With an exotic name like Turkish rocket, you would expect Bunias orientalis to be a bit more than a perennial version of broccoli, but that is what it is.
According to Ken Fern of Plants for a Future, ‘the cooked leaves make an excellent vegetable’. I’m afraid I can’t agree. To me, the leaves have an odd bitterness which is capable of spoiling an entire dish. I find a number of plants that Ken Fern recommends too bitter for my taste; I don’t know whether I’m just a fussy eater or whether there is some side effect of growing plants a few hundred miles further north.
The parts of Turkish rocket that I use are the immature flowering stems, like sprouting broccoli (I call them ‘rockoli’). They have an unusual, slightly shellfish-like flavour that at first I found frankly disturbing in a plant, but I have come to like it and now look forward to the rockoli season keenly. They stir fry well, or are very tasty steamed with a dressing of soy sauce, apple juice, lemon juice, vegetable oil and a few drops of sesame oil. Another way I have cooked them is in a white sauce with a little cheese and mustard.
Turkish rocket illustrates well why you shouldn’t be too quick to give up on a plant. I almost wrote it off after trying the leaves, then discovered the rockolis but found it a rather unproductive plant. More recently I have discovered that it is much more productive if you pick a good long stem along with the flower head. Not only is the stem soft and tasty, this method also seems to have the advantage that it prompts the plant to produce another – and another – crop of large flower stems. If you just pick the tip of the stem then the result will be a great mass of thin side shoots which rapidly become too spindly and fiddly to deal with.
Eventually however, Turkish rocket will get away from you and start to flower. This then attracts clouds of hoverflies which are good for keeping down pests like greenfly.
If you allow Turkish rocket to seed, you will probably find that it self-seeds quite happily. I usually chop it down after flowering to avoid that, but if you find yourself with more plants than you really intended, you might want to try a final harvest: the grated roots have a horseradish-like flavour; not quite so strong as horseradish but pleasantly spicy.
Turkish rocket is a very easy plant. It’s easy to raise and easy to grow. Its deep tap roots which scavenge water and nutrients from deep in the soil and its strong spring growth mean that it never needs weeded or watered. It’s untroubled by diseases in my garden: my plants are over ten years old and look like they plan to go on for ever. It seems unfussy about soil. In my garden it thrives in the dappled shade under an apple tree but would grow well in full sun too.