Turkish rocket

With an exotic name like Turkish rocket, you would expect Bunias orientalis to be a bit more than a perennial version of broccoli, but there you go.

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.

TR is the yellow-flowered one under the raspberries

The parts of Turkish rocket that I use are the very young leaves (see It’s Spring), which seem to be more mildly flavoured, and the immature flowering stems, like sprouting broccoli. The ‘rockoli’ are steamed briefly. 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. My ways of cooking them are partly suggested by the shellfish taste, for instance in a white sauce with a little cheese and mustard. Another successful experiment with Turkish rocket shoots was to steam them along with salsify flowers and then add a dressing of soy sauce, apple juice, lemon juice, vegetable oil and a few drops of sesame oil. Like ordinary sprouting broccoli, they stir-fry well too.

The flowering season of Turkish rocket is not long: in fact you can keep picking them indefinitely, but the longer you go on, the thinner the flower heads become, so it’s not worth the effort to take more than 2 or 3 crops. However, it flowers very neatly at the end of the conventional broccoli season, so it fills a gap nicely.

If you allow Turkish rocket to seed, you will probably find that it self-seeds quite happily. 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.

If Turkish rocket were a fiddly plant, I might not bother with it, but fortunately it is blessedly simple to grow: easy to raise, easy to grow, never needs weeded or watered and goes on for ever. On top of that it is one of those plants that benefit the garden as a whole. It has nice deep tap roots to scavenge nutrients and bring them to the surface and its clouds of yellow flowers are covered in hoverfiles and bees. It thrives in the dappled shade under an apple tree but would grow well in full sun too.

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