On kids, zucchini, and an experiment with pizza soup
A few weeks ago, when I made zucchini blueberry bread with my friends’ kids, it was revealed that one of them didn’t care much for zucchini in its non-dessert incarnations, seeing as how it was a vegetable and all. So I challenged myself to invent some kid-friendly zucchini dishes to see if I could get him to enjoy it and include it in his list of things he might — might — consider eating.
As part of my strategy, I contemplated the things about zucchini that kids might not like, and came to the conclusion that its mushy texture might be one of the major turnoffs. To counter this, I chose to make a salad using raw zucchini and a soup in which the mushy texture would be a non-issue. (I also thought I might like to make a version of mac ‘n’ cheese with grated, sautéed zucchini in it, but that’s an experiment for another day.)
On the appointed evening, I arrived at the testing site, where the Human Subjects (males ages 5, 9, and 11) had just bought a smorgasbord of candy in anticipation of spending the evening watching The Simpsons and a Red Sox game. I made the dressing for the salad (see recipe below) while my friend Chris sliced and quartered the zucchini, then tossed the salad in a cup of the dressing and let it sit for about 30 minutes so the zucchini could take up the flavor of the dressing a bit and the raisins would have a chance to plump up.
My notion about the soup was to use all the flavors normally found in pizza, and then top the soup with a piece of cheese toast covered in melted parmesan and mozzarella. I made the soup with an onion, canned fire-roasted chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, kidney beans for protein and heft, and zucchini. I seasoned it with an “Italian Mix” of dried herbs from a jar: oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme. I thought about adding chopped black olives and fennel seed for an extra-pizza-ish flavor, but decided to stick to the kid-friendly basics the first time around. I toasted the cheese on the slices of bread in the oven.
Fortunately, I also had the foresight to bring two frozen pizzas so that nobody would go hungry if the experiment was a total flop.
Human Subject B (male, age 9) confessed to me that he is “not a salad fan.” I said, “Well, in that case, can I interest you instead in some chopped zucchini that just happens to be tossed in a dressing for no particular reason?” “Um, no thank you,” he replied politely, smiling pityingly at my lame attempt to put a spin on the irrefutably salad-type nature of the dish. (Karl Rove, where are you when we really need you?!)
Human Subject A (male, age 11) gamely tried the zucchini salad. “Oh, wow!” he said when he tasted it. “It’s sweet!” “Yes,” I replied, “I put orange juice and honey in it.” Then he asked, “How come the raisins are so big?” I explained the wonders of rehydration.
He claimed to like it and ate a few forkfuls, but then answered the call of the Red Sox before finishing his portion. “Hey, Gabriel!” his dad said, “I thought you liked this! You didn’t finish it!” “It was only supposed to be a taste test!” Gabriel protested. “Also,” he said thoughtfully, “I think it could be spicier.” I asked if chopped scallions would help, and Gabriel nodded, “Yeah, I think that would be good.” I also think that some freshly minced ginger might be good, but not all kids like fresh ginger.
Human Subject C (age 5) refused to try anything even remotely zucchini-like, also refused frozen pizza, and demanded a peanut butter and butter sandwich instead, which he then also refused to eat. He has been dismissed from the study as he appears not to ingest any food substances at all.
The soup, while perfectly edible, wasn’t spectacular. I think adding the olives, fennel, and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice would make it better. Also, I have to admit, taking out the zucchini might improve it. For now it’s back to Ye Olde Drawing Board for pizza soup.
While everyone was buzzing around the kitchen, Human Subject B admitted to me, “I’m more of a junk-food kind of guy.” I told him that when his mom and dad and I were little there was a song called “Junk Food Junkie” that was pretty good. I told him (erroneously, it turns out) that it was by Ray Stevens, because my memory was that it was on the B side of a 45 of “Everything is Beautiful.” I imagined this kid picturing his mom and dad and me sitting on the ground, listening to records on a turntable, somewhere in The Land Before Time while dinosaurs roamed by and pterodactyls swooped overhead.
When I got home I went onto iTunes and discovered that “Junk Food Junkie” is actually by Larry Groce, who is now the host of Mountain Stage. Larry has recorded many great children’s songs, including a nice version of Loudon Wainwright’s “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,” one of my favorite songs of all time. (And an excellent one to sing at the top of your lungs when you are deep in the woods.) But I digress.
So, in summation, the Zucchini Salad was pretty good. The grown-ups all enjoyed it and, to some degree, so did the one kid who was willing to try it. The soup needs a few more iterations before it’s ready for prime time, and “Junk Food Junkie” was a hit for Larry Groce, not Ray Stevens. Oh, memory, you cruel trickster, you!
Zucchini Salad with Raisins and Honey-Curry Dressing
This dressing uses orange and lemon juice. I like to use the juice from one orange and one lemon, but if you are using small fruits, buy two of each. Taste the dressing after adding the juice of one of each; if you want it to taste more citrusy, add more, starting with half a fruit at a time. If you’ve used a really big orange and lemon and there’s too much citrus flavor, you can “correct” the flavor by adding a bit more honey. If you feel the dressing needs extra zing, try adding a bit more mustard; if that still leaves you craving more flavor, try adding another clove of garlic.
This recipe makes a bit more dressing than is needed for the zucchini, so you can either save it to use on a regular salad, or add it to rice, barley, cous cous, or millet, or use it as a dressing for a pasta salad. Or, you can up the amount of zucchini by one cup and add another 1/2 cup of raisins and use all of the dressing on this larger version of the salad.
Don’t forget that grapes are on the dirty dozen list (fruits most affected by pesticides), so try to use organic raisins.
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard (I like Gulden’s Spicy Brown mustard)
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a jar or a blender and shake or blend until they are completely incorporated.
Zucchini Raisin Salad
1 cup raisins
green parts of 2-3 scallions, chopped
1 cup or more of Honey-Curry Dressing
Toss the zucchini and raisins in a cup of the Honey-Curry Dressing. Not every piece of zucchini needs to be submerged, but you do want to have a bit of dressing at the bottom of the bowl so that the zucchini can soak in it. Stir the zucchini and raisins around every five minutes so that everything has a chance to marinate. If you want to add more dressing, feel free to do so.
When you are ready to serve the salad, add one of the chopped scallions and stir it into the dish. Then scatter the rest of the scallions on top for garnish.