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Photo by Cynthia Hochswender

The harvest season is just beginning…

Food for Health

There isn’t really much lettuce left in my garden at this point in the summer but, boy, do I have a lot of zucchini.

Regular readers of this healthy eating column (and sorry it’s been so long since the last column) will recall that I’m always searching for new sources of potassium. Happily, zucchini has a lot of potassium, about 222 mg for each 100 grams that you eat (I just weighed a fresh 6-inch zucchini on my food scale and it was 247 grams, so figure 100 grams is about a cup or less).

Honestly, there isn’t a ton of other nutrition in zucchinis but they’re fresh and tasty and have a decent amount of fiber in them, which is good for your heart and helps your digestion. 

Potassium, my favorite electrolyte/mineral, is important for regulating the amount of water in your body, and it keeps your muscles functioning properly (including the big muscle: your heart).

In all: I’m glad to have a lot of zucchini in the garden. And no, I’m not planning at this moment to make zucchini bread.

So what else can one do with all this fruit (because yes, botanically it’s a fruit, even though from a culinary point of view it’s a vegetable).

Zucchini is in many ways a good vehicle for seasonings and toppings. But while, for example, lobster and snails and artichokes are a good excuse to eat a lot of melted butter, zucchini is a good excuse to try a lot of different herbs. 

Try cutting a zucchini into quarters lengthwise (so you have four long quarters that begin at the little cap at the top and stretch all the way down to the little cap at the bottom). Brush olive oil on the four quarters and then lay them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then roast them for 10 or 15 minutes, until they’re just tender. Take them out and poke them; if they feel delicious, take them off, otherwise give them another five minutes. 

Once they’ve cooled, move them to a plate (be careful, they’re going to be floppy and they might split in half if you don’t support them carefully enough) and squeeze lemon juice over the top and then sprinkle on some finely cut up herbs (I often cut them right over the plate with a pair of clean, sharp scissors). Flat Italian parsley works great; so do basil, tarragon, mint or scallions. Serve with grilled meat and rice pilaf.

Too hot to cook? You can eat zucchini raw. It’s delicious with dip, for example; I often cut a zucchini into batons that are about 2 inches long and serve them with hummus, but they’d be good with almost any dip.

A few years ago, I was gifted a beautiful little lethally sharp machine called a mandoline. I finally took it out of its box this summer and have found it to be the perfect tool to use with zucchini and with their visual twins, the cucumbers. 

As a side note, for thin slicing the best cucumbers are the ones with a thin skin and small seeds, such as the English and Persian varieties, and the Kirby cukes. 

The mandoline can either give you paper-thin slices of your favorite cucurbite, or they can give you matchstick-thin little rectangles, also known as a julienne. You can just dress them with a vinaigrette or you can do what my friend Cybele does with her cucumbers but which works with zukes too: Dress them with sour cream and/or plain Greek yogurt, a dose of fresh dill weed, some thin-sliced shallots, tasty salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper and some lemon juice. 

If you soak the slices in the lemon juice first and then drain the juice, your salad won’t get as watery. 

Speaking of vegetables that you might not know you can eat raw: I’m also now getting some beets in my garden. Again, the mandoline helps you to make paper-thin beet slices — so thin, in fact, that you don’t need to peel off the skin first. This is really best done with beets from your own garden, which you know for certain haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals.

For this salad, I use the matchstick/julienne setting on the mandoline. I then dress the beets with a classic vinaigrette (French mustard, oil, a trace of a nice vinegar such as rice or balsamic, a little water to give it the right texture). You can add some orange zest, some finely minced tarragon or some chopped scallions. 

If you don’t have a mandoline, you can still make a beet salad but you might be better off roasting your unpeeled beets in a 350 degree oven until they are just tender (it’s impossible to know how quickly a beet will cook; I have no idea why this is). Don’t overcook them or they’ll start to shrivel. Peel off the skin, cut into quarters and dress them as above.

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