Most people are overwhelmed with how much a single zucchini plant can produce. I like to plant summer squash instead for the yellow color, because I already have plenty of green from the chili peppers I grow. This year I will probably be giving some away. You, too, can share your garden with others by throwing a garden party. Whether serving others or just your immediate family, here are some ideas on using up all of those veggies.
I still have lettuce growing in the garden in a protected, shady spot. If you have the same, you can always make a truly appealing salad with lettuce leaves, yellow summer squash, tomatoes and chili peppers. If you grow pumpkins, you can add more color by adding some edible pumpkin blossoms or use a single flower as a garnishment. Sprinkle some sharp cheddar or feta cheese for a little tanginess. Anything goes when it comes to a vegetable-filled salad.
You can also use your fresh garden vegetables as appetizers or snacks. Make a zucchini sandwich with cream cheese in between. Scoop out part of you zucchini or tomato and fill with a mix of the insides you scooped out and some cheese. Add chopped up pieces of other vegetables to add color. Zucchini goes well with peanuts, so scoop out your zucchini after cutting it in half the long way. Fill with cottage cheese and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Add a little green with fresh chopped chives or other herb from the garden.
Stir-fries are an easy, quick way to use up those garden vegetables. I start with my peppers, since they take a little longer to cook, and slice them up in a large pan with a little butter. While they are simmering, I add slices of chicken or pork till they are almost done.
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Whether using meat or not, different spice blends create different meals. For example, I might add curry powder for an Indian flavor. A dash or two of ground cloves can add more depth to the flavor. If you are going for a Mexican feel, add chili powder, cumin, garlic and onions and maybe even a little cinnamon. The peppers should add enough heat. If you’re not into the hot stuff, you can try an aromatic arrangement of herbs with an Italian blend of oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme. Some of these might be in your garden. Add fresh herbs at the very end of cooking, since you can cook out the flavor rather quickly. Dried herbs hold up a little better in that you can add them a little earlier.
Add chunks of tomato to your stir-fry and save the summer squash and zucchini (along with the herbs) till the very last. I don’t bother to peel my tomatoes, but you can if you want. If you have a sweet tooth, try a stir-fry with honey and ginger. Adding honey is a great way to neutralize your stir-fry, if you’ve added a bit too much of the hot stuff. Honey and lemon grass or honey and mustard are other good combinations.
Once you’ve chopped up everything, you can present this stir-fry in several ways. You can puree some of the cooked vegetables and then add them back to the main dish and present it as a hearty stew or chowder. Add some water to thin, if necessary. Combine this with a side salad for a complete meal. You can boil up some rice for a true stir-fry. If you’ve used the Italian blend of spices, serve it over your favorite pasta. If you’ve used the Mexican spices, present it with a side of beans or rice or wrap it up in a tortilla.
You can also barbeque or kebab your vegetables. Stick chunks of summer squash, whole patio tomatoes or chunks of larger tomatoes and peppers on a skewer. They should all be about the same size. Baste with oil or butter to prevent sticking. Spice up your zucchini or summer squash by adding garlic and onion powder, black pepper, paprika or other spice to your butter or oil before basting. If you are the type to plan ahead, you could marinate the squash and mushrooms ahead of time. If you’re a meat eater marinate the meat with the veggies. Set aside some of the marinade for basting, before adding the raw meat, though.
Veggies aren’t just for salads and dinners. Chop some tomatoes, zucchini and peppers in some scrambled eggs for a healthy breakfast. Add a little feta cheese as a tangy topping.
You’ve done a lot of the hard work by planting, weeding and watering your summer vegetables. Now is the time to enjoy them. Have some fun with some of these ideas or create some flavor combinations of your own. If you are unsure of your skills, use a favorite meat rub or spice blend on your vegetables. Experimenting with spices brings out your inner chef and allows you to serve the same simple vegetables over and over with varying flavor combinations throughout the harvest season.
Copyright 2011 by Linda K. Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are also included. You don’t have to change your grocery buying habits, just use different spices to create all new flavorful recipes. To learn more go to http://bellwetherbooks.com
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