilts easily, so handle it gently and avoid over-soaking. Also, keep arugula cool until you’re ready to use it, as heat can cause it to spoil quickly.

Chopping and Dressing

Arugula does not necessarily need chopping due to its small, tender leaves; however, if using larger, mature arugula leaves, a rough chop can help integrate it into dishes:

  1. Stack the leaves.
  2. Roll them tightly.
  3. Slice across the roll to create thin ribbons.

For dressing, arugula pairs exceptionally well with simple ingredients that complement its bold flavor.

Start with a base of high-quality olive oil as it helps in coating the leaves evenly and add a luxurious mouthfeel to your salad.

Incorporate fresh lemon juice or zest to brighten the dish, salt to enhance the flavors, and pepper for an added kick.

If you’re adding garlic, make sure it’s finely minced or made into a paste so it integrates seamlessly into the dressing.

Example Dressing Recipe:

  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced

Whisk these ingredients together until well blended, then lightly toss with the arugula immediately before serving to ensure the leaves remain crisp and vibrant.

Incorporating Arugula in Salads

Arugula, with its peppery flavor, elevates salads from simple greens to a more sophisticated dish. Use arugula in your salads for a side that’s not just healthy but delightfully tasty with a unique bite.

Classic Arugula Salad

For a Classic Arugula Salad, simplicity is key. You want the arugula’s flavor to stand out:

  1. Begin with fresh arugula leaves as the base.
  2. Drizzle with a high-quality olive oil and add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of balsamic vinaigrette for tartness.
  3. Season lightly with salt to taste.
  4. Top with shaved Parmesan cheese for a salty, umami complement.
  5. If desired, add halved cherry tomatoes for a juicy burst of flavor.

Innovative Salad Combinations

Expanding the horizons of an arugula salad means experimenting with flavors and textures:

  • Try adding sliced strawberries or orange segments for sweetness and acidity.
  • Toss in roasted nuts for an extra crunch.
  • Introduce grains like quinoa or couscous to transform your salad into a hearty meal.
  • Combine with other greens such as spinach or kale for a varied nutrient profile.
  • Use a citrus vinaigrette to marry the different tastes together in harmony.

Arugula in Main Dishes

Arugula’s peppery flavor makes it a versatile ingredient in main courses, particularly when incorporated into pasta dishes and pizzas. Its bold taste complements and enhances the savory elements of these dishes.

Arugula in Pastas and Pizzas

Pasta: When you cook with arugula, it adds a lively, peppery element to your pasta dishes.

Consider simple tosses like Lemon Arugula Linguine, combining freshly cooked linguine with a sauce of sautéed garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and a generous helping of arugula.

The green wilts slightly, imparting its flavor throughout the dish.

  • Pizza: For a gourmet touch, top your pizza with fresh arugula after baking.
  • The heat gently wilts the arugula, while the leaves retain some of their crispness, adding a fresh, tasty contrast to the melted cheese and tomato sauce.
  • Consider a double green pizza with arugula and kale pesto for an extra dimension of flavor.

Arugula-Based Pesto

Transform the traditional pesto by using arugula as a stand-in for basil. Your Arugula Pesto will be a vibrant sauce with a distinctive peppery zing that pairs wonderfully with pasta.

Arugula2 cups
Garlic2 cloves
Pine nuts (or walnuts)1/4 cup
Parmesan cheese, grated1/2 cup
Olive oil1/2 cup
Salt and pepperTo taste


  1. Blend garlic and nuts in a food processor until finely chopped.
  2. Add arugula, Parmesan cheese, and blend while streaming in olive oil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper according to your taste.

Use this arugula pesto as a bold, flavorful base on pizzas, or toss it with your favorite cooked pasta for a simple yet delicious meal.

Cooking with Arugula

Arugula’s vibrant peppery flavor makes it a versatile green for cooking, transforming dishes with its distinctive taste.

Explore the ways to integrate this green into hot dishes, enhancing both flavor and nutrition.

Sauteing and Wilted Arugula

When you sauté arugula, you’re looking to slightly wilt the leaves, bringing out a mellowed peppery taste that complements a variety of ingredients.

  • Ingredients: For basic sautéed arugula, you’ll need:
    • A bunch of fresh arugula leaves
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Method:
    1. Heat your skillet over medium heat and add oil or butter.
    2. Add the arugula leaves in batches if necessary, and cook until just wilted, typically about 1 to 2 minutes.
    3. Season with salt and pepper. Optional additions include minced garlic or a pinch of ginger for extra flavor.

Tip: Sautéed arugula can replace spinach or kale in pastas and warm dishes, adding its unique peppery notes to the meal.

