Zucchini, poor zucchini, your popularity fades as soon as the other fruits of summer appear at the markets. Who wants to eat zucchini when the eggplants are nice and plump, and can’t wait to be roasted and savored in style? Even my husband was unprecedentedly supportive when I started writing this post. “Hm, why are you repeating yourself? Have you not already written about zucchini?” pointing to the 2 year old post about infamous zucchini fritters of my mother-in-law that I shamelessly deconstructed. Telling you: zucchini, poor zucchini..
I used to be judgmental about zucchini too. I remember how the vegetable was a foreigner at my grandma’s garden as I was growing up, but as soon as we discovered how easy it was to cultivate it no summer would pass without a few 3-5 kg pale green thick-skinned zucchinis. Mostly they would be a stew – with some onion, tomato and maybe carrot – I never was looking forward to. As I grew up and started living abroad zucchini followed me all over the world: I could buy long dark green zucchinis at the Danish and Norwegian supermarkets and their shorter versions at the markets of Delhi and the farmer’s market in Ukraine. Always the cheapest vegetable available zucchini had become a part of my diet that I have never developed a liking for: after all, how much could you demand from a bland and watery vegetable?
And then I came to Turkey where a lot of my food obsessions were evoked including the interest in zucchinis. First were the said zucchini fritters of my mother-in-law. The fritters is one of those dishes that makes you wonder as you eat it – what has happened to the zucchini? In Russia there is a fairytale of a soldier who shocked his mean hosts by making a stew out of axe, the only ingredient he had at disposal until he asked for a bit of butter, a handful of grains and so on. The is what the zucchini fritters are – a stew out of axe. To the neutral zucchini you add pungent fresh cheese ala feta, fresh herbs and black pepper, and it is not surprising that the resulting dish can be a highlight of a menu at a fancy restaurant such as Lokanta Maya renown for their mücver (to those who have not tried my mother-in-law’s version).
Back to zucchini though. It was a meal cooked by one of the women in our family that have finally converted me into the zucchini faith and convinced that it could be a self-sufficient and even noble ingredient. I was coming to Sapanca with a journalist from a Qatari glossy and asked Melihat Abla, mother of my husband’s young cuisine, to prepare a simple lunch for us. Melihat Abla stayed with us for a few months last summer and immediately took me under her wing: I think her sympathy was not at least based on the fact we shared the same role in this family – gelin (bride), only that she has been one for a few decades and I had just started my career of accommodating to the rules and customs at the house of my mother-in-law.
So Melihat Abla prepared a glorious summer lunch with a lentil soup and zucchini stew followed up with the ice-cold watermelon that we all enjoyed alfresco under the walnut tree. That zucchini stew .. she picked up a yellow slightly sweet vegetable and cut it into chunks to cook it with tomato in plenty of olive oil. Soft, a bit sweet in the comforting yet light sauce that zucchini was a meal to remember. It was hard to stop myself from asking for the third(!) serving.
For the long time I have been attributing the success of that dish to the kind of zucchini Melihat Abla used. Until we had our first of the three lunches at the celebrated canteen Sultan Sofrası in Antakya where among the many carnivore specialties I spotted the zucchini stew and ordered it without much expectations. The dish that arrived to the table immediately brought the memories of the home-cooked meal: soft green zucchini, nutty chickpeas and the sweetness that – as I later learned – came from the use of pomegranate molasses, one of the signature ingredients in the Antakyan cuisine. Often this dish is made with chucks of meat, but I enjoyed the vegetarian version enough to try to recreate it at home. With very satisfying results.
Zucchini does not look so underrated any more when ennobled by the tart with a tint of sweetness pomegranate molasses and spiced up harissa. Replace the molasses with lemon juice and a tad of honey; use tomato paste, if don’t have harissa at hand (even though I highly recommend making some).
Source: Inspired by the meal at Sultan Sofrası, Antakya
Prep Time: 10 Min
Cook Time: 40 Min
Total Time: 50 Min
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 1 large clove garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp homemade harissa paste (replace with tomato paste)
- 1 medium tomato peeled and diced
- 500 gram baby zucchini trimmed and cut into 3mm or 1/8″ slices
- 100 ml water
- 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas (useful note on how to make sure you always have some handy)
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- fine sea salt to taste
- pinch dry mint for seasoning
- pinch red pepper flakes for seasoning
- In a medium size cooking pot warm up the olive oil and simmer onion and garlic on the medium heat until golden, or about 5-6 min. Right after stir in the harissa paste and let simmer for 1-2 minutes. Now add the diced tomato and cook for 3-4 minutes for the juices to release and start mingling. Then toss in baby zucchini slices, salt, water, bring to boil, reduce the heat to minimum and let simmer covered for about 15 min. Check the dish midway: there has to be plenty of the cooking liquid at the bottom, if not – add more water. After 15 min, add the cooked chickpeas, pomegranate molasses and taste for salt, adjust the seasoning if required. Continue cooking covered for about 15 min more, or until the zucchini is nicely soft. Season with dry mint and red pepper flakes and let sit covered for 10 minutes or so before serving. Serve warm or cold with a generous helping of thick yoghurt or cacık.