There are two very different cousins of the squash and melon family working together here. One is seldom cooked (and seldom should be), and one is most commonly cooked to some degree, usually on a hot grill in the summer. They are strikingly similar in appearance and easy to confuse; they are both harvested amply during the same time (mid-summer). They aren’t often served together in a dish, but here take off their fighting gloves and go with one preparation (raw) in perfect harmony.
I don’t think it could work the other way around. The idea of tossing cucumbers on a hot grill to accumulate char marks and soak up oils is a little scary, if you ask me. And with the weather as hot as it’s been these past couple weeks, standing over a hot grill is about the last thing I’d like to do. I’m sure we’ll find ourselves in this situation plenty of times over the summer, in good company to ease the burn (as I have about four times last week), but as long as I’m making a simple lunch or dinner side, I’ll stick with a cooling salad, or slaw, with the best of the season’s bounty.
zucchini and a lone kirby cucumber
firm yet sweet nectarines
We’ve seen the arrival of peaches at the Greenmarket, now the whole gamut of stone fruit (plums, apricots, nectarines) has joined the fray. I love how smooth and crisp nectarines are, just a little underripe for maximum tartness. They’re perfect to slice finely without oozing too much juice onto the cutting board, and hold their shape better than peaches and plums. Nectarines are often thought to be a hybrid of the latter two stone fruits, and although they might seem a great intersection of both their qualities, are actually just another type of peach, originating from China (like peaches, they can also be white or yellow-fleshed, and have freestone or “cling” pits).
slicing the zucchini into thin ribbons
I really don’t think you need to have a mandoline or fancy slicing apparatus to make thin shreds of zucchini, cucumber, red onion and nectarine for this dish. For the zucchini only, I sliced extra-thin sheets with an archaic wooden mandoline I found at an antique store. Afterward, I piled them into a neat stack and sliced them into fine threads with a knife. The cucumber was peeled and removed of its watery seed pocket, and if you slice a cucumber too thinly you’ll just have created a mess of pulp. So best to slice those up by hand with a regular ol’ knife (unless you’re using a particularly dense variety of them, such as Romanian or Persian cucumbers). The nectarines, unpeeled, were simply cut away from the pit and slivered. The flesh surrounding the pit is a snack for the chef.
before the toss
This colorful salad may need very little embellishment — a squeeze of some fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and a shower of fresh mint. But I think a small dab of whole-grain mustard takes it to another level in taste. Fortunately, my friend Anna, the mustard lady, was in town last weekend for a special event, and I scored a couple fresh packs of her homemade mustard, which I’d been running out of. While she transitions to a larger production facility, My Friend’s Mustard is currently not available in stores; however, some great local, artisanal mustards are, such as the whole-grain Tin Mustard and McClure’s. You can check out a round-up of locally-made condiments including those two and more that I wrote about recently for BK Mag.
This slaw-like salad travels well, and can be at your next potluck or barbecue. You can bulk it up with shredded cabbage to make it even more of a coleslaw, or add shredded radishes, carrots, or bell pepper, if you want. The more colorful, the merrier.
Fresh Zucchini and Cucumber Slaw with Nectarines & Mint
(makes about 4-6 servings)
2 medium zucchini (or summer squash), ends trimmed
1 medium cucumber, peeled and ends trimmed
1/4 medium-small red onion, finely sliced
2 firm nectarines
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
handful fresh mint leaves, torn
salt and pepper to taste
Finely slice the zucchini lengthwise into oblong slices (or use a mandoline to shave off uniform, thin slices). Stack the zucchini into two neat piles and cut into fine ribbons using a chef’s knife. Halve the cucumber lengthwise. Scoop out the seed pockets with a spoon. Finely slice the cucumber, stack the pieces, and cut into long ribbons. Finely slice the 1/4 of red onion.
Cut as much flesh from the nectarine away from the pit, rotating it on four sides. Finely slice the pit-free nectarine flesh. Eat the parts that cling to the pit.
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss all the vegetables thoroughly with the dressing. Garnish with the mint leaves for serving.
(for 4-6 servings)
2 zucchini (at $2/lb): $1.50
1 cucumber (at $3/lb): $1.25
2 nectarines (at $3/lb): $2.00
1/4 red onion: $0.30
1/2 lemon: $0.25
2 teaspoons mustard: $0.25
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.30
fresh mint leaves (from house plant), salt and pepper: $0.30
Two brownie points: Sunny and vibrant, this salad smacks of good nutrition. Fresh zucchini, while pale-fleshed, have a lot more vitamins than meet the eye; it’s low in calories and has potassium, calcium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. The more watery cucumber, stripped of its nutritious peel, has a cooling effect along with fiber and folate. The fresh nectarines provide a burst of Vitamin C along with natural sugars, which is why no added sugars are needed for this slaw.
Eight maple leaves: Again, a basket of local fruits and veggies, straight from the farmers market. This satisfying vegan side dish is healthy on the environment, too, making use of abundant ingredients that are now in season — and if you have a vegetable patch, you can easily grow the zucchini and cucumber, too.