Vegan Cooking Tips

Summer Squash

Summer means a lot of things - longer days, family vacations, more time outdoors, and of course the bounty of ripe fruits and vegetables at local groceries and farmers' markets! Summer brings with it a colorful array of produce to sauté, bake, or grill, and one of the tastiest ways to kick off this season is with summer squash. Summer squash is a term for thin-skinned, easy-to- grow gourds that were traditionally sold during warm-weather months. The term 'summer' squash is based only on usage, not on growing season. 'Summer' squashes, such as zucchini, crookneck, sapote, and pattypan, are in the markets in summer and fall. In contrast, 'winter' squashes, such as pumpkin, acorn, and butternut, remain on the market all winter. This terminology was not meant to confuse; it just dates back to a time when food availability depended far more on the growing season. 'Good keepers' became known as winter vegetables because they would 'keep' their shape and flavor until December or later.

Choosing Summer Squash

When shopping for summer squash, select the smallest and most fragrant specimens that you can find. These have been harvested at an ideal time, ensuring their maximum flavor and tenderness. Larger squash tend to have coarse, stringy flesh and large seeds, so don’t pick those unless you are going to scoop out the flesh and stuff them.

Fresh summer squash should have a bright, smooth skin; dull skin is a sign of old age. Varieties that are supposed to have dark green skin shouldn't show any sign of yellowing. Squash should be firm and plump without any soft spots or pitting. The squash should also feel heavier than they look for their size. If they feel fairly light, they have probably started to lose moisture and may be dry and cottony inside.

Summer squash should be kept cool but not cold. Store them in the refrigerator, not the freezer.

Preparing Summer Squash

Summer squash can be served raw with other vegetables, such as part of a vegetable platter with dips, and in salads. Try a salad of small-sliced zucchini or crookneck with red bell pepper strips, olive oil, vinegar, and your favorite herbs, such as cilantro, basil, parsley, or oregano. To shred summer squash or zucchini, use the second-largest holes of a four-sided grater or the shredding attachment of a food processor.

Many people enjoy some version of cooked squash. Whether green or yellow, summer squash is fast and easy to prepare. Stir-frying or sautéing in a small amount of vegetable oil or broth is the best method for cooking summer squash. Squash contains a large amount of water, so steaming and microwaving could result in a lot of shrinkage; if you do choose to steam or microwave, do so for as little time as possible.

For a firm cooked squash, cut into thin slices or dice your zucchini, crookneck, or pattypan, and sprinkle the cut surfaces with a very small amount of salt, approximately ½ teaspoon per pound. Let stand in a colander for approximately half an hour, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels before cooking.

You can grill, broil, bake, or stuff summer squash. Because of its mild flavor, it can be added to almost any entrée recipe or pasta sauce for texture and color. Use fresh or dried herbs and spices to enhance the flavor. Dill, pepper, basil, marjoram, chives, and mint go very well with summer squash. Cook up a pot of assorted summer squash with garlic, onions, and tomatoes. For a fast meal, quarter or slice fresh summer squash and sauté in a small amount of olive oil with sweet onions, black olives, and oregano.

If you have the grill on, wash small summer squash and wrap in foil. Place in the hot coals, turning occasionally, and enjoy roasted squash with your entrée. You can purée leftover cooked squash, and then add a bit of silken soft tofu, cumin, and curry powder. This will create a curried dish, perfect served over rice.