Posts Tagged: zucchini
Welcome to August. Are you tired of summer squash yet?
If your dinners have been overflowing with zucchini recently (like mine have), now might be a great time to try new varieties of otherwise familiar vegetables.
One of the farm advisors I work with has long touted some varieties of "Asian vegetables" as more flavorful than their traditionally "American" cousins. Here in the U.S., vegetable varieties like these are more likely to be grown by farmers — and sold to customers — who have close ties to Asian immigrant communities. Richard Molinar, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Fresno County, works frequently with Hmong farmers and says that he now prefers Hmong cucumber and Japanese eggplant to the varieties you might find in most California supermarkets.
After years of hearing Molinar's claims, I finally had a chance to try some of these new-to-me Asian vegetables during lunch at the Hmong Specialty Crops and Medicinal Herbs conference.
Presenters in the morning talked about crops such as sinqua, luffa (photo above has fresh luffa, in angled and smooth varieties), moqua, snake gourd, bittermelon and donqua — all of which are cucurbits, in the gourd family with other squashes and melons. Other Asian vegetables common in some specialty markets include leafy greens and tender shoots from chayote, amaranth, bittermelon, pumpkin, okra leaf, yam leaf, yucca and sour leaf plants. Discussions at the conference focused on these and other specialty crops, including ways to eat them.
"Maybe we need a recipe to teach customers how to buy these new crops," said Chukuo Thao, CEO of National Hmong American Farmers, who alternated between English and Hmong while speaking at the conference.
Some of the vegetables and herbs discussed at the conference were highlights of that day's lunch. The menu included a slushy Hmong cucumber drink, purple sticky rice, salsa made with cherry tomatoes, stir-fried mustard greens with pork skin, Hmong herbal chicken soup and steamed bittermelon stuffed with turkey.
But how did it taste? The stuffed bittermelon was what I was most looking forward to trying. The dish was delicious and wow, was it bitter! That is one appropriately named vegetable. Speakers at the conference suggested bitterness is frequently associated with medicinal qualities in Hmong cuisine.
Not all of the lunch dishes were bitter, of course. The cucumber dish was refreshing and very sweet, a dish with eggplant was spicy, and the mustard greens were salty and pungent. Many of the dishes were also made with lemongrass; Fresno County is where most of the nation's lemongrass comes from, according to Molinar in a recent article from the California Ag Network.
Curious about other Asian vegetables? Check out the Small Farm Program's guides to Asian vegetables, along with tips for farmers about how to grow and sell these niche varieties.
Question: The Small Farm Program has a lot of information about different vegetable varieties, but I'm still finding new vegetables to try. What are some of your favorite Asian vegetables?
P.S. While the conference was my first chance to taste bittermelon, Richard Molinar and Gus Schumacher (former USDA undersecretary) were being honored by Hmong community members for their long-time support of Southeast Asian refugee farmers. The two men were each given Hmong names in a special ceremony.
Next, as 4th of July guests leave, they get a bag to take home; another 10 down . . . only 30 more squash to use or distribute. What can you do?
Well, there are lots of ways to eat zucchini but I have found a couple of ways that are just yummy and healthy.
The first recipe is easy.
Zucchini and mozarella salad/appetizer
Slice the zucchini in lengthwise ¼ inch thick strips, drizzle with a little olive oil and grill on each side for a few minutes. Place the strips in a bowl with a little salt and pepper and a little more olive oil to cool. Then artfully place slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on plate along with the rolled up grilled zucchini strips, a handful of halved sun gold cherry tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, and a final little drizzle of olive oil. Makes a beautiful presentation and uses about 4 zucchini.
Only 26 left to use . . . .
Zucchini oven chips
This recipe, from Cooking Light, makes a great side dish with burgers or other grilled main course.
Slice the zucchini into rounds about ¼ inch thick. Dip into milk and then dredge in a mixture of seasoned breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Then place on an oven proof rack sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 425 F until brown and crispy.
This uses about 5 smaller zucchini. Only 21 left . . .
The next recipe is the ubiquitous zucchini bread. There are dozens of recipes for that. Each recipe uses about 3 cups of shredded zucchini, which is about 3 small or 2 larger zucchini. Now only 18 left.
Zucchini pie is a lovely main dish. You can use pre-packaged pie dough or crescent rolls or make your own dough from scratch.
Line your pie pan with the dough.
In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Sauté 4 cups of thinly sliced zucchini (about 4 small or 3 larger squash) and ½ cup chopped onions until tender. Add 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, 2 cloves of garlic, ¼ teaspoon of oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
In another large bowl, mix 2 eggs and 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese together. Add the zucchini mixture and gently stir. Pour mixture into pie crust. Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the filling comes out clean.
That takes us down to 14 more zucchini left. Sigh . . . I guess I should have only put in 6 plants instead of 12.
However, the good thing about zucchini is that you don’t have to use them all. The chickens will love you if you feed them squash (you have to open the fruit up for them though) and of course you can leave bags of zucchini at the doorsteps of your friends or on the desk of your office mates. They won’t hate you too much . . .