Saturday, July 16, 2011

Zucchini. It's what's for breakfast! (and lunch and...)

It grows faster than a balloon attached to a high pressure air hose. One day it's a yellow flower; the next it's big as a blimp and full of seeds, ready for the compost heap. You might get nine pounds of the stuff per plant. With four plants, that can land you in zucchini purgatory for months.

It does force you to be creative. I can think of few things less appealing than eating boiled zucchini every day for three or more months. My taste buds would crawl out of my mouth and set up a camp outside near the basil, since they would not be needed until the end of zucchini season.

For my plate, I wanted something that nobody else would bring. Something different, yet where zucchini remains the main ingredient instead of buried under so much filler that it can pass unperceived.

Before getting to the recipe, I would like to state for the record that I hate contests. People, however seem to feel they're necessary. At least the people at the community garden. I especially hate competitions for artistic things. Like food.

Our community garden named zucchini as this month's star ingredient for a morning brunch. Yes, zucchini. No, it's not the first thing I think of for breakfast either. There were two or three zucchini casseroles, zucchini fritters, zucchini quiche, zucchini brownies, zucchini bread, zucchini-apple cobbler (this won), and my entry: Turkish Grilled Zucchi Salad. That name was too long, so they just called it "exotic zucchini" or something.

So, a salad, several appetizers or side dishes and a few desserts were thrown together to see which was best. In what sense? Best with a planned meal, sweetest, most zucchini-esque? Least? Least perceptible zucchini? Most quantity of zucchini converted to something in no way resembling the star ingredient? No. Just "best". Judged by someone listening to how much noise everyone made when each dish was named. Although my plate generated some noise, it was not enough to register in the score keeper's head.

Nonetheless, several people told me it was their favorite dish. It also had the advantage of being unique on the table, and even recognizable as zucchini.

Turkish Grilled Zucchini Salad

  • zucchini, sliced into 1/2" thick squares (the dimensions depend on the size of the zucchini)
  • EVOO
  • black pepper
  • a bit of salt
  • lemon juice
  • chocolate mint (for garnish), chiffonade
  • za'atar: (a blend of toasted and ground sesame seeds, powdered sumac, sea salt, thyme and oregano)
  • dry cheese: I used queso fresco, but a crumbly goat cheese or feta would work well, too.
  1. Toss the cut zucchini in some olive oil, salt and pepper lightly.
  2. Grill the zucchini until they've shrunk and browned a bit, yet still are moist in the center.
  3. Put the zucchini in a bowl. If you're serving it warm, add the cheese, lemon juice, za'atar and mint. If you're serving it cold, mix the zucchini, the cheese and some of the za'atar in a bowl, refrigerate, and add the lemon juice, mint and the rest of the za'atar at serving time.
It's a simple recipe. You'll probably even love it the first three times you make it.

More ideas for zucchini:
  • Candy it.
  • Deep fry it, tempura style.
  • Make a relish with fresh habañero chiles, parsley and cilantro. Nobody will be bored.
  • Add sugar, ferment it and distill it into some strange liqueur.
  • Do something molecular gastronomy with it: a foam, a gel, powder it...
I'm sure opportunities will come up over the summer for more exciting plates...

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