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Enjoying Zucchini

posted on: Aug 2, 2022

Enjoying Zucchini

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

There is no question that in the vegetable markets of the large North American cities, piles of zucchini give a brilliant tinge to the surrounding products. For the uninitiated, their eye-catching glossy green color is, perhaps, this vegetable’s most appealing drawing card. On the other hand, to ones who are familiar with zucchini, its delicate light flavor and delicious taste give it an important place on the daily menu. 

A long slender dark green variety of summer squash belonging to the cucurbitaceae family of the genera cucurbita pepo, zucchini, in shape and size, it resembles a cucumber.  In Great Britain it is known as vegetable marrow, in France as courgettes and in the Arab world as kousa.  However, in North America it carries its Italian name, zucchini, which in that language is a diminutive for squash.

This attractive vegetable, as did all other types of squash, originated in Mexico. After the discovery of the Americas, these were introduced into the old world of Asia and Europe by the Spaniards. In Italy, zucchini which, of course, was a development of an earlier more primitive squash, caught on like wildfire. It became a favourite vegetable in that land and was extensively grown. In later centuries, Italian immigrants were largely responsible for its wide dispersal in both North and South America.

Today, fresh zucchini are found in abundance, especially in the Italian markets located in the metropolises of the Western Hemisphere. It has again become a common vegetable in the continent where it originated. Generally sold by the pound, it is sold year-round and always at a modest price. The extensive yield of each plant of up to three dozen fruits makes this summer squash lavishly abundant in the parts of the country where it is cultivated. 

The plant is bushy with deep lobed leaves and is one of the simplest of all vegetables to grow. It thrives in most types of soil and takes about 60 days to mature. The fruits produced are smooth and very dark green in colour with specks of gray. These cylindrical-shaped vegetables are tender skinned with a firm light greenish flesh. They are at the optimum of flavour if they are picked when they are tender, about four to six inches long.  At this stage they can be used in all types of dishes from omelets to being stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. If they are allowed to fully mature, they become tough and their colour turns orangey. At times, they reach the size of a large watermelon.  According to Waverley Rood in The Foods of Italy, zucchini have been found to grow to a length of six feet in the countryside near Naples.  However, if this summer squash is allowed to remain on the vine, the plant ends its productive cycle and stops growing.  The fruit, at the mature stage, loses much of its taste and can only be used in stews.

Zucchini have a relatively low calorie count – two cups cooked contain 75 calories.  The fruit is not high in sodium content and has a fair amount of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, especially when eaten raw.  A nutritious vegetable, it is heaven-sent to people who are looking for a wholesome, light and nourishing food.

One of the greatest appeals of these summer squash is their versatility. They can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. Baked, boiled, broiled, fried, pureed, steamed, stewed or even raw, they are always delectable. At times they are cooked alone. However, in most cases they are combined with other vegetables and meat or stuffed with a multitude of fillings. Nevertheless, no matter how they are prepared, their fresh delicate flavour imbues an appetizing aura to any dish in which they form part of the ingredients. An excellent culinary work, The Zucchini and Carrot Cookbook by R.C. Bateman, lists dozens of recipes which incorporate zucchini as the principal ingredient.  From appetizers, soups, salads, pickles and entrees to breads, cakes, cookies, pies and puddings, a wide spectrum of dishes made from this summer squash are included. 

Zucchini cook very quickly. Hence, they should be cooked only briefly and not overcooked.  To be at their utmost flavour, they must be used in the immature stage when the rind is very soft. As the vegetable matures it begins to lose some of its sapidity. On the other hand, when picked at a tender stage and stored in a cool place it tends to retain its crisp and delicate flesh.  To help preserve these qualities, the fruit should be washed and dried, then placed in plastic bags before being put away.

The zucchini bush has, besides its fruit, another edible part. The blossoms of the male plants which do not produce fruit are often harvested and made into an exotic dish. Extremely perishable, the flowers must be freshly picked, then gently handled. After harvesting, the blossoms should be tenderly washed, dipped in an egg and flour batter, then deep-fried. The result is a dish of exquisite flavour which makes a dainty and enticing appetizer.

Zucchini are always delightful no matter if they are cooked alone or as ingredients in other foods. Their tasty soft texture, especially when flavoured with basil, coriander, oregano or rosemary, makes them a delicious treat. When picked at their prime, the alluring shining green colour of their firm yet tender skin is an indication of the tantalizing taste to come. For the uninitiated, the joys of this summer squash can be appreciated if a few of these simple dishes are prepared. 

Zucchini Flower Appetizer

Enjoying Zucchini

24 zucchini flowers

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup water

2 eggs, beaten

1 clove garlic, crushed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

oil for frying 

  1. Wash the zucchini Flowers, making sure not to break them, then set aside.
  2. Make a batter by mixing the flour, water, eggs, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. In small saucepan, place the oil to a depth of 1-inch and heat, then dip the flowers 2 or 3 at a time in the batter and deep fry over medium-high heat until they turn golden brown, turning them over once.
  4. Continue until all the flowers are finished, draining on paper towels, then serve hot as appetizers.

Zucchini and Basil Soup

Enjoying Zucchini

Serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1/2-pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 hot pepper, finely chopped

1 can stewed tomatoes (19 oz. 540 ml.)

2 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

7 cups water

1 large zucchini about 10-inches long, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or two teaspoons dried 

  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil, then sauté the meat over medium heat until it begins to brown.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and hot pepper and stir-fry for 10 minutes, then add the remaining ingredients except the zucchini and basil and bring to a boil.
  3. Cover and cook over medium heat for 50 minutes, then add the zucchini and cook for further 25 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil, then serve hot. 

