Zucchini and cucumbers

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s true. Anything you can do with cucumbers, you can do with zucchini. And anything you do with zucchini can be done with cucumbers. Both vegetables are plentiful now at the farmers’ market and local farm stands.

Yes, we usually eat cucumbers raw in salads while zucchini is cooked. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

These two vegetables have quite different histories. Zucchini, like all squash, originated in the Western hemisphere. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in Central America and are part of the traditional Three Sisters (beans, corn, and squash). Cucumbers are native to India, where they were eaten as raitas, cooling refreshers in the summer heat. They’re used in other dishes as well, like curries and dhals. From India, they traveled east to central Asia, Egypt, and Europe, where they became popular as pickles and salads.

Health and diet-wise, both cucumbers and zucchini contain lots of fiber, thus cleansing the digestive tract. Both contain lots of water (95%), which makes them hydrating and very low in calories. Cucumbers are a good source of vitamins B1, B2 and C, and minerals calcium and iron. Zucchini contain potassium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, vitamins C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), folate and riboflavin.

Zucchini and cucumbers are both cucurbits (part of the Cucurbitaceae plant family). All cucurbits are warm-weather, frost-sensitive plants.

In the kitchen, they can be used interchangeably. Both are very versatile. Add them at the last minute to stir-fries, because they don’t require long cooking. Stir them into salads of fresh greens as well as potato, pasta, grain or rice salads. In Greece, they’re the main ingredient of tzatziki sauce or soup.

They are easy to prepare and can be eaten raw or cooked in a myriad of ways. When cooked, their delicate flavor complements poultry, eggs or fish. Both can be stir-fried, sauteed, steamed, boiled, fried, baked, roasted, broiled, microwaved or grilled, but don’t overcook; it’s best when still a bit crisp. In cooler weather, shredded zucchini and cucumbers can be stirred into baked goods like breads and muffins.

Summer fare calls for fresh, light meals that don’t heat up the house by using the oven and don’t require standing long over a hot stove. Both cukes and zukes are great in salads and skillet dishes. The most time-consuming part is slicing and dicing the vegetables. Cook pasta, grain or potatoes to go with the dish. Here are a couple ideas.

Skillet Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 piece salmon about 2/3 to 3/4 pound

Salt & pepper (about 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper or to your taste)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 onion

1 large cucumber

1 garlic clove or garlic scape, minced or sliced fine

1 Tablespoon dill weed

2/3 cup plain yogurt

2 cups arugula

Directions:

Heat oil in skillet. Sprinkle salmon with salt & pepper. Cook over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes on each side or just until flakes easily with a fork. Spritz with a little squeeze of lemon, remove from pan & set aside.

Peel and dice the onion; add to same skillet & sprinkle lightly with salt. Cook 5 minutes.

Peel and dice the cucumber; mince the garlic. Add to the onion and cook 5 to 7 minutes longer.

Remove from heat; stir in dill and yogurt.

Place arugula on plates. Cut the salmon in half and place on top. Top with a generous portion of the cucumber sauce.

Serves 2. Serve with boiled potatoes or with artisan bread or baguette.

Zucchini salad

Ingredients:

4 small zucchini (I used 2 yellow, 2 green)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Lemon zest from one lemon

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup pesto (I used garlic scape pesto)

3 cups loose arugula greens

1 or 2 tomatoes

1 to 2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, optional

Directions:

Shred or thinly slice zucchini (a salad shooter or food processor works great).

In bowl, sprinkle zucchini with salt and pepper; stir to combine. Grate in the lemon zest; stir to combine again. Squeeze in lemon or lime juice and stir. Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the pesto.

Place arugula on plates; top with zucchini. Top with diced tomatoes and feta cheese, if using.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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