Home >Lounge >Features >Opinion | The zucchini plant never stops giving

When I started kitchen gardening 10 years ago, zucchini was one of the first vegetables I decided to grow. The idea was to grow a few kinds of greens and vegetables that were not regularly available in local stores. I had no idea if these plants would thrive in Bengaluru weather conditions but gardening is an experiment anyway, so I went ahead with my plans.

The zucchini plant took off nicely and within two months I was having a tough time keeping up with it. No wonder, the US has a “National Sneak Some Zucchini Into Your Neighbour’s Porch Day" on 8 August. It’s clearly to get rid of the zucchini excess from peak summer.

Zucchini tzatziki.
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Zucchini tzatziki. (Nandita Iyer)


A few weeks past the bounty phase, when I thought I could not eat any more zucchini dishes, I found a monster zucchini hidden under all the foliage, the size of a cricket bat. It was time for another round of zucchini dishes. This time, I ended up desi-frying this vegetable, making all kinds of traditional Tamil dishes such as sambhar, kootu, thogayal (a kind of chutney) and more.

Like cauliflower, zucchini finds favour with the low-carbers and keto-people. Mild in flavour, it can blend into any dish, even though it is the Mediterranean dishes that truly do it justice. A very low-calorie vegetable, it is a good filler in dishes like curries, pav bhaji, stews, salads and soups for those who are watching their weight.

We cannot talk about zucchini and not mention “zoodles". For the uninitiated, these are zucchini noodles, made by passing the vegetable through a spiralizer. This implement can make noodles of other vegetables too, such as beets, radish, carrots and cucumber. I must confess that even I gave in to the zoodle craze and asked my friend to get me a spiralizer from the US. A Google Trends search-interest report for “zoodles" shows its popularity went from 0 in 2004 to 100 in 2018 (100 represents peak popularity) but dropped considerably this May. The only thing that offers us some joy in these covid-19 times is comfort food, and it is understandable that zoodles or low-carb noodles are the last thing on our mind.

Have you ever chopped up zucchini for cooking only to realize it is too bitter to eat? I read up more about this on the website of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US. Vegetables from the Cucurbitaceae family have a group of compounds called cucurbitacin. In the cultivated varieties, the concentration of this compound is rather low, so there is usually no bitterness. Mild bitterness in cultivated zucchini is a stray occurrence that could be caused by environmental stress factors, while a strong bitter taste is due to cross-pollination with a wild variety. In the wild, the cucurbits are usually bitter, a self-defence mechanism to protect themselves from being eaten.

It is not advisable to eat bitter zucchini for it may lead to stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal problems. The bottom line: always taste a tiny piece of raw zucchini before using it in cooking, so that if it’s bitter it does not end up rendering the entire dish inedible.

ZUCCHINI AND COOKED RICE FLATBREADS

Makes 4

Ingredients

250g zucchini (2 small)

1 cup cooked rice (soft)

3 tbsp rice flour

4 tbsp besan (gram flour)

N cup coriander leaves

2-3 green chillies

3 tbsp peanuts, roasted and crushed

1 tsp salt

2-3 tsp ghee or oil

Method

Grate the zucchini coarsely. Spread it in a dish and sprinkle K tsp salt over it. Keep aside for 5-10 minutes. Squeeze out all excess liquid. Add the zucchini to a bowl.

Leftover rice works well for this recipe. If it has dried out in the refrigerator, sprinkle some water and microwave it for 1 minute to soften it before use. Mash rice well. Chop coriander and chillies finely. Combine all the ingredients except the ghee/oil along with zucchini in the bowl. Knead well until it comes together. If the dough is too wet, add some extra rice flour.

Divide this into four portions. Heat a tava and brush with some oil or ghee. Pat each portion of dough into a thick roti on a piece of cling film or greased foil or directly on the pan. Drizzle ghee around the roti and cook each side for around 5 minutes on a low flame until crisp. Serve hot with butter or any chutney.

ZUCCHINI TZATZIKI

Serves 2

Ingredients

400g yogurt

1 medium zucchini

1 clove garlic, grated

K lime or lemon

K tsp salt

N cup fresh mint, chopped

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Optional garnish

Edible flower petals and leaves

K tsp poppy seeds

Method

Line a sieve with a muslin cloth and place it over a bowl. Transfer the yogurt into the cloth-lined sieve and bring the ends of the cloth together. Place it in the fridge for 2-3 hours. The whey will collect in the bowl below. It is not needed for this recipe.

Grate the zucchini coarsely. Spread it in a dish and sprinkle K tsp salt over it. Keep aside for 30 minutes. Squeeze well to remove all the liquid (both the whey and the zucchini juices can be used in soup or dal). Take the hung yogurt in a bowl and whisk well with a fork to remove any lumps. To this, add zucchini and grated garlic. Zest the lime into the bowl and mix in juice of half a lime. Add chopped mint and combine everything well.Check for seasoning and add a pinch of salt if needed.

Spread the tzatziki in a shallow bowl and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top. Garnish with a few petals of edible flowers (marigold /nasturtium) and poppy seeds. Serve with carrot sticks, crackers or toasted pita bread.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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