Summer produce is poetry for the mouth. At the peak of ripeness, fruits and vegetables are rich in flavor, their tastes a harmonious complexity, replete with healthy vitamins and minerals. As poetry sings in the mind, summer produce will sing in the mouth.
Summer produce is best when ripe, recently picked and eaten raw. Here’s an experiment to test the truth of that statement. Try it with zucchini because they are everywhere. Pick one from a vine in your garden or a friend’s and immediately taste it. Store the experience in your taste memory. Pick two more zucchini. Keep one for two days, then taste and compare it to your memory of the fresh-picked one. Keep the other for 5 or 6 days, taste and compare. Even with the mild taste of zucchini, the difference will be apparent. With a more intensely flavored vegetable such as corn, the difference will be stunning.
From childhood, I was a fan of raw. Not my mother. I would plead with her to have my serving of veggies raw. Sometimes she would shake her head in incomprehension and sometimes in denial as, back then, many thought cooked veggies were healthier. But I loved the snap produced by a bite of a raw green bean, the burst of juice, the full flavor and crunch as I chewed. The same held for peas which tasted so very different from cooked. And corn - I could in no way understand why the adults took a delicious, sweet cob of corn, tossed it in a pot and boiled the flavor to death, replacing the rich sweetness with a shroud of earth-like bitterness. I still prefer most vegetables raw, at least in summer when farm markets pick them when ripe and fully flavored.
The full flavor of produce picked when ripe and quickly eaten is not just a matter of taste. Vitamin, mineral and enzyme levels are, for many veggies and fruits, greater when raw compared to cooked. Some vitamins, notably C, are lost when cooked. There are some exceptions; for example, lycopene, important to cardiovascular health, shows higher levels when tomatoes are cooked.
I am doing two blog posts with recipes showing off the beauty of raw vegetables. Both involve vegetables with which we are all familiar, but typically in cooked form. The first, covered here, is zucchini which is rather mild in flavor. In three weeks I’ll post one on corn, which is much more robust in flavor.
Part 1 - Zucchini
Beloved by some, sometimes deemed bland, but everyone agrees, one of the most prolific of garden veggies. Actually, zucchini is not a vegetable; it’s a fruit that is categorized as summer squash. It ranges in color from dark green to yellow. Skin, seeds and flesh are all edible. While people are most familiar with cooked zucchini, especially sautéed and grilled, raw zucchini is tasty enough and lends itself to a variety of flavors and courses.
Appetizer Zucchini Cup with Smoked Salmon
Like a pretty pastel drawing. The zucchini cup has a dark green boundary around a white edge. The filling of smoked salmon supplies the pinkish center. As for taste artistry, there are texture and taste contrasts. The zucchini crunches; the soft filling meltingly diffuses across one’s taste buds. The zucchini - slightly sweet, slightly grassy - combines happily with the mixture of smoky, salty salmon mixed with tart components. Makes about 15. Ingredients 2 ounces whipped cream cheese 2 tablespoons sour cream 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise 1 teaspoon lemon zest 2 tablespoons dill, chopped fine 1 tablespoon minced red onion 2 ounces smoked salmon (preferably wild), chopped 1 tablespoon drained capers 3 young zucchini, cut into 5 1-inch sections Preparation
Mix together all ingredients except the salmon and capers. Then gently stir in the salmon and capers.
With the small end of a melon scoop, scoop out the center of each 1-inch section of zucchini, leaving the bottom intact and the green skin and a small edge of white flesh. Stuff the hollow with the salmon mixture.
Soup Zucchini Gazpacho
Just looking at this soup refreshes; its taste follows through with tart and zesty elements. Serves 4 Ingredients 2 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed 2 cups reduced fat buttermilk 4 young green zucchini, chopped 2 cups coriander leaves, loosely packed 2 garlic cloves, grated 4 tablespoons lime juice 1 teaspoon lime zest 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper Preparation
Soak the bread in the buttermilk for 5-10 minutes.
Put the bread, buttermilk and all other ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Salad Multi-Color Zucchini with Tomatoes, Basil and Pistachios
Color, color, color. That’s summer and colorful a summer salad should be. All those colors mean lots of tastes and lots of healthy vitamins and minerals. Pistachio nuts and vinaigrette add distinctness to the mix. Serves 4 Ingredients 3 tablespoons pistachio oil 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar Salt and pepper to taste 1 young green zucchini, cut in thin slices 1 young yellow zucchini, cut in thin slices 10-12 grape tomatoes, cut in thin slices 2 scallions, white part only, cut in thin slices 5-6 basil leaves, cut in thin strips 1/3 cup roasted, salted pistachios Preparation
Make vinaigrette. Combine pistachio oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
Place remaining ingredients in bowl and mix with vinaigrette. Serve on individual plates.