Monday, July 13, 2020

Raw Zucchini Salad

One of the things I love about my new home is my kitchen.  It will come as no surprise to hear that during my home search one of my “must haves” was a good kitchen.  It didn’t have to be state of the art—but it had to be highly functional.  The kitchen I got exceeded my wildest expectations.  I love it…and have enjoyed getting to know it over the past year or so.

But of course, nothing is ever perfect.  During the past two summers I have discovered one thing that I really miss about my old kitchen:  its location in the house.   My old kitchen was just off a large great room that had a two story vaulted ceiling.  The house thermostat was located on the opposite side of the great room.  Without even thinking about it—even on the hottest days of summer—I was in the habit of firing up my oven for tasks hot and large (pizza) as well as things small and moderate (toasting a handful of nuts to top pasta or a salad).  The heat from the oven just wafted out of the kitchen and rose up into the heights of the great room ceiling, never making it as far as the thermostat. The kitchen never got overly hot…and the A/C never had to work any harder to make up for the heat being pumped out of my oven.  In my blissful ignorance I baked and roasted my ways through the long hot summers, always a bit mystified when people in classes commented that they loved my summer pizzas, but they had no intention of turning their oven up to that kind of temperature in the summer.

Fast forward to my new home and kitchen….with its nice powerful convection oven and poorly placed house thermostat (in a small hall area right off the kitchen).   Even though the layout of the house is open, the ceilings are of a standard height.  That, coupled with a smaller space in general, makes it so the temperature in the house can quickly become overwhelmed by my nice powerful oven.  If I turn it on—even for a few minutes—the temperature in a good portion of the house begins to climb…and the A/C begins to run non-stop.  

I don’t share any of this to complain.  Rather, I mention it because it has forced me to become a bit more creative and efficient—which is always a good thing.  The worst issues were solved with a few strategically placed fans (at least turning on the oven doesn’t make the thermostat go up even when the A/C is running!).  I also plan now about when and how I will use my oven.  And as often as possible I double and triple up on tasks:  If the oven is on to make coffeecake (a non-negotiable essential), I toast nuts (in larger batches)…or roast a couple of ears of corn…or bake a bunch of beets.  This way, later in the week, when I want nuts or corn (or beets) for a cold salad, the oven doesn’t even come into play.  

Another change has been in the things I eat—choosing to eat something in its raw state rather than cooked.  Today’s salad is a case in point.  I have always added zucchini to pastas, salads, quichequesadillas…all summer long—almost always in its cooked form (roasted, broiled, sautéed, etc.).  When I have chosen to eat it raw I have always felt it necessary to shave it in long ribbons or thin and wide cross sections.  It’s delicious this way, but not always appropriate.

Recently I saw a salad of thick-ish batonnets of raw zucchini on the NY Times Instagram feed.  It included nuts…and herbs…and cheese…and a tangy dressing—but they were just garnish.  It was basically an all out raw zucchini experience.  I was intrigued…and a bit dubious…but I made a mental note to try it sometime.

Later in the week I was making a BLT for dinner and needed a quick side dish.  I had recently come into an abundance of zucchini.  I thought of that salad.  The vinaigrette for the salad was more involved than I wanted—and the salad included toasted almonds (I had raw…)—so I made a few changes.  I had some of the vinaigrette left that I always use on raw late spring/early summer vegetable salads and I thought it would do nicely.  And I used some toasted and salted sunflower seeds that I had on hand and wouldn’t require the oven.  It was delicious.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the soft crunch of the zucchini.  To be honest, I think the additional hard crunch of almonds would have been a bit much, so I was glad I had had to use the sunflower seeds instead.

In the days that have followed I have made this style of zucchini the base of my lunch time salad on several occasions.  I almost always add roasted corn (I keep it in a container in the fridge) and cherry tomatoes.  My nut of choice is walnuts (toasted in quantity, salted & oiled, and kept in my pantry), but occasionally I will use sunflower seeds.  Sometimes I use the shaved Pecorino called for in the recipe, but more often than not I opt for big crumbles of Feta.  Arugula makes a great addition…as does mint.  But if you don’t have either of these on hand, it is delicious without.  I’m guessing basil or parsley leaves would be good, too.  And that dressing I had on hand that first time?  It has become the standard.  I have since made a big batch.

