The last of this summer’s zucchini are hanging around the kitchen. These stragglers aren’t ideal for eating raw – they need a blanch to get them tender, or a fry up to enliven their middles.
Zucchini plants are known for the generosity of their progeny. Turns out, their fruit are just as giving with their adaptability.
I keep a notebook filled with entries of what I’ve been cooking. It has scribbles describing a satisfying soup. Imagine Stracciatella alla Romana meets Italian Wedding: wilted greens, tiny and tender chicken meatballs and Parmesan-seasoned egg, but also sauteéd zucchini, in pretty jadeite cubes, contributing vegetal heft.
There’s a page devoted to zucchini half fried/half roasted in our wood oven, that is to say, cooked in a bath of olive oil in which red chilies loll and red onion slivers are lax. Served at the table with a shower of torn basil and mint, and drops of champagne vinegar, all it needs is crusty bread to be declared a triumph.
Finally, a mention of zucchini butter, which isn’t butter at all, but shredded flesh cooked in a generous amount of butter on the lowest of heats, so it softens and sweetens. It is revelatory with seeded crackers and goat’s cheese.
Since my sons are back in school, I’m on fervent lookout for lunchbox options to keep their meals varied and me from falling into a sandwich routine. To that end, I augmented their tried-and-true falafel with grated zucchini. The result, fritters that were loosely crumbed and hearty without being dense, with a slightly rumpled texture thanks to threads of zucchini offering a tenderness against the traditional chickpeas.
The recipe, heady with herbs and only a subtle suggestion of chili, are vegan and gluten-free; they can be deep fried entirely, or browned briefly in oil then cooked through in a hot oven.
Afternoons I serve them hot from the fryer, as snacks with tahini sauce, toum (a Lebanese garlic sauce), harissa, tzatziki, salsa verde or hummus – really, whatever dunkable condiment I have in the fridge. Later in the evening, I present them with sliced cucumbers, radish, feta and pickled onions, to be eaten with pita and a green sauce made from the same herbs as the falafel, smoothed out with pistachios and avocado. The next day, as leftovers, they might be spread into a bun with lettuce and tomato, or left whole and packed with the last of the dips. They’ll be the latest entry in my notebook.
By the way, for this dish, roasting whole coriander, cumin and fennel seeds then grinding them fresh is my preference; use a slightly generous measure of the quantities below then toast in a dry pan.
Ingredients (makes 24 falafel)
For the falafel
- 2 zucchini (about 10 ounces)
- Medium-grain kosher salt
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
- ½ cup loosely packed cilantro, leaves and tender stems
- ½ cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 small red chili, stemmed, or dried chile flakes to taste
- 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground fennel
- Chickpea flour (besan), cornstarch, or flour, if needed
- Oil, for frying
Green sauce (makes about 1½ cups)
- ¼ cup raw pistachios, cashews, or tahini
- ¾ cup loosely packed cilantro, leaves and tender stems
- ¾ cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- A few sprigs of mint, optional
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
- 1 serrano or jalapeno chili, stemmed and seeds removed if desired
- 1 avocado
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup olive oil, avocado oil, pistachio oil or something neutral, plus more as needed
- Cold water, as needed
- Medium grain kosher salt, as needed
- Start with the falafel. Using the large grating blade of a food processor, shred the zucchini, sending it through the feed tube with minimum pressure (this keeps the strands wispy). Strew the zucchini across a lint-free kitchen towel. Salt lightly, gently press another towel atop and set aside. After 30 minutes, roll the package into a tight cylinder, hold for 30 seconds, then unfurl.
- Without cleaning the food processor, affix the metal blade. Blend the green onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley and chili to a paste. Drain the soaked chickpeas and tumble into the processor bowl. Pulse the chickpeas to a rough rubble. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Shake in the ground spices and salt, then the squeezed zucchini and pulse again briefly – 3 to 5 bursts. Hold a spoonful of the falafel mixture into our hand. It should damply hold together. If dry, miserly drip in water. If wet, add chickpea flour to tighten it up.
- Using a 2-tablespoon spring-loaded scoop or two spoons, form the mix into balls. You should get about 24.
- As you roll falafel, heat 3 inches of oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan or deep fryer to 330 F. Set a cooling rack over a sheet pan with paper towels on top.
- Working in batches, fry the falafel, turning regularly, until golden brown on all sides, around 5 minutes. Drain on the kitchen towels and season with salt. Let the falafel cool as you get the sauce together.
- Pulse the pistachios in the food processor until finely chopped (if using the tahini, add later, with the avocado). Stop the machine, drop in the cilantro, parsley, mint, garlic and serrano into the bowl and pulse until you have a multicoloured confetti. Scoop in the avocado flesh, juice from half of the lemon and purée. With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil, followed by enough cold water to achieve a loose, pourable sauce. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl, taste and season generously with salt, taste again. The sauce should be balanced with heat, acidity and salt. Squeeze in more lemon juice if needed. Decant to a serving dish and offer alongside falafel, with other accoutrements as desired.