Catbird Griddle

  (Angelica, New York)

Food Scavenger July: Cukes and Zukes

I had planned to write July's food scavenger column about wild black raspberries, river mint, and pineapple weed (western NY's version of chamomile)--all currently ripe on roadsides and sun-dappled riverbanks all around us. But then I realized I was off-track. While these foods are ostensibly cost-free, raspberry brambles aren't exactly great for those summertime legs, and the herbs don't exactly feed the family.

So the plan has changed.If you're scavenging for food this month in western NY, your best bet isn't the woods or roadside ditches, it's the pickup loaded with bushel baskets jutting out of a driveway or the farmstand with a handmade sign out front:

ZUCCHINIS, 5 for $1

That's right: the garden glut is upon farmers and backyard gardeners across this land and if you're looking for cheap, healthy food in substantial quantities, you can find it without getting thorny or dirty or bitten by mosquitoes.

Of course, if you happen to be one of those people whose garden is suddenly overrun with oblong crops threatening to morph into full-sized baseball bats overnight, you are rolling your eyes right now. Last night, like me, you ate summer squash improv #212 (herbed zephyr squash crepes, in my case: grated onion and squash, garlic, olive oil and thyme sauteed and wrapped with a pinch of parmesan cheese in a simple chive crepe that is easier to prep than a pancake), and you have zucchini bread in the oven as you read this (Ithaca's Moosewood's recipe is our favorite).

But if you are reading this and you aren't staggering under such bounty, you can easily share in the wealth. Here are a few quick, super-easy, inexpensive recipes to help you serve up the fresh, healthful food you've scrounged for almost nothing.

Zucchini Pan "Pizza" (kids will fall for this--or ours did anyway)

Olive oil
Zucchinis and/or summer squash sliced in 1/4 inch rounds (enough to cover your pan with two layers)
Cheese (parmesan or cheddar work great)
Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Directions: In a large frying pan (that has a lid or something you can use to cover it), saute zucchini slices in olive oil until they reach desired tenderness. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Distribute evenly across the pan, sprinkle with cheese, cover and wait. When the cheese has melted, it's ready to serve hot (put the frying pan right on the table to maintain heat).

Cold Cucumber Soup (we refrigerate this in a juice pitcher and serve it in paper cups at family picnics)

3-4 large cucumbers, peeled or not (depending on your preference)
2 c. chicken broth (bouillon works fine for this)
2 t. curry powder
salt & pepper to taste
2-3 c. lowfat plain yogurt
  • Directions: Process cucumbers until smooth in a food processor (do this in batches in you need to). Transfer ground cucumber to a large bowl, unless it still fits in your processor, in which case, you can continue to blend in the processor. Add broth, curry powder, salt & pepper, and yogurt and combine. Chill and serve.

Cucumber-Mint Raita (a cold, refreshing Indian salad often served with spicy foods)

1 small onion finely chopped or grated (approx. 1/4 c.)
2-3 cucumbers chopped (2 c.)
1 bunch mint chopped (maybe 1/4 c.), leaving some aside for garnish
2-3 c. lowfat plain yogurt (Greek yogurt works well here too) stirred until smooth
optional: 2 t. cumin seeds
  • Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl, garnish with mint "confetti," chill.
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