Let us take some tips from Eastern Mediterranean countries, where they eat zucchini like it's going out of style. There you'll find enough enticing recipes to last you a lifetime, or at least a few years' worth of gluts.
LET’S PLAY a bit of culinary word association. When I say “glut,” what’s the first food to come to mind?
Of course it’s zucchini. What else could it be? There’s probably a picture of one next to its definition in the dictionary.
When I was 15, my parents planted a vegetable garden. Being recent transplants to country life, it was a first for them both, and I remember the care with which they chose the perfect patch of sunny, level ground, hacked the soil apart until it looked like spent coffee grounds, and erected neck-high fencing to keep those pesky Northwest deer at bay. Then came weeks of planning, seed-buying, weeding and watering before, finally, as summer dug in its heels, food started miraculously emerging from our very own land.
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There were string beans, I remember, and tomatoes with thin skins and bright-tasting juice. There were sweet peas and fresh basil and a few heads of tender lettuce that hadn’t been ravaged by bugs. Having never done this before, my parents had erred on the side of caution where quantities were concerned, and, as a result, we had only a few precious meals of each vegetable. But that was OK, since it kept us from getting tired of any one thing.
Then came the zucchini. And they never stopped coming.
At first we treated the slender squash as reverentially as we did our other garden treasures, just steamed and buttered. Before long, though, we were throwing them in or on anything that would possibly accept them: pasta, pizza, salads, sandwiches. Sometimes we ate zucchini three times a day. “I don’t remember planting this many,” I recall hearing my mother grumble as she lugged in yet another sackful from the garden.
By the end of that summer, I couldn’t even look at a zucchini without feeling a little queasy. My parents must have felt the same, because when the plans for the next year’s garden were made, zucchini were conspicuously absent.
Anyone who’s ever grown zucchini — or any summer squash — will probably recognize the story. As a crop it’s both a blessing and a curse; where other vegetables need to be coaxed and coddled to eke out enough for a few meals, zucchini takes on a life of its own. Even the most modest of patches can quickly swell to B-grade horror-movie proportions.
For those in possession of an overactive patch, the best thing is to have plenty of nongardening friends and neighbors on whom to offload the excess. Lacking that, there’s always anonymous squash benefaction. I’ve heard rumors about places where you’re counseled to avoid leaving the windows on your car rolled down in summer unless you want bags of zucchini to magically appear on your seats.
Even if you do manage to give some away, you’ll still probably have more than you know what to do with. Zucchini, unfortunately, don’t lend themselves to drying, pickling or otherwise preserving as well as some other garden staples. The best thing, I find, is to simply expand your recipe horizons. Nothing rekindles a taste for something like an exotic new preparation.
And for that, where better to look than cuisines from climates where squash grow like weeds? Take, for instance, the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, all of whom eat zucchini like it’s going out of style. There you’ll find enough enticing recipes to last you a lifetime, or at least a few years’ worth of gluts: zucchini stuffed with rice or meat and baked, zucchini stewed with tomatoes and olive oil, zucchini grated and mixed with walnuts and yogurt.
In Turkey, the fritters called mücver are a classic summer dish. They’re also a study in thrift, traditionally being made with the interior trimmings left over after stuffing zucchini. Luckily, whole squash work just as well, their docile blandness offering a perfect counterpoint to the nuggets of salty feta, jumble of fresh herbs and topping of garlicky yogurt. Quick enough to be whipped up for a snack, they’re also substantial enough to form the backbone of a warm-weather meal.
Best of all, they’re delicious enough to appeal to the most squash-weary of taste buds. Who knows, they might even inspire the planting of a new zucchini patch or two.
Mom, are you reading?
Melissa Kronenthal is a freelance food writer and photographer.
Mücver (Turkish Zucchini Fritters)
1 ½ pounds zucchini (about 4 medium), grated
Salt, to taste
½ cup finely chopped fresh herbs, including flat-leaf parsley, dill and mint
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup olive oil or as needed, for frying
For the yogurt sauce
2 cups plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, mashed to a paste
Salt, to taste
To make the sauce
Blend the yogurt and garlic with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to blend.
To make the fritters
1. Put the grated zucchini in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt and let sit for 10 minutes to draw out the water. Squeeze handfuls of the zucchini to extract as much liquid as possible.
2. Place the drained zucchini in a large bowl and mix in the eggs, herbs, onions, paprika and pepper until well combined. Add the flour and stir until just incorporated, then stir in the cheese.
3. Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high. Drop generous spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil, making sure they don’t touch. Flatten them slightly so they’re about ½-inch thick, and fry them on each side until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and repeat until all the batter is used. Serve hot, topped with the yogurt sauce.