The Many Faces of Zucchini

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Photos by Aglaia Kremezi


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Together with fresh fava beans, zucchinis are the most prolific vegetables in our garden; their giant leaves, dotted with nasty and hairy thorns, take up half our garden space, pinching the peppers into a corner. Fortunately, although frail-looking, the peppers manage to survive and bloom.

June is zucchini season for us in Kea, but I know that for most of you who live in the north it comes later in the summer. The pale green kolokythakia --"little zucchini" in Greek, as opposed to the larger kolokytha (squash or pumpkin)--are very tender if harvested early. If they are left on the plant, however, they soon grow large, their skin toughens, and their color changes to dark green.

This can happen unbelievably quickly, within a couple of days from the time they take shape, with their blossoms still open at the tip. The zucchini one buys at farmer's markets all over Greece are small and tender; people love simply to boil or steam them, finishing them with a garlicky vinaigrette.

I have chosen to give you recipes for some of my favorite, fast and easy zucchini dishes, in which I use every bit of our crop.

As with all seasonal produce, frugal Greek cooks have invented myriad dishes to put the plentiful zucchini from our gardens to good use. They are cooked either by themselves or together with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, often with staples like ground meat, bulgur, rice, or pasta. Stuffed zucchini, with or without meat, is often combined with dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), which adds an interesting tanginess to an otherwise sweet dish. These days in farmer's markets and supermarkets alike one can get round zucchini, once only available in Provence, which are ideal for stuffing.

I have chosen to give you recipes for some of my favorite, fast and easy zucchini dishes, in which I use every bit of our crop. I cannot even let the larger ones, those that have started to form seeds, go to waste. I peel their tough skin and then grate the flesh to make a crust-less pie or keftedes (meatballs). I often add some grated zucchini to the chicken pilaf I cook for the dogs (but I haven't given that recipe...).

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Photo by Aglaia Kremezi

Needless to say, batter-fried is the most delicious way to serve zucchini blossoms, which I stuff with a piece of feta cheese and a mint leaf. Throughout Greece and especially on the islands, zucchini blossoms are often filled with bulgur, rice, nuts, ground meat, and a variety of other ingredients. I prefer a simpler filling of feta and mint, which takes on a complex flavor when the blossoms are dipped in ouzo-scented batter and fried.

I first tasted the dish in Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos, at Hermes--a historic coffee and ouzo bar in the old market. As with all vegetable meze , batter-fried zucchini and the blossoms are brought to the table first in Greece. More substantial fish and seafood mezedes (plural for meze) follow.

One small tip if you decide to grow zucchini in your own garden: it's best to pick the blossoms early in the day, since the flowers close at night, which makes stuffing both more difficult and perhaps even dangerous. If they are closed, make sure no bees have camped out inside...

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Aglaia Kremezi writes about food in Greek, European, and American magazines, publishes books about Mediterranean cooking in the U.S. and Greece, and teaches cooking classes. More

Aglaia Kremezi has changed her life and her profession many times over. She currently writes about food in Greek, European and American magazines, publishes books about Greek and Mediterranean cooking in the US and in Greece, and teaches cooking to small groups of travelers who visit Kea. Before that she was a journalist and editor, writing about everything, except politics. She has been the editor in chief and the creator of news, women's, and life-style magazines, her last disastrous venture being a "TV guide for thinking people," a contradiction in terms, at least in her country. She studied art, graphic design, and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. For five years she taught photography to graphic designers while freelancing as a news and fashion photographer for Athenian magazines and newspapers. Editors liked her extended captions more than the pieces the journalists submitted for the events she took pictures for, so she was encouraged to do her own stories, gradually becoming a full time journalist and editor. You can visit her website at www.keartisanal.com.


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