It should be obvious that this is a highly adaptable salad. The main thing to keep in mind is the seasoning.  In looking at the recipe and in thinking of my own experience with raw vegetables in general—and zucchini in particular—it seemed to me that salt and acid are the keys to the success of the salad.  So a salty cheese, a tangy vinaigrette, and careful salting are a must.  If you don't have a salty cheese, some olives would be a good addition.  Other than that, feel free to improvise with ingredients—using a nice balance of crunchy, soft, and juicy ingredients.   As for quantities, the ones I’m giving in the recipe are just a guide.  I never weigh when I make this salad—I just add larger and smaller handfuls of the ingredients.  And that’s what you should do too.  The only reason there are weights and measures in my recipe is to give you a place to start.  The last time I made it, I weighed everything as I put it into the bowl for the purpose of posting a recipe.

I realize of course that most of the rest of the world has been having to make these summer cooking adjustments all along—that I was truly spoiled.  But that’s ok.  I have no desire to trade my new kitchen for my old.  I’ll just keep adjusting.  My next operation keep-the-house-cool project will be making friends with my neglected Weber.  Grilled pizza, here I come. 

Raw Zucchini Salad
With Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomatoes & Feta

For one lunch-sized salad (recipe multiplies easily):

1 small zucchini/summer squash (about 2 1/2 oz), cut into quarter-inch batonnets
1/2 c. (about 2 1/2 oz.) roasted corn kernels
1/2 c./2 oz. cherry tomatoes, quartered (or halved of very small)
A small handful/1/2 oz. arugula
20 g./3 T. toasted, oiled & salted walnuts, coarsely crumbled or 1 1/2 T. oiled and salted sunflower seeds
1 oz. crumbled Feta (used a good quality Feta packed in brine) or shaved Pecorino
Salt & Pepper
1 1/2 to 2 T. Basic Tangy Vinaigrette (below)

Place the first six ingredients in a bowl.  

Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette, toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning…adding more vinaigrette if you like.  Mound on a plate and serve!

  • Quantities should be to taste.  I have given amounts only as a starting point.  You should alter to suit your preferences and your palate.
  • Salad is delicious with a handful of fresh mint leaves.

Basic Tangy Vinaigrette:
1 T. finely minced shallot
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
3/4 c. oil—olive oil, or half olive oil and half vegetable oil
1 T. finely minced parsley

Place the shallot, garlic, vinegar, pepper and a half teaspoon of kosher salt in the cup of an immersion blender...or regular blender.  Let sit for five minutes.  Add the mustard. With the blender running, add the oil in a thin stream to form a thick, emulsified dressing.  Add the parsley and process briefly...or simply stir in.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Makes 1 cup vinaigrette.

The dressing keeps at least two weeks in the refrigerator.  If all olive oil is used, it will solidify under refrigeration and you will need to bring to room temperature before using.  When made with half vegetable oil it will still be pourable when cold.

Note: You may add the parsley with the Dijon...just be aware that your vinaigrette will have a pale green cast to it.

(Vinaigrette recipe from Cooking with the Seasons by Monique Jamet Hooker)

Printable Version


ProfMicken said...

Paige, This is delicious -- in all its many potential variations. Thank you for posting it. I've been eating this salad at least once a week since you did -- and it is the perfect lunch or dinner for the current hot, hot, hot weather.

Paige said...

Hi Kathy! I'm so glad you are enjoying it!! I's a perfect lunch...or side for dinner. Thank you for taking the time to let me know!

ProfMicken said...

Paige, Just an update to further rave about this salad! Some friends came to stay for three days when the hurricane shut down their power. The first night I served this salad (with the addition of chopped cucumbers because I have a surfeit of those right now). The salad was GONE by the end of the evening. So we made more the next day, with the same result. In the end, we had this salad three days in a row AND we made more for them to take home with them -- along with a link to the recipe. Clearly a resounding success!

Paige said...

Thank you Kathy! This is so nice to hear. I was sitting down to lunch when I saw your comment. I was eating this salad! I didn't have any arugula so I threw in a handful of torn basil leaves. It was delicious. The versatility of this salad really does make it a great recipe to have in your files. Thanks for sharing with your friends...and telling me!