Saturday, June 23, 2012

Arugula for Fall and Winter Gardens

Arugula is one of my favorite organic vegetables. It is expensive in the markets but extremely easy to grow in the home garden, even in pots and other containers. I just finished writing Fall and Winter Gardening: 25 Organic Vegetables to Plant and Grow for Late Season Food, my latest e-book (it's now online, so please click on the title to take a look). Arugula is one of the 25 late season vegetables you can grow well into the fall and even winter, since it is hardy down to at least 15 degrees F. 

Here is a brief crop profile from the book:

Arugula (Roquette)

·         Edible Portion: Leafy greens
·         Days to Maturity: 35 for baby leaves, 45-50 for larger leaves
·         Spacing: Space seeds 4-6 inches apart in rows 6 inches apart
·         Planting: Plant seeds ¼ inch deep
·         Temperature for Seed Germination: 40 F (min.), 67 F (ideal)
·         Germination Time: 5-7 days
·         Transplant Seedlings at: 2-4 weeks

Arugula is a vigorous plant with green leaves that carry a sharp, peppery flavor. It has been a favorite at many gourmet restaurants. Young leaves are somewhat mild and can be eaten raw in salads. They are commonly used in salad mixes to provide an element of spice. Larger leaves are spicier and need to be cooked, which removes much of the sharp flavor. Those who enjoy the taste of arugula can use it as a spinach substitute in any recipe. Arugula is a great source of vitamins A and C as well as iron. Here is a picture.

I hope you try growing some this fall. If you like baby salad greens with a peppery tang, you'll love this fast and easy growing vegetable!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Parsley as a Vegetable

Parsley is said to be America's favorite herb, yet it usually appears as a couple of garnish sprigs on the side of a plate. That's it. Aside from fresh garnishes, a lot of people use the dried/dehydrated/hopefully-not-irradiated form of parsley, which is useful sometimes but basically a shadow of its former self. I never thought much about parsley until we lived near a Middle Eastern restaurant, where tabbouleh was a side dish on every menu item.

Tabbouleh is a bulgur wheat salad, but the grain is not the main ingredient: chopped, flat-leaf parsley has the starring role, supported by chopped mint, tomatoes, green onion, and perhaps cucumber and other vegetables. The dressing is heavy on the lemon juice and salt for a wonderfully sour, salty, mildly minty, and definitely parsley-ey taste. A good tabbouleh will make you believe that parsley should be classified as a vegetable, not an herb.

And why not? Parsley is a green, leafy plant in its own right. We all know it's edible. It has a mild, fresh flavor that most people like. It is extremely nutritious, complete with vitamin A (from beta carotene), vitamin C, folic acid, and vitamin K. It is rich in antioxidant flavonoids and "chemoprotective" volatile oils that can neutralize carcinogens (source: It is very high in minerals as well.
In fact, parsley is VERY rich in iron, calcium, and other minerals. The issue with these nutritional tables and online calculators is that most of them have a serving size for parsley that is only 1-2 tablespoons. But if you chop a whole bunch of it into a salad (coarsely chop, the same size as chopped lettuce), you could easily eat a cup of this stuff in a salad (solo or mixed with other greens). Just one cup (60g) of raw parsley delivers the following whopping portions of your RDA of the following (courtesy of 101% vitamin A,  133% vitamin C, 21% iron, and 8% calcium. So if people ate this stuff like a vegetable, rather than sparingly like an herb, it would be right up there with broccoli and kale as one of the world's healthiest green things.

And I'm telling you, it's not only mild enough to eat like a vegetable; it's more delicious in that quantity than most vegetables. (At least, it should be more delicious to the person who doesn't care much for the taste of raw broccoli or greens.) If you can't see yourself eating a whole salad of parsley, then cook it. Tastes great with potatoes, onions or garlic, and a little salt and pepper. But be sure to increase the proportion of parsley. Add as much parsley as potatoes, or add twice as much (it cooks down anyway). See how you like it and adjust quantity to taste. Or blend it in soup. Try using it in any recipe you like to eat.

Finally, in support of my campaign to make parsley a vegetable, the stuff is pretty simple to grow in your garden. Just fertilize well and give it plenty of water during dry spells. Parsley even handles light frosts and keeps on kicking, so it has a place in your fall and spring gardens. Some of us can grow it in the wintertime with limited protection, and if it's murderously cold outside where you live, then how about growing some in a pot on your windowsill? The only problem is CHOMP! If you follow my advice, you'll harvest it all at once to eat as a vegetable, rather than a sprig or two at a time like an herb. So in one munch, there goes your crop. But if you agree with me that it makes a good vegetable, then maybe you'll buy some seeds and scatter them all over your garden come spring.You could do a lot worse in the same space, and I challenge you to find anything that is more productive, nutritious, easier to grow, and tasty per square foot (or inch).
If you like to juice your own veggies/fruits, then try adding some parsley to carrot or beet juice: yummy stuff...