Arugula in Soups and Warm Dishes

Arugula can be more than just a fresh salad ingredient; it’s also perfect in warm dishes like soups. Its bright flavor enlivens hearty broth-based soups and stews.

  • Incorporation: To add arugula to soups:
    1. Stir in the arugula during the last few minutes of cooking to prevent over-wilting.
    2. Arugula pairs well with ingredients like beans, lentils, and roasted vegetables.

Note: Remember that arugula wilts considerably, so add more than you think you need to ensure its presence is felt in your soup.

Arugula in Varied Diets

Arugula’s versatility makes it an excellent addition to diverse dietary preferences, providing ample nutrition and flavor.

Whether you incorporate it into your vegan and vegetarian dishes or opt for gluten-free and low-carb recipes, arugula adds a peppery zest and a host of health benefits.

Arugula in Vegan and Vegetarian Cuisine

Vegan and vegetarian diets often focus on plant-based proteins such as lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa. Arugula can be a flavorful complement to these ingredients.

For instance, you could add a handful of arugula to a Mediterranean chickpea salad for an extra punch of flavor and nutrition.

Alternatively, blend arugula into a pesto sauce alongside nutritional yeast, which can be used in place of Parmesan cheese for a savory vegan condiment.

  • Lentil and Quinoa Salad: Mix cooked lentils and quinoa with diced vegetables, dress with a lemon vinaigrette, and toss with arugula leaves. This salad serves both as a hearty main dish and an excellent source of vegan protein.
  • Arugula and Beet Wraps: Create wraps using large arugula leaves filled with roasted beets and vegan cheese for a healthy, plant-forward meal.

Gluten-Free and Low-Carb Recipes

For those on a gluten-free or low-carb diet, arugula is an invaluable ingredient.

Its bold flavor elevates simple dishes without adding unnecessary carbohydrates.

  • Grilled Vegetables: Pair grilled vegetables like zucchini and bell peppers with arugula for a light, healthy meal. The slight bitterness of the arugula balances the sweet, charred notes of the vegetables.
  • Arugula-Stuffed Chicken: Stuff chicken breasts with arugula and goat cheese for a flavorful, protein-rich dish suitable for a low-carb diet.

Innovative Uses of Arugula

Arugula, also known as rocket, is a versatile green that can transform your meals from simple to creative with its peppery flavor.

Its vibrant, crispy leaves make it perfect for enhancing both the taste and presentation of various dishes.

Arugula as a Garnish

When you’re looking to add a pop of color and a hint of spice to your dishes, consider using arugula as a garnish.

The fresh leaves not only contribute a crisp texture but also introduce a peppery tang that complements many flavors.

  • Pizza: After baking, top your pizza with a handful of fresh arugula leaves. The heat will slightly wilt the arugula, making it a perfect contrast to the melted cheese.
  • Sandwiches: Insert arugula leaves into your sandwiches for an instant upgrade in flavor and nutrition, giving you a break from the usual lettuce.

Arugula in Dressings and Dips

Incorporate arugula into your dressings and dips for a tasty twist.

It blends well into seasonings, adding complexity and a subtle, peppery kick to your favorite condiments.

  • Arugula Pesto: Blend arugula with garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese to create a vibrant and flavorful pesto. Enjoy it with pasta or as a spread for bruschetta.
  • Creamy Arugula Dip: Mix finely chopped arugula with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and herbs for a fresh, creamy dip perfect for vegetables or chips.

Pairing Arugula with Other Ingredients

Arugula’s peppery flavor makes it a versatile green that enhances a variety of dishes when paired with the right ingredients.

Understanding these combinations will elevate your meals to a new level.

Arugula and Cheese Pairings

Arugula has a distinctive taste that pairs wonderfully with various cheeses. For a balanced flavor, try these combinations in your salads and dishes:

  • Goat Cheese Salad: Blend arugula with goat cheese for a tangy and peppery salad.
  • Burrata: Top fresh baby arugula with creamy burrata cheese. Its rich texture complements the crispness of the greens.
  • Mozzarella: Combine arugula with sliced mozzarella for a classic Italian touch.
  • Feta: Crumble feta over an arugula salad for a salty kick that contrasts the leaf’s bitterness.

Complementary Proteins and Vegetables

Arugula can be paired with proteins and vegetables to create satisfying and nutritious meals. Consider these pairings to enhance your dishes:


  • Chicken: Add grilled or roasted chicken to an arugula salad for a hearty meal.
  • Beans: Mix beans, such as cannellini or chickpeas, with arugula for a protein-packed vegetarian option.


  • Broccoli: Incorporate blanched or roasted broccoli into an arugula salad for added texture and flavor.
  • Farro: Include cooked farro in an arugula salad for a nutty flavor and chewy texture.
  • Roasted Butternut Squash: Combine roasted butternut squash with arugula for a warm, comforting salad.
  • Apples: Toss thinly sliced apples with baby arugula for a fresh and crisp combination.

