Dear arugula.

Dear John arugula,

We started so well. Before I met you, I’d heard all about you. There’s even a book that uses you in the title. Famous chefs put you in everything. You party with foie gras and white truffles even though you cost only a fraction of what they do. The English call you rocket—what’s more exciting than a rocket? My inability to find you around here made you alluring, rare, valuable. Sometimes you showed up in the herb section at $3 for a little box, but I wouldn’t buy you then because I knew you weren’t an herb so much as a lettuce. I’ll never forget the day I finally bought your seeds and planted you in my window. You peeped through the soil and promised me a celebrated gourmet experience. I also remembered a weird smell that I attributed to the plastic pot I planted you in.

ArugulaThe day I harvested you, I dressed you in lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, a grind of black pepper, and sea salt. The first taste burned my mouth. They call you peppery for a reason! But there was that weird smell again. I shook it off. They say you have to try a food at least 10 times before you can decide if you really like it. So I put you in every salad I ate last summer. One vendor at the farmer’s market started selling you in huge bags for only $2. I ate you every day for weeks. Now you’re so popular around here that you appear in spring salad mixes, are sold at my health food store, and once, I even tasted you in a cheap buffet salad at one of those all-you-can-eat places that my mother drags me to.

Well, it’s been a year now and I can’t ignore it anymore. You have a, uh…a BO problem. It’s not a good BO problem either, like the kind you smell in fish sauce or Stilton; it’s a bad BO problem, like the kind you smell in marathon feet and hairy bananas. Multiple washings don’t help. Cooking does, but frankly, you don’t hold up well then. Spinach and kale satisfy my need for cooked greens much better.

I don’t despise you, arugula, we’ve been through too much together for hate. But I can’t say I like you much either. If you pop up here and there, I can live with that, but I won’t look for you anymore. The thrill is gone.


17 thoughts on “Dear arugula.

  1. Oh dear, so sorry to hear it. I adore arugula, but I must admit that when I grew it myself it quickly became too bitter and I wasted most of it. I buy the Earthbound Farms type in the plastic boxes (which I know are so bad for the environment, but sigh.) I guess this is kind of a love cilantro/hate cilantro kind of thing. Can I have your share?

  2. I wonder if home grown arugula is different than commercially available types? Kalyn, you must be right – it’s a cilantro kind of thing. Some people’s taste buds react differently. Somebody told me recently that cilantro haters think cilantro tastes like soap. SOAP? Wow. I remember having rocket in France back in the 80’s and wanting desperately to have some here, but nobody had ever heard of it. Nor did we know it by arugula, and it simply wasn’t available. So glad it is now.

  3. Kalyn: I haven’t had bitterness problems with homegrown arugula or even bought, for that matter. I think it might be like cilantro, which, now that you mention it, tastes strange to me too. I wonder if it’s a related chemical?

    Carolyn: I’ve had both kinds of arugula and didn’t find either better. Interesting that you mention cilantro—I’m one of those who finds cilantro soapy. It’s exactly as if someone dipped it into dishwashing detergent. I have heard though that you can get used to cilantro, so I do try to eat it as often as possible. Cooked, it’s not a problem. Apparently it has to do with some enzyme that some people can taste and some people can’t. Truffles have a similar love it/hate it chemical.

  4. That is, I think, exactly how one should break up with a leafy green. Firm but vaguely insulting.

  5. Hairy bananas? My goodness, I feel slightly violated just by reading it! *laughing* I’m a firm believer in giving something a good try…once. I applaud you for trying it a whopping ten times! I would have tossed it out the window LONG before now! ~Jess

  6. Hi Annie,
    There are so many different varieties of rocket out there. The type that we purchase from our local market in Melbourne is a wild variety that doens’t have an unpleasant odour at all. It also looks very different to the type in your photo. Its leaves are finer and spear shaped. It has a mild herbaceous smell, but its spiciness can vary greatly. We have never come across a “marathon feet” odour with any of the rocket we have bought!?
    At least you did try it.

  7. Eeeeeggg…the hairy bananas reference had me horking a little in my mouth.

    I am not an arugula fan either, but unlike you, I tried it once and pushed it away with the firmness known to more 4 year olds than a grown woman. Eww. Not my thing. I’m still working on polenta though…..not done with that one yet.

  8. Hahahaha….that was great! I totally understand how you feel. I’m very sensitive to smell and when something offense my sense of smell, it seems that all I can do is hone in on that smell.

    I’m not a big fan of arugula either – I was waiting to get that AH moment but, it never arrived. I started out as a non-fan of cilantro and now, I love it. Moderation is the key to appreciating that herb. I’ll send you my tuna fish recipe that has cilantro in it and I couldn’t think of a better start.

    Have you ever smelled valerian or asodophilus (sp?) talk about marathon feet, hairy bananas and a smell that’s so retched that I had to have it moved away from me when I used to work in a natural food store.

    As someone else said, good for you for trying it.

  9. cookiecrumb: Thanks. I’m going to give beef liver another shot again next…maybe.

    Shalini: I’m not sure how to break up with fruit, but we’ll worry about that when it happens.

    Jesska: Oh, I tried it far more than 10 times, heh. I just had some today, in fact. It was mixed in with other greens. Seems to be inescapable nowadays.

    Mike: It’s possible I’ve been eating a different kind, although I’ve noticed that very young arugula is more rounded like in my pic. That same patch of arugula did lengthen and become more deeply notched as it grew. Of course, there’s always a terroir issue. Maybe Melbourne area soil produces lovely arugula!

    Kate: I love polenta! I love corn, but I can see why it needs work, heh.

    Hye Chong: I haven’t smelled valerian, and my acidophilus in pretty tightly sealed its capsule, phew. But now I know to stay away!

  10. Brava! That was the best ‘Dear John’ letter ever–“the thrill is gone”–classic!

  11. Steamy: It’s always possible. In the meantime, it’s okay if he sticks around.

    poppy: Thanks, I should write a song too, heh.

  12. Hahaha!

    I’m a fan of the stuff… but only after eating it as my only source of green leafy anything in Sweden. The variety I was buying was more spear shaped and less leafy than the variety you’ve got there. No funky smell and I’m one of the cilantro-haters.

    Alone, it was…. unpleasant. Not terrible, but not very good either.

    However, with a strongly favored nutty fiber (and ham)? OMG
    (I was eating wasa super-fiber crackers or a Norwegian split brown bread – I bet you can find wasa bread here, but the split-brown bread? I cry fat tears for the unlikeliness of finding it in my corner grocery).

    Also, italy’s supermarket el-cheepo backpacker fare of rocket wrapped in prosciutto ham? Amazing.

    I was disappointed and disgusted to arrive home to discover that it’s not carried in the Kroger stores closest to my parent’s house.

  13. Crystal: I find it’s okay in roast beef sandwiches because it tastes a little like horseradish. And yeah, I’d be surprised if Kroger had it yet.

  14. i just found your site and read this post and LOVED it. it was wonderful!
    especially sice my post of today had a bag of arugula in it. i am looking forward to reading more. that was riot.

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