So many zucchinis, so little time

sautezucchini-4Gardeners find them lurking under dense plants, sometimes so well hidden that they grow to 2 feet long before anyone notices.  Non-gardeners find them lurking on desks, car wind shields and by the front door.  Alien invaders?  No, zucchinis.

Zucchini squash is related to the cucumber/melon family of plants.  Zukes have a subtle flavor, and can be eaten raw or cooked.  They work well is mixed dishes like pastas, grain casseroles, vegetable medleys, stuffed/baked and of course, zucchini bread.

Nutritionally speaking, they pack a nice wallop for a vegetable that’s 95% water.  1 cup of raw zucchini slices has approximately:

  • 20 calories
  • 1.5 grams protein
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 300 mg potassium
  • 20 mg vitamin C
  • insignificant amounts of fat and sodium
  • folate, magnesium, vitamin K1, and traces of other vitamins and minerals

But of course, even a low calorie, healthy vegetable can be ruined by poor cooking.  Here are some rules for using zucchini:

  1. Don’t let them get too big.  They just get seedy, tasteless and fibrous  1-inch diameter may be ideal, and you can even use smaller ones.
  2. Buy firm shiny zucchini, not soft or wrinkly or bendable.
  3. Store in the frig.  Use soon after buying (or finding on your desk).
  4. Don’t boil them!  Even steaming isn’t a great way to cook them.  They just get watery and lose flavor.
  5. Best cooking method #1: sauté slices in a bit of olive oil with a dash of nutmeg or mace to enhance the slightly sweet flavor, and a sprinkle of basil if you like.
  6. Best cooking method #2: grill whole small zukes, or lengthwise slices, coated with olive oil or a blend of canola/toasted sesame oil, season with salt and pepper.  They cook quickly, so don’t overcook on the grill.  They should hold their shape.
  7. Best cooking method #3: slice small raw zucchini and eat as is.  Or use in salads or for dipping in hummus or a yogurt-based sauce like tzatziki.

Sadly, those giant overgrown zucchini aren’t worth using except as baseball bats.  If someone tries to unload those on you, or leaves them at your front door, send them to the compost.

If you’re ambitious and handy in the kitchen, here’s one of my favorite ways to use zucchinis.  Adapted from Butter Soft Zucchini and Tomatoes from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi.  This particular style of Indian cooking omits many familiar vegetables like garlic and onions.  I’ve adapted it to my own kitchen, and convenience here:

  • 1 seeded jalapeño, or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder to taste (use caution, start small)
  • 3/4 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped or 1 tsp ginger powder, to taste
  • 1/4 cup cashews or 3 TB cashew butter
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3-4 TB peanut or canola oil
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1-1/2 lbs small zucchini sliced
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

If using fresh jalapeño and/or ginger, mince them up into chunks.  Chop the cashews into small pieces, either with a knife or food processor.  Mix all the first 7 ingredients together in a bowl with a whisk and set aside.  It will be somewhat pasty.

Heat the oil over moderate heat in a sauce pan.  Add the spice paste and heat briefly, then add the zucchini.  Cover and cook 5 minutes, then add the can of tomatoes, turmeric and salt.  Cook another 4-5 minutes until everything is heated through and the zucchini is cooked to your liking.  Add more salt or other seasonings as necessary.  Add the chopped cilantro at the last minute.

Serve with plain yogurt or toasty warm tortillas or naan.

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