Lord of the Spring: The Return of Arugula

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In this week's share: arugula, red-leaf lettuce, red chard, carrots, parsnips, apples, grapefruits, summer squash, and potatoes. To try a recipe for bulgur salad with arugula, click here.

One of the more exciting events of my week was the discovery of arugula in my CSA share. (If salad greens are growing, warm weather can't be that far behind.) Lately, I was remembering my seventh-grade history class. We covered the Middle Ages around the world, and as we were learning about life in twelfth-century England, our teacher posed a question to the room: "What time of year," she asked, "was the most difficult for the average person? When were they most likely to starve?"

We—20 or so twelve-year-old Manhattanites—looked back at her blankly, having never had to consider how agriculture might affect the life of an individual. After a moment, she kindly explained that spring was the hardest time; unless the past autumn's harvest had been both bountiful and well-rationed, last year's storage crops would have all been eaten, while this year's harvest was still far away. Ms. Devany made me reconsider spring and early summer, seasons I'd always loved. They mark the time of year when the earth offers flowers, not fruit, and I began to understand what a taunt that would be to the truly hungry.

Of course, I don't live in the Middle Ages and am not starving. Still, I always remember that class when cooking in March and April: it's the time of year when I no longer want to eat a gratin or a stew, but tomato and corn seem light years away. My usual strategy is the one I mentioned in my most recent column: I'll cook from the pantry, concocting dishes centered around dried beans and grains, with enough spice to make them interesting. This week, though, there was the arugula, which offered the more exciting option of a meal centered on a real, fresh spring vegetable.

Both my friend Maggie and I were tired but ecstatic when we met to pick up our CSA share: for the first time, our regular 5:30 pm meeting took place in full daylight. In celebration, we both wanted to eat something bright but hearty, and the arugula provided the perfect starting point.

I wanted a lemony dressing, and Maggie thought bulgur would work as a counterpoint to the arugula. We improvised a sort of grab-bag bulgur-and-arugula salad: I made a dressing of lemon, mustard, olive oil, and vinegar, and Maggie perused her refrigerator, taking out an avocado and feta cheese. When the bulgur was cooked, I tossed it with the dressing and arugula and decided it needed another note, a counterpoint. Maggie remembered the dried cranberries I'd bought earlier that day, and I tossed in a handful. I served each of us a bowl, and we garnished them with feta and avocado.

The salad was delicious, but I wouldn't say the recipe itself was particularly inspired. I was more taken with the idea behind it. Pick a grain, pick a green, pick a dried fruit or nut, add another vegetable and some cheese to the mix. Cook with what you have on hand. I'll share what we came up with, but I'd encourage you to feel your way around when making something similar. Think about what you like, and what might complement what you like. Sometimes, cooking is as simple as that.