Zucchini is a plain Jane, but that should not sully its reputation. In fact, we should give a shout-out (or even celebrate it, on Aug. 8, National Zucchini Day) to the prolific summer squash for being “meh.”
By being bland, zucchini lets every ingredient that it teams up with shine, while it asserts itself without even uttering a whisper or throwing a tantrum. It gives body to whatever the dish might be, from soups to muffins to breads, and is amenable to any method of preparation, from baked to fried, to grilled to simply sautéed.
It also surprises with texture, flavor and appearance. For instance, zucchini pasta is a favorite with the gluten-sensitive eaters and low-carb fanatics for being a stand-in for spaghetti and fettuccine. And it can look fetching at a dinner party when it appears as a roulade filled with goat cheese, fresh cream, rice, mushroom and herbs.
Then there are the many ways of making zucchini fritters. Just like in a latke, the squash is grated and mixed with eggs, flour, maybe cheese and seasoned with salt and pepper. The pancake-ish fritters are served with a yogurt sauce or a thick chutney made with onion, garlic and chilies or a sauce made with lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic and basil leaves.
Among the standouts are the Turkish zucchini fritters, aka Kabak Mücveri. They are like none other because finely chopped zucchini is gussied up with mint, dill and feta cheese. The herbs elevate the flavor while the feta adds a piquancy to the pancakes, which can be served as meze or as a light lunch item with bread or salad.
When you finely cut the squash, be sure to drain any excess water because it will prevent the pancakes from absorbing more oil when sautéed, and it will be easier to flip them over in the pan. Also, don’t overcrowd the sauté pan when cooking the fritter as they might break apart when you turn them over.
Recipe from “Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon,” by Claudia Roden (Knopf, $37.50, 352 pages)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for pan frying
1 pound zucchini, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Black pepper, to taste
Dash of salt
2 to 3 sprigs mint, chopped
2 to 3 sprigs dill, chopped
6 to 7 ounces crumbled feta cheese
Sauté onion in 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat until it is soft and lightly colored. Add zucchini and sauté, stirring, until they, too, are soft.
In a bowl, beat eggs with flour until well blended. Add pepper and salt and herbs; mix well. Fold feta into the eggs. Spoon in the onion-zucchini mixture. Don’t add the liquid released from the zucchini while cooking.
Film the bottom of a nonstick frying pan with oil over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of mixture for one fritter and leave enough space around each fritter for flipping it. Cook until both sides are slightly brown. Drain on paper towels and serve.