Serving and Presentation

Fresh arugula leaves arranged on a white plate with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt

When serving dishes with arugula, your aim is to enhance both the flavor and visual appeal. The right presentation not only entices the senses but also showcases the fresh, peppery notes of the arugula, be it in salads or as a garnish.

Plating Techniques

For an effective presentation, begin with a clean, wide plate. Use arugula leaves with vibrant green hues as a base for your dish to introduce texture and color contrast.

When incorporating arugula into mixed greens, combine it with milder lettuce like watercress to balance bitterness and create an appealing green mosaic.

If you’re adding elements like red pepper flakes or bell peppers, sprinkle them strategically to create pops of color that draw the eye.

To plate green salads, gently toss the arugula and other ingredients before serving to ensure an even distribution of flavors and a pleasing aesthetic.

If using arugula in a hot application, place it atop the dish just before serving to maintain its structure and bright color.

Creating a Visually Appealing Dish

Visual appeal is critical in gastronomic experiences.

Utilize arugula’s unique shape and color to enhance your dish’s visual impact.

Complement arugula’s dark leaves against lighter ingredients or serve it alongside colorful vegetables to emphasize contrast.

When using arugula, remember that its bold shape can create an attractive height on the plate; consider layering it with ingredients of different textures, such as crunchy nuts or creamy cheeses, for a multi-dimensional effect.

Beyond the green, add slices of bell pepper, or a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes to introduce additional color and a hint of heat.

Aim for a balance in your composition, allowing each component, including arugula or rucola as it’s often called, to stand out without overwhelming the dish.

Health Benefits and Dietary Considerations

A vibrant arugula leaf being tossed into a sizzling pan of sautéed vegetables, emanating a fragrant aroma

Arugula is a nutrient-dense leafy green that can significantly contribute to your dietary goals. It provides vital nutrients with few calories, aligning with both weight management and a balanced diet approach.

Weight Management and Arugula

Arugula is a low-calorie vegetable, making it an excellent choice for weight management.

Its high fiber content can aid in feeling full, which helps reduce the overall intake of calories. A serving of arugula contains:

  • Calories: Approximately 25 per 100 grams
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram per 100 grams

Including arugula in your meals can increase volume without significantly impacting your daily calorie limit.

Arugula in a Balanced Diet

Arugula contributes to a balanced diet through its diverse nutrition profile. It is packed with vitamins such as A, C, and K, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron.

Here’s how arugula can complement your diet:

  • Calcium is essential for bone health and normal blood clotting.
  • Vitamin K supports bone metabolism and blood coagulation.
  • Vitamin A is crucial for healthy skin and vision.
  • Vitamin C enhances immune system function and acts as an antioxidant.
  • Potassium regulates fluid balance and supports nerve function.

Incorporating arugula into your diet assures a contribution to your daily intake of these nutrients without the need for high-calorie or fatty foods.

Tips for Enriching Arugula Dishes

Arugula’s peppery flavor and fresh texture make it a standout ingredient. The following tips will help you incorporate arugula into your cooking, ensuring a harmonious balance between spiciness and the other components of your dish.

Enhancing Flavor and Texture

When preparing arugula, you aim to complement its inherently peppery bite and delicate yet somewhat crunchy texture. To enhance these characteristics:

  • For salads: Dress arugula lightly with olive oil and lemon juice to accentuate its freshness without overwhelming it.
  • As a topping: Add arugula to pizzas and sandwiches after baking or assembling to maintain its crispiness.
  • With cheese: Incorporate shavings of Parmesan to meld the sharpness of arugula with a salty and savory depth.

Using Spices and Herbs

To elevate arugula’s flavor, experimenting with spices and herbs can lead to delightful enhancements:

  • Complementary herbs: Pair arugula with basil in a pesto to soften its punch while tapping into a vibrant herbaceous note.
  • Balancing spices: Use mild spices that won’t overshadow the green’s character, such as a pinch of garlic powder or black pepper.

Remember, arugula shines when you balance its boldness with ingredients that highlight its best qualities.

Troubleshooting Common Arugula Issues

Arugula leaves wilting in a garden bed, surrounded by pests and weeds. A chef chopping arugula for a salad, with a bowl of vinaigrette nearby

When cooking with arugula, you might encounter a couple of problems such as bitterness in the leaves or them turning soggy. These issues can affect your dish’s flavor and texture whether you’re making a salad or a side dish. Here are ways to address and avoid these issues.

Addressing Bitterness

If your arugula is overly bitter, the maturity of the greens could be the culprit, as mature arugula tends to have a stronger flavor. Counteract this bitterness by:

  • Balancing with sweetness: Add fruits like pears or apples, or a sweet dressing to your salad.
  • Pairing with fats: Incorporate cheeses such as goat cheese or a drizzle of olive oil.

