When Deborah Lader, 49, was a kid, her dad's vegetable gardening experiments were a bit ill-fated. "He actually tied store-bought tomatoes to the plants so we could see what a vegetable garden was supposed to look like," Lader laughs. "Needless to say, zucchini wasn't a part of my childhood menu." As an adult, Lader -- who lives in Chicago and works as an artist and folk musician -- found that her own organic gardening adventures turned her on to the possibilities of grow-your-own goodness. And she's since discovered she likes zucchini just fine.
Not so for Lader's two sons and husband. "I didn't like zucchini because I thought it had a weird aftertaste," her son, Daniel, says.
Then Lader tried cooking the veggie a new way for Daniel, who needs a gluten- and dairy-free diet, Lader says. "Once a week or so, I pan-fry whatever meat or fish I'm making him, coated in whatever I have on hand that's gluten-free."
One day the coating was a mix of brown rice flour, chickpea flour, almond meal, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and parsley. "I just happened to have some fresh zucchini on hand, so I thought, what the heck, I'll coat and lightly pan-fry that too," Lader recalls. Daniel loved the result so much that zucchini is now the only cooked vegetable he requests. Lader is still working on the rest of her family. "But there are so many ways you can serve zucchini, I'm pretty confident that if I keep trying, one of them will click."
Cooking With Zucchini
Zucchini is very low-calorie -- only 10 calories in a half cup raw; 15 calories in a half cup cooked. It's an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C, as well as magnesium, vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), dietary fiber, potassium, copper, folate, and phosphorus. For the greatest vitamin content and texture, wash -- but don't peel -- the tender, deeply colored skin, since that's where most of the good stuff resides.
Cut 2 cups zucchini into cubes, sticks, or disks and combine with 2 cups other color/flavor contrasting veggies: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red or green peppers, mushrooms. Whisk 2 tbsp good-quality olive oil with 2 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar, 1 tbsp water, 1 tsp turbinado sugar or agave nectar, and 1 tsp freshly chopped parsley, dill, or basil, along with salt and freshly ground pepper. Let marinate.
Thread large zucchini chunks on thin bamboo skewers you've soaked in water for 30 minutes. Alternate zucchini chunks with vegetable chunks to make kabobs. Marinate kabobs 15 minutes before grilling, or brush kabobs with vinaigrette as they grill (6 to 8 minutes, turning once).
Lightly steam julienned zucchini and add finely chopped red pepper and carrot to make "confetti" rice. Or slice full-length ribbons of zucchini on a mandoline, steam, and add to your favorite pasta dish. Both dishes will have better color, flavor, and texture, with fewer calories (less rice or pasta and more veggies per bite).