In season: arugula

Arugula is a popular green at local farmers markets, available just about year-round and offering a peppery accent for salads and sandwiches. RJ Kessler, farm manager for Planted Rock Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, is growing wasabi arugula, a special variety that is not only peppery but downright nose tingling, just like its namesake wasabi root typically served alongside sushi.

“Wasabi arugula came onto the market in the last year or two and when I heard about it, I had to give it a try,” Kessler said. “I was thinking I was going to call their bluff. I figured it would be just more of a super spicy arugula. But that nose tingling sensation? You completely get it when you eat this arugula.”

Kessler sells his wasabi arugula at the Saturday morning Peachtree Road Farmers Market that opened last weekend and the Wednesday evening Peachtree Road Farmers Market opening on April 13. That is, he brings what he doesn’t sell to his restaurant clients.

He finds that this particular arugula is best suited for early spring and fall plantings, and can be planted in the winter if the farmer has a hoop house or greenhouse. “Unlike the more typical salad arugula, wasabi arugula won’t take our frost at all.”

So Planted Rock is able to offer salad arugula year-round, but wasabi arugula is only available seasonally.

Last year, Kessler planted enough salad arugula to harvest 40 to 50 pounds each week. He was experimenting with the wasabi arugula so only had about 10 pounds each week, and his restaurant clients, particularly Brent Banda at Lure, bought most of it. Since it was a hit with his customers and restaurant clients, he’s planting more this year.

“The beautiful thing about it is that arugula is that the flowers are edible and really tasty,” Kessler said. “So the florets add more dimension from the texture standpoint and they are never bitter.” The leaves of wasabi arugula are also smaller than salad arugula and a bit sturdier.

Some of his customers say they think wasabi arugula makes a nice addition to other salad mixtures rather than a standalone salad green because it’s so pungent. Kessler says he finds it’s a great substitute for lettuce on sandwiches. Not overwhelming, but with a definite presence.

Wasabi Arugula Salad

Midtown’s Lure specializes in all manner of seafood. When executive chef Brent Banda can get his hands on wasabi arugula, he likes to offer arugula salad with Jonah Crab, carrots and fennel dressed with blood orange, all plated on a base of blood orange cream.

When he supplied the recipe he wrote, “Wasabi arugula has the best qualities of both wasabi and arugula. It’s peppery and spicy. When my sous chefs James Kitchens, Mike Manley and Kevin Grossman and I first learned this item, I was intrigued. The arugula comes in little clusters and often has flower buds. It’s not available always, but when it is, we try to purchase as much as we can.”

This recipe is an adaption of Lure’s salad. No Jonah crab in the refrigerator? Banda suggests substituting Alaskan king crab or poached yellowfin tuna. If you have difficulty finding a blood orange, use a navel orange instead.

4 ounces Jonah crab or king crab, out of shell, or poached yellowfin tuna

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped chives

Salt and pepper

1 small carrot

1/4 fennel bulb

4 ounces wasabi arugula

1 blood or navel orange

In a small bowl, toss the crab with lemon juice, olive oil and chives. Season to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Using a mandoline, shave carrot and fennel very thinly. Put in a medium bowl. Add arugula and toss to combine.

Cut one half the blood orange into segments and add to carrot mixture. Juice the remaining blood orange half and squeeze over carrot-arugula mixture. Arrange on serving plate and top with dressed crab. Serves: 2

Per serving: 173 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 13 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 24 milligrams cholesterol, 511 milligrams sodium.

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