Remember, don’t overcook arugula to avoid accentuating bitterness; instead, use it raw or lightly sautéed.

Avoiding Soggy Leaves

Soggy leaves can ruin the texture of your arugula dishes. To prevent this:

  • Proper storage: Keep arugula dry and store it in an airtight container or wrapped in paper towels inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
  • Washing technique: Only rinse right before use and dry thoroughly with a salad spinner or towel.

When cooking, add arugula at the very end of the process if it’s being included in a warm dish, so it maintains its structure as a fresh, crisp element.

Exploring Regional Arugula Dishes

Regional arugula dishes reflect the unique flavors of their cuisines. You’ll find arugula skillfully incorporated into recipes that span from the Mediterranean to culinary traditions around the globe.

Mediterranean Arugula Recipes

In the Mediterranean, arugula is not just a leafy green—it’s a staple ingredient that elevates simple dishes with its peppery taste. You can enjoy it in various preparations:

  • Pasta salad: Combine arugula with sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, kalamata olives, and a lemon-olive oil dressing to create a Mediterranean Arugula Pasta Salad. This dish is both refreshing and filling.
  • Arugula pesto: Use arugula instead of basil for an intense, peppery version of pesto. Blend with garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan to make a sauce perfect for pasta or as a spread for bruschetta.

Global Arugula Inspirations

Arugula crosses borders with ease, featuring in recipes that draw from a variety of global influences. Here’s how you can incorporate arugula into international dishes:

  • Asian-inspired salad: In an Asian twist, pair arugula with ingredients like sesame seeds, ginger, soy sauce, and rice vinegar to create a Spicy Arugula Salad that’s bold in flavor.
  • Latin American tacos: Top tacos with arugula to add a crisp, spicy note that complements both meat and vegetarian fillings, bridging the cuisine of Latin America with this versatile green.


Arugula offers a vibrant peppery flavor that can add a distinctive touch to your dishes.

This versatile green leaf is not just for salads; it serves as an excellent ingredient across a multitude of recipes.

Incorporating Arugula:

  • Salads: Start with arugula as a base and consider adding nuts, cheeses, and a tart vinaigrette.
  • Pesto: Use it as an alternative to basil for a peppery twist.
  • Cooked Dishes: Sauté lightly to mellow the spice, perfect for pastas and soups.

Your use of arugula need not be limited to its fresh form:

RawToss in salads or use as a pizza topping for a fresh, spicy note.
SautéedAdd to pastas to complement both creamy and tomato-based sauces.
As PestoBlend with nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil for a piquant spread or pasta sauce.

When cooking with arugula, remember its sharpness can vary.

Taste as you go and adjust the quantity to suit your palate.

As a rule of thumb, pair it with contrasting flavors like citrus or sweet fruits to balance its intensity.

Your culinary explorations with arugula can enhance everyday meals with both flavor and nutrition.

Whether used as a standout star or a complementary green, arugula is sure to elevate your cooking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Arugula leaves arranged on a cutting board with a knife and various cooking utensils nearby

Arugula is a versatile leafy green with a peppery kick that can bring a fresh, spicy edge to a variety of dishes. Here are some focused ways to use arugula in your cooking.

What are some creative ways to incorporate arugula into pasta dishes?

To give pasta dishes a fresh twist, you can add arugula as a pizza topping or incorporate it into sauces like pesto.

Try using arugula instead of basil in pesto for a peppery flavor boost.

Can you provide vegetarian recipes that feature arugula?

Arugula can be the star of vegetarian salads, combined with fruits like strawberries or pears, nuts, and a vinaigrette.

It can also be layered into sandwiches or wraps for an added spicy note.

How can arugula be used in traditional Indian cuisine?

Use arugula in Indian cuisine by adding it to salads served with spicy meals, or as a cooked green in curries and dals.

Its peppery flavor complements the aromatic spices commonly used in Indian cooking.

Are there tips for sautéing arugula to enhance its flavor?

For sautéing arugula, quickly cook it with garlic in olive oil just until wilted.

The warmth will mellow the spice, and garlic will add a savory dimension. A squeeze of lemon can brighten the dish.

What food pairings work well with the peppery taste of arugula?

Arugula pairs well with the sweetness of balsamic vinegar, the creaminess of goat cheese, or the richness of avocado.

It also complements the flavors of grilled meats and roasted vegetables.

How does the flavor and texture of arugula change when cooked?

Cooked arugula becomes milder and less peppery, with a softer, more spinach-like texture.

It’s ideal for wilting into pastas or stirring into warm grain salads for a subtle, spicy note.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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