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Who's Up For Some Squash?

Attack of the zucchini zombies

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If you don't typically lock your doors, now would be a good time to start.

You're going to be inundated with zucchinis. Behind the usual pleasantries, your neighbors are already probing you for weakness, trying to decide who among your fellow neighbors will be most likely to break and accept a bag-load.

Gangs of farmhands will soon be roaming the streets, leaving zucchinis on porches and in unlocked vehicles. There are zucchinis growing in your compost pile, maybe.

One way or another, you have zucchinis on your hands. And that's why I'm here.

Let's cut straight to the point, because there isn't much time. Nobody is even trying to sell zucchinis anymore at market. We are surrounded. They are swelling as we speak, creeping steadily closer, like zombies on steroids.

So, here's some encouraging news: Any amount of zucchini can be handled, and probably with less effort than you fear. If you can, adopt a can't-stop-won't-stop approach: I will eat a lot of zucchini, and I will like it. Believe it or not, it will be cheaper than what you would have made if you didn't have zucchini.

Try to name any food that cannot be made with zucchini. You can't. Bread, soup, salad, pasta (as in, shredded into noodles) or steak (fried, grilled, broiled or breaded). Parmesan, ratatouille, and other Italian styles, as well as Thai-style (in curry), Vietnamese-style (with cold noodles), Chinese-style (with oyster sauce and whatnot), Russian-style (fried).

Or Ari-style Chocolate Zucchini Mayo Cake. Since that one is mine, why not start there? It is so simple:

Step 1: Prepare chocolate mayo cake batter

Step 2: Add grated zucchini to the batter before baking it, and mix it in

Step 3: Proceed

I got my chocolate mayo cake recipe from the jar of Hellmann's mayo that we always had in the fridge growing up. But the essence of mayo cake is that you substitute mayo for the eggs and oil in virtually any cake, including cake from a mix.

The shreds of zucchini melt into the batter, where they act as the secret glue behind the moist glitter. They don't interfere with the baking process, and they add moisture, fiber and density to the finished product, even while hiding in the background. Consider peeling the larger individuals, as squash skins will toughen as they age.

Like many who are sweet of tooth, I have a salty side as well. And the zucchini department is no exception. In summer, my quick and tasty go-to recipe is one that works with the honker monsters of summer, with no need to peel them. It works equally well in a pan, under the broiler or on the grill. It turns my kids into ravenous monsters, which is a great thing if its veggies they are ravaging.

Slice a large zucchini thickly, up to an inch, and lay the slices on a tray. If there is room, add thick slices of onion as well. Sprinkle zucchini lightly with salt on both sides, and then pour on some olive oil (about 1/4 cup for a decent-sized one), white balsamic vinegar (1 tablespoon), red balsamic (1 teaspoon), and soy sauce (1 tablespoon), followed by many hard shakes of garlic powder.

Turn over the zucchini slices as a way of mixing the marinade and coating the slices, and then let them sit for a moment while you heat up your grill/pan/broiler. Don't mess with the onions. Just leave them alone on the tray while you flip around the zucchini, and then transfer them gingerly to the heat when it's ready.

Lay the zucchini and onions on the heat, and cook them until soft. In a pan they need no extra oil. On the grill, where they can be placed amongst the hamburgers, beware of flare-ups.

These lusty, juicy steaks are light and fun to consume, and consume, and consume. And it's a beautiful thing to watch a young family get full on zucchini. Those slices go well atop a burger, as well, or in place of a burger on a bun.

At the other end of the size spectrum, if you are so lucky to acquire some, are baby zucchinis, those finger-sized individuals that are small enough that they still have beautiful, edible flowers attached. They would do fine in the above marinade, as would any size of summer squash, but because baby zucchinis are so delicate, they'd be more effectively enjoyed by a slow, gentle frying in butter, intact with the flowers.

Turn when they brown, and add minced garlic before the final minutes of cooking. Or, if you want to batter-coat and deep-fry them, I most definitely won't stop you.

Speaking of flowers, how about a recipe for another kind of squash? I learned about eating squash leaves from a friend in the Hmong community where I live. North Carolina has the fourth-largest population of Hmong — the Southeast Asian ethnic group that settled mostly in the western part of the state after the Vietnam War — and you'll find them selling their crops at farmers markets in Charlotte.

Hmong style fried squash leaf stir fry. (photo by Ari Levaux)
  • Hmong style fried squash leaf stir fry. (photo by Ari Levaux)

The other day, I made the following Hmong Squash Leaf Stir-Fry with my Hmong friends in mind. Try it:

Ingredients

* 1 or two pieces of bacon cut crosswise into inch-chunks (alternatively, cooking oil of your choice).

* Two or three squash (or zucchini or pumpkin) leaves, on the young side, so they are tender and small and can be left whole. Trim out the stems.

* Garden veggies: I used homegrown peas, basil, tomatoes, garlic and Hmong-grown baby carrots (and a gringo-grown onion). I considered using market zucchini, but my dish felt busy enough.

* Soy sauce

* Fish sauce or oyster sauce

* Lime or rice vinegar

Directions

Cook the bacon in a pan on low-ish. When it starts to give up the grease, add the squash leaves and help them lay flat in the pan in the grease. Monitor both leaves and bacon, turning when necessary and steering them into a light crisp. Remove each leaf and bacon slice when ready.

Add the carrots, sliced, to the grease, and the sliced onion, turning up the pan as necessary for a steady, mellow cooking. Add tomatoes, in chunks, and ginger if you have it, and garlic, along with a squirt of fish or oyster sauce.

Finally, add the peas and basil and soy sauce, and stir-fry for just a second. Add back the bacon and squash leaves, add pinches of black pepper and garlic powder, and a dash of lime juice or rice vinegar, and stir around one more time.

Serve with hot sauce and rice.

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