Who knew the ubiquitous and mild zucchini could be so versatile? They are everywhere now, piled high and on sale, and much is possible with this simple summer squash. Anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows the plant is energetic and boisterous, with leaves the size of dinner plates, tendrils and yellow flowers thrusting willy-nilly into the personal space of the garden’s other occupants. And God forbid if we forget about a hideaway zucchini or don’t get to it in time. Just two days ago that zucchini was perfect and now it’s the size of a baseball bat? How did this happen so quickly?
Zucchini is delicious grilled with a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. It is the five minute vegetable-dish, sliced and thrown into the sauté pan with a little minced garlic, lemon and parsley. It is delicious with shrimp and cilantro, easily substituting for the Bengali squashes that fall into the lau category.
And it is good for breakfast or dessert. It is tempting to write about the summer that my sister made some 25 loaves of zucchini bread, after which no one in our family made or ate zucchini bread for a long, long time. But today is not that day. Today, I’m writing about a Bengali-American interpretation of zucchini, which is creamy and mild; the cilantro and ginger offer sharp counterpoints to the sweetness of the overall dish.
Zucchini with Cilantro
4 smallish zucchini, each about 8-10 inches long, cut into a medium dice
2 teaspoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
A pinch of turmeric
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
Oil for sautéing (olive or canola)
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
Fresh green chili pepper or ½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 tsp sugar, more or less to taste
A pinch of flour or Wondra
This dish is very easy to make and takes about 20 minutes. Season the oil first. Add 3-4 tbsp oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil for a minute of two and then add the tej leaves, chili pepper, and fennel seeds. Heat the oil until the spices becomes fragrant (about 2 minutes).
Add zucchini, ginger, coriander, tumeric, and cumin to the oil, stirring gently until zucchini begins to wilt. When it is partially tender, add salt and sugar and cook uncovered over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. The zucchini will release some water at this stage, and it will need to cook until the water has been absorbed. When finished, the zucchini will become very soft, creamy and sweet. A pinch of flour or Wondra added close to the end will help absorb any excess liquid.
Done. Serve with rice or roti.