Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arugula Apology (or Watercress Confession)

It was to my astonishment and utter horror that I realized that I mis-identified watercress as arugula in the last post (the giddy fried potato is indeed lounging on watercress and not arugula). Once again, we are reminded of who on this blog is the real evil vegetable genius (Erin) and who the mere leafy-green Sideshow Bob, a lowly sulfurous onion to Erin's majestic broccoli romanesco. The two, arugula and watercress, often appear side-by-side in the Brazilian por kilo buffet restaurants I like to frequent and so I must have just tossed a tongful of each one on my plate and obtusely lost sight of the fine distinctions between these leafy cousins.

In an attempt to alleviate my vegetable abjection, I conducted an in-depth leaf-to-leaf comparison of arugula and watercress and also constructed a sufficiently apologetic food face while lunching alone at Zabor, a brightly-lit por quilo buffet in Rio de Janeiro's Centro neighborhood. I took care not to make eye contact with any of the good people in suits on their lunch breaks who were making polite conversation around me and decorously not playing with their food.

In the above photo, watercress is on the left and has smaller, rounder leaves in a bow-tie formation. On the right is arugula, which has larger leaves that poke out a bit more, like floppy ears with some jagged edging at the stem (though this particular specimen is chopped up almost beyond recognition). Both have a spicyish, peppery, and slightly bitter taste, though I would say watercress is lighter and sweeter than the more aggressive arugula. While arugula grows in the ground like most other leafy greens, watercress grows in streams or under hydroponic cultivation. Watercress also wields great influence on the global stage as a distinguished member of the V8 consortium of vegetables.

Adding to my green-tinged chagrin is the fact that before the potato post I had been discussing the very difference between arugula and watercress with my newfound Brazilian veggie mates, Emilio Fraia and Vanessa Barbara, whose incandescently original and charming novel (O Verão do Chibo or The Summer of Chibo) we hope to bring to you in English one day soon. Vanessa, who has a heart of golden manioc (aipim in Portuguese), also edits and writes for an online literary smorgasbord called "A Hortaliça," which translates roughly as "The Vegetables" or "Greens," though it touches upon a variety of topics beyond the garden. Issue #72 is dedicated to our dear friends watercress and arugula (o agrião e a rúcula), and addresses such pressing quandaries as, "What ever happened to watercress? Why did these greens become dethroned by arugula? What are the controversies behind the substitution of such popular leaves, and what are the forces that dictate the supremacy of salads?" Vanessa and Emilio were both very gracious about my egregious error, and I promise to raise the vegetable bar higher and fresher next time.

[Credits: In the top photo, cameo appearances were made by Polenta Sticks as Eyebrows and Cheesy-Potato-Balls as Eyeballs. Sad Mouth was played by Mango Slice.]

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