Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I made with what I grew

Summer may be winding down, but my container garden is in full swing. This year I planted all hot-weather plants--tomatoes, bell pepper, zucchini and eggplant--and each one is loving this August heat. The tomatoes I've harvested have been the best-tasting I've eaten in a long time; the eggplant is tender and delicate in flavor and, best of all, extremely prolific; but the zucchini hold a special place in my esteem because they found their way into one of the freshest, easiest and most delicious summer side dishes I've made.

But first things first. To set the scene, let me show you a photo of what the zucchini looks like growing on the plant:

When I harvested the first fruit, I didn't quite know what to do with it. The zucchini was small, so I didn't really want to cook it down; that would cause it to lose all its bulk. I decided, first of all, to leave it raw; I assumed that, owing to its diminutive size, it would be sweeter, in this state, than most market zucchini. When I spied a container of Greek-style yogurt in my refrigerator, I had it: a zucchini-yogurt salad. I make this dish all the time with cucumbers, adding lemon juice and salt and not much else, and I wagered that it would be even more delicious with my fresh, home-grown zucchini. But just to make sure, I took one extra step: I salted the zucchini judiciously ahead of time, then drained off the water that accumulated in the bowl. This process, traditionally used on eggplant to remove its bitter juices, accomplished the same feat with the zucchini and, moreover, rendered it a bit more pliable and "cooked"-seeming than it would have had I skipped that step. Slicked with cold, creamy yogurt and pepped up with a few slices of raw onion, plus a scant handful of chopped fresh oregano, this zucchini salad was the perfect antidote to the type of hot, sweaty summer day that (ordinarily) causes me to lose my appetite.

Zucchini Yogurt Salad

Serves 2


2 small green zucchini
Half a small white or yellow onion
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Slice the zucchini into ribbons that are about 1/8" thick. Use whatever method is easiest for you: I sliced the zucchini lengthwise, creating a flat surface, then lay the halves down and sliced each portion crosswise into thin strips.
2. Place the ribbons in a bowl and then salt them generously, with about 1 tsp. kosher salt. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator until the zucchini has given off a fair amount of liquid, about 15 - 20 minutes. Remove the bowl from the fridge and drain the zucchini well. (Drain--not rinse. You'll want the remaining salt as seasoning.)
3. Slice the onion into thin half moons. Break up the strips of onion and add them to the bowl.
4. Add the yogurt to the bowl, then squeeze the lemon over. Season with pepper and, if needed, salt, add the chopped oregano, and mix well. Taste for seasoning. The salad is best served very cold; if necessary, place the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes to chill everything down.

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