Artichoke and Zucchini Salad

Enjoying Zucchini

Serves 4 to 6

1 can artichoke hearts (14 oz. 398 ml.), drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 medium zucchini, about 6-inches long, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper 

  1. Place all the ingredients in a salad bowl, then gently toss and serve immediately. 

Note:  If the salad is not served immediately, it will become too juicy.

Cooked Zucchini Salad

Enjoying Zucchini

Serves 4 to 6

4 medium zucchini, about 6-inches long, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large avocado, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon pepper

12 black olives, pitted and halved 

  1. In a pot, place the zucchini and cover with water, then bring to a boil.
  2. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain and allow to cool.
  3. Place in a salad bowl, then add the remaining ingredients except the olives and toss.
  4. Decorate with the olives and serve. 

Zucchini Breakfast Delight

Serves 6 to 8

This dish is excellent as a breakfast treat or served as a main course with mashed potatoes. 

3 tablespoons butter

1/2- pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2- inch cubes

1 medium size onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic crushed

1/2 hot pepper, finely chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 large zucchini, from 10-inches to 12-inches long 

  1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter, then sauté the meat over medium heat until it turns brown.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and hot pepper and stir-fry until the onion pieces turn limp, then stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper and sauté until the tomatoes turn soft.
  3. Stir in the zucchini and cover the frying pan, then cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the cover and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the zucchini are well done, then serve hot. 

Zucchini Casserole

Serves 8 to 10

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1-pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium size onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 hot pepper, finely chopped

5 medium zucchini, about 6-inches long or one extra-large about-16 inches long, cut into 1-inch 

cubes

4 medium tomatoes, chopped 

1 large carrot, scraped and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin 

  1. In a frying pan, heat the oil, then sauté the meat over medium heat until it begins to brown.
  2. Add the onion, coriander leaves and hot pepper and stir-fry for a further 10 minutes, then transfer to a casserole.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients and cover, then bake in a 350o F preheated oven for 1 hour.
  4. Remove the cover and bake for further 30 minutes, then serve hot from the casserole. 

Corn and Zucchini Stew

Serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons cooking out

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 hot pepper, finely chopped

2 large zucchini, from 8-inches to 10-inches long cut into 1-inch cubes

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 canned corn (12 oz. 341 ml.), with its water

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon dried mint 

  1. In a saucepan, heat the oil, and then sauté the onions, garlic and hot pepper for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients, except the mint and bring to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 40 minutes or until the zucchini and potatoes are cooked.
  3. Remove from the heat, then stir in the mint and serve. 

Zucchini and Tomatoes

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons cooking oil

2 large zucchini, from 10-inches to 12-inches long, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 hot pepper, finely chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1/2 teaspoon pepper 

  1. In a frying pan, heat the oil and stir-fry the zucchini over medium heat for 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Placed the onion, garlic and hot pepper in the frying pan with which the zucchini had been fried, then sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes, adding more oil if necessary.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients, including the zucchini and cover, then cook over medium heat for 20 minutes and serve hot, or allow to cool before serving. 

Zucchini with Pine Nuts

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons butter

5 medium zucchini, about 6-inches long, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 small tomato, finely chopped 

  1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and stir-fry the zucchini for 10 minutes over medium heat, then add the remaining ingredients except the tomato and stir-fry for further 8 minutes.
  2. Place on a flat serving tray then decorate with the tomato pieces. 

Puréed Zucchini

Serves 8 to 10

1 extra-large zucchini about 16-inches long 

2 cups yogurt

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons chopped parsley 

  1. Take the zucchini in a 350o F preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the skin is crisp, turning it over a few times.
  2. Remove from the oven and skin, then mash in a mixing bowl and allow to cool. 
  3. Add the yogurt, garlic, coriander, lemon juice, salt and pepper and thoroughly mix, then place on a flat serving plate and sprinkle with the cumin.
  4. Decorate with the parsley and serve as an appetizer or side dish. 

Cheese Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 6 to 8

16 zucchini, from 4-inches to 6-inches long

1 1/2 cups minced feta cheese

1 cup finely chopped green onions

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

4 cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint 

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons butter

6 eggs, beaten

16 large grape leaves

1 can stewed tomatoes (28 oz. 796 ml.), mixed with 1 teaspoon salt 

  1. *Wash and trim the stem ends of the zucchini, then core with a corer and set aside.
  2. Make a filling by thoroughly mixing the remaining ingredients except the grape leaves and stewed tomatoes.
  3. Stuff the zucchini and seal the open ends with a grape leaf and place in a saucepan, then pour in the stewed tomatoes and enough water to barely cover the zucchini.
  4. Place on the heat and bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat for 35 minutes. 
  5. Serve hot with a portion of the sauce accompanying each serving. 

*Note:  A corer can be purchased in Middle Eastern markets

Zucchini Egg Patties

Makes about 34 patties

2 cups pulp from the stuffed zucchini or an equivalent amount of peeled zucchini, finally 

chopped

1/3 cup finely chopped green onions

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

5 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon allspice

oil for frying 

  1. Squeeze my hand the water out of the zucchini, then placed in a mixing bowl.
  2. Have the remaining ingredients except the oil, then thoroughly mix.
  3. In a small saucepan, place cooking oil to 1 1/2-inches depth, then with a medium size wooden spoon drop some of the mixture into the oil and fry a few at a time until the patties turned golden brown, turning them over once.
  4. Remove from the oil and strain on paper towels, then continue until all the mixture is finished.
  5. Serve hot as snacks or as a side dish. 

Note:  Recipes which call for fresh coriander, a mixture of half chives, half parsley may be

substituted.