Zucchini aren’t pretty, don’t stand out in a produce aisle, and don’t get as fussed over in gardens as tomatoes or berries, but these summer squash are peerless in reducing your waistline and budget.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly impressed four years ago when my wife told me that she was planting zucchini in our garden. I’d grown up in an Italian-American household in New Jersey where zucchini took a back row in my grandfather’s garden behind tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, oregano, and even mint. If my family could use any other produce, it would, and the zucchini would either wither on the vine or be eliminated from a year of planting entirely.
But today, this versatile fruit is a garden staple in our home and a vital part of both out diet and our weekly produce bill. A summer squash of the curcubita pepo species, the zucchini has its roots in the Americas and was developed in Italy in the early 1900s after being brought over in the mid-19th century, only to come back in its newest form when Italians immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s.
Based on that background, my family should’ve loved it and I should have known more about it than I did during our first zucchini harvest in 2014. My wife had grown a bed of zucchini from a 3-gram, $3 bag of seeds from Territorial Seed and the plants just wouldn’t stop producing. Each day she looked beneath the leaves, another fully-formed zucchini would show up. By the time she reached some of them, they were so overgrown and woody that they were good for little but decor.
We ended up with wheelbarrows full of them, which led to a question: What do you do with zucchini? Well, at their prime eating size, zucchini have all of 31 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrates, with 2 grams of that coming from dietary fiber. They have minimal sugar content, minimal fat, and 58 percent of your recommended daily dose of Vitamin C.
That all sounds great, but we struggled to find a use for them. Cutting them into spears and grilling them was a fine option, but they lack all that much flavor of their own and tended to just turn into seasoned sides. We would bake zucchini rounds as side dishes, but it felt as if we could be doing a lot more. When we decided to start eliminating carbohydrates from our diet, we discovered that we could do a lot more with them.
It turns out that zucchini’s rigid-but-pliable structure makes it an excellent substitute for pasta when drained. Using a spiral slicer (the only one you’ll need is all of $7 on Amazon), we began experimenting with pasta and stir-fry recipes and taking flour and whole-grain noodles out of the equation.
Not only was home-grown zucchini less expensive than a $1 box of spaghetti or linguine at Safeway, but one zucchini (79 cents at Safeway, by the way) produced roughly as many noodles as a pound of pasta while containing a fraction of that box of pasta’s 200 calories and 42 carbohydrates. It also turns out that a simple mandoline slicer ($5 at Amazon) can turn zucchini into flat lasagna noodles without the $2.19 price tag at Safeway or the 200 calories and 42 carbs. While some cooks will note that eggplant can perform the same function as eggplant parmigiana, zucchini doesn’t have eggplant’s 132 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, or whopping 13 grams of sugar.
As others note, however, “zoodles” are the least of zucchini’s healthier uses. Sure, it helps a great deal with pasta dishes, but its health benefits extend to riced zucchini (which we’ll admit is second only to riced cauliflower as a replacement), zucchini fries, and, our favorite, shredded zucchini that can substitute for flour ($3.29 for five pounds and 110 calories, 22 carbohydrates) in a baking recipe. We’ve even used them as a substitute for tortillas ($3.99 for 16, with 144 calories, 4 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 293 milligrams of sodium) in enchiladas.
There are a lot of ways to cut the grocery bill or go low-carb, but the zucchini gives you the most for the least. Plant starts are roughly $5 at Home Depot if you don’t have the patience for seeds. Meanwhile, just one plant will produce six to 10 pounds of zucchini in a single growing season.
To give you a better idea of what we’ll be making from our zucchini patch this year and what’s possible from your crop, here are just a few recipes from our recipe book to get you started.
- 3 cups chicken
- 2 tsp chili powder
- Kosher salt
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce, red
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 large onion
- 4 large zucchini
- 1 tbsp olive oil, extra-virgin
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup shredded monterrey jack cheese
- Sour cream for drizzling
- Fresh cilantro for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion and season with salt. Cook until soft, 5 minutes, then add garlic, cumin and chili powder and stir until combined. Add shredded chicken and 1 cup enchilada sauce and stir until saucy.
2. On a cutting board, make thin slices of zucchini with a vegetable peeler. Lay out three, slightly overlapping, and place a spoonful of chicken mixture on top. Roll up and transfer to a baking dish. Repeat with remaining zucchini and chicken mixture.
3. Spoon remaining 1/3 cup enchilada sauce over zucchini enchiladas and sprinkle with both cheeses.
4. Bake until melted, 20 minutes.
5. Garnish with sour cream and cilantro and serve.
Thai Chicken Zucchini Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Source: Joyful Healthy Eats
- 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil
- 1 lb. of chicken tenders, diced
- 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil
- 2 zucchini, inspiralized
- 1 large carrot, inspiralized
- 1 red pepper, julienned
- 1/3 cup of bean sprouts
- 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro, diced
- 1/4 cup of green onions, diced
- Sesame seeds (for garnish)
For spicy peanut sauce:
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4 tablespoons of peanut butter
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 tablespoons of coconut aminos (or tamari sauce)
- 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1. In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, peanut butter, coconut aminos, lime juice, ground ginger, and red pepper flakes. Set aside. (Note: If you use tamari sauce, use 2 tablespoons instead of 3.)
2. Heat a large skillet to medium high heat. Add grape seed oil and chicken tenders. Saute each side for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit. Dice when cooled.
3. In the same large skillet over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of grape seed oil, zucchini noodles, and carrot noodles. Flash stir fry for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Remove noodles and place in large bowl along with chicken, red pepper, bean sprouts, fresh cilantro, green onions, and spicy peanut sauce. Toss till all noodles are coated.
5. Serve and garnish with sesame seeds.
Cheesy Garlic Zucchini Bread (or Biscuits)
- 3 cups flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 3/4 cup shredded cheddar
- 1/4 cup green onion
- 1 tablespoon of fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dry dill
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
1. Set oven to 350 degrees; combine dry ingredients.
2. Combine zucchini, cheese, onion and dill.
3. Toss both mixes together to coat zucchini.
4. Whisk eggs, butter, and milk together. Mix with dry mix until just combined.
5. Bake in small bread loaf pan for 30 minutes, regular bread loaf pan for 50 minutes, or in biscuits on baking sheet for 15 minutes.