Rocket greens, also known as arugula, rocket, roquette, and by many other names are a type of green that became wildly popular in the 1990s in the United States, especially in cuisines like California cuisine. Prior to that, they were known throughout Europe and were especially popular in France and Italy. We get the name rocket greens from the French roquette. The spicy taste of the greens may be in part due to the fact that they are relatives of watercress and radish greens.
These greens have a distinctive long-leafed shape, similar to the leaves on dandelions, and can measure between 3-8 inches (7.62-20.32 cm) in length. Usually younger and shorter greens are milder in taste and are most desirable when you want to serve them raw. Rocket greens also have a distinct taste, a peppery taste, with some bitterness and a slight hint of sesame or peanut. If you’re looking to minimize bitterness, look for the smallest leaf lengths and youngest leaves. Older leaves do have a tendency to taste more bitter and spicy.
Though rocket greens are native to the Mediterranean they can grow well in the US, especially in more temperate climates. Since they can be sold by so many different names, look for their scientific name, Eruca vesicaria sativa to leave no doubt you’re getting the right type. If you’re planting at home, you’ll want to harvest leaves just before you use them. If you purchase rocket greens at a grocery store, try to purchase them no more than a day or two before you plan to use them because they typically do not keep well, even when refrigerated.
You can add rocket greens to salads of all types, or spice up sandwiches by adding a leaf or two. They make an excellent addition to grilled sandwiches like panini, where slight cooking allows them to impart extra flavor. They’re also wonderful in pasta dishes or they can be added during the last few minutes of cooking to soups or stews for extra flavor. With healthy values of vitamins A and C, they boost nutritional content of meals, add plenty of extra spiciness and texture, and have negligible calorie content.
One use of rocket greens that you might think would provide too great a contrast is in salads that have pieces of fruit like mandarin or blood oranges. Actually, the pairing of sweet citrus and spicy green works remarkably well. Consider topping such salads with light vinaigrettes (rice wine vinegar provides a nice clean taste).
You can purchase rocket greens year round, though they may be most available in summer months. If you’re having trouble finding them at local grocery stores, check farmer’s markets or natural foods stores like Whole Foods®. Stores that tend to carry more upscale foods will very often have a good supply of these greens.