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Updated: Jun 30, 2023

The humble zucchini. It’s a summer vegetable that we all know. If you’re like us, your go-to way to cook this fruit might be a simple saute; maybe you add some alliums if you’re feeling dedicated. And as satisfying as a simple zucchini saute might be, we know that this preparation, just like the week after week appearance of zucchini in your CSA bag, might get a little boring. Bland? Boring and bland? After all, zucchini is a vegetable that we all grew up eating. It’s not as novel or exciting as a bunch of purple amaranth or as exotic as fantastic as graffiti eggplant. Today we’re here to re-introduce you to zucchini. The star of summer, the cucurbit queen, a versatile vegetable that can sneak its way into so many recipes. Compost your preconceived notions of how bland and boring zucchini is, and read on.

I really started thinking anew about zucchini a few years (2019, to be exact) ago when my friend Hector told me about a post that was making the rounds on Mexican Twitter. Know that bright green, creamy salsa served at your favorite taco truck? The one that gets served in a tiny plastic container if you're food is to go, or maybe there is a squirt bottle of it on a counter somewhere. The creamy, avocado-esq salsa. You know the one. Guess what? There’s no avocado in there. No cream. Only zucchini, emulsified with some jalapeno oil and blended with tomatillos, onions, and cilantro, to make a creamy, eerily avocado-like sauce. We hope you get over your feelings of deceit and focus not on the omission of avocado, but instead, on the existence of zucchini. If zucchini can be the unassuming star in this beloved salsa recipe, where else can it transubstantiate from your grandma’s boiled mess to a sexy, secret ingredient?

Zucchini (and all summer squash, for that matter) are a mainstay of Southern summers because they’re one of the easier vegetables to grow in the hot temperatures. In response to the unrelenting rays, zucchini leaves reach wide to capture the light's potential, initiating a jungle of vines and flowers. Hidden in the tangle of scratchy leaves are delicious fruit that, under the proper care, can grow fast. In the early summer at our farm, zucchini are prolific producers which need to be harvested nearly every day to avoid finding vegetables too big to be reasonable. If you grow a summer garden, chances are you've had the joy of discovering hidden zucchini, now comically large.

Zucchini, like many of the vegetables that come to you from the farm, should be stored in your refrigerator, in some type of produce bag, ideally in the crisper drawer. If left naked in your fridge, your juicy zucchini will go limp. Not ideal. Wait to wash your zucchini until right before you’re going to use it.

We promise to grow delicious summer squash for you if you promise to open your mind to how impressive this seemingly mundane summer vegetable can be. Take your pick from our favorite secret zucchini recipes below, and let us know what you think.

1.Top Secret Taqueria Salsa

Here is a recipe for the avocado-impersonator zucchini salsa. Zucchini is a must, but any hot pepper could work, as well as any onion. If you make one recipe from this list, this is the one we suggest. It’s so easy, VERY delicious, and after you make it once, you’ll be able to whip it together any time with that sad zucchini that is struggling at the bottom of your crisper drawer. No tomatillos? Sub green tomatoes.

2. Zucchini Pizza Crust

Cauliflower-cust, begone! Whether or not you’re eating a low-carb diet, zucchini pizza crust seems like a good idea. We love recipes like this which can really be altered to accommodate your own tastes and your current inventory of leftovers. Various cheeses, tomato sauces, or leftover sausage… it all works. Unlike a traditional pizza crust, making a crust with zucchini doesn’t require any yeast or pizza-tossing skills, and as long as you drain your zucchini well, this seems like a pretty good starter recipe.

3. Zucchini, refined and raw.

We all know about zoodles, but if you don’t have a fancy spiralizer, or don't feel like dirtying the clunky tool, make simple zucchini noodles using a vegetable peeler. These are delicious served raw, especially at the beginning of zucchini season when the fruits are oh-so-tender. If you’re making a raw zucchini salad, make it soon after you get your zucchini -it’s best when they’re very fresh and still taste like the Vrdnt fields where they were picked. This lemony-marinated recipe is one of our favorite raw zucchini salads, but you could also take this salad in a Thai or Italian direction with the addition of some fish sauce and lime or Parmesan and pine nuts, respectively.

4. Zucchini Fries, Tots, Hash Browns, and Fritter-Type Things.

Zucchini tots; photo by Megan Russell.

We don’t really need to explain here. This looks like a wonderful zucchini “fry” recipe (they’re actually baked), which would be great dipped in zucchini sauce number 1 for the ultimate zucchini takedown. Do you have an air fryer (and should I get one?!). Go crazy. Or, mix grated and drained zucchini with grated and drained potatoes to make these tater tots or these hash browns. Or, mix grated zucchini with some flour and eggs, and top with sriracha mayo, for zucchini okonomiyaki.

5. Quick Pickle

It’s quick. And it’s a pickle. Who says cucumbers have to be the only cucurbit getting a vinegar bath this summer? The best thing about quick pickles is that they come together in mere minutes, and don’t have to be canned, aka can simply live in the fridge until they get devoured. Which won’t take long. Here is a great pickled zucchini recipe from 101 Cookbooks, and here is a link to your How to Pickle Anything post.

6. Soup, but Cold.

I LOVE a chilled soup in the summer. It really solves the problem of being too hot to cook or eat. I like this recipe which includes the addition of lots of basil and lemon juice and suggests serving the soup with some garlicky croutons. Like most soups, this one is even better on the second day, which makes it an awesome candidate for meal prepping. Call me a heathen, but I’ve also been known to throw a cold soup in a yeti thermos and drink it from a straw on the go. A savory, refreshing smoothie of sorts. It only sounds weird.

Photo by Megan Bucknall.

7. Dessert

There are a truly shocking number of ways to incorporate zucchini into baked goods. For those feeling truly inspired by this versatile fruit, try these zucchini dessert squares. Or, if you’re needing a way to more discreetly sneak in our secret ingredient, you could go the zucchini chocolate chip muffin route or even make these decadent-looking zucchini brownies.

Zucchini Dessert Squares; Photo borrowed from The Splendid Table.


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