I swoon for Indian food. The culinary traditions of the many diverse regions of India all have crave-worthy vegetarian specialties, and they have been working out the flavors for hundreds of years. Ever since I scored a copy of Yamuna Devi’s book, The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, back in the late 80’s, I’ve been stocking up on brown mustard seeds and black salt, and making pilgrimages to Indian restaurants wherever I go. So it has been with great excitement that I have watched fresh turmeric become a hot, trendy, and available food.
Yes, back in the day, I had to ride my bike for about an hour to get to North Minneapolis to buy fresh turmeric at one of the competing Indian grocery stores that were practically next door to each other. I never fully understood why the two sprawling stores, fragrant with spices and jammed with exotic beans and vegetables, had to go head to head. It was a delicious block!
I stuffed my backpack with Channa Dal and Curry Leaves, Gram flours and fresh Fenugreek greens. Trying to leave a little space for a bag of the addictive snack, Sev. And of course, turmeric roots.
Back then, fresh turmeric was only available at Indian grocery stores, and nobody was posting turmeric smoothies on the internet. In fact there was hardly an internet, if you remember that far back. But there were already lots of good studies pointing to turmeric as a miracle food. So I was doubly intrigued, since I was on a journey to find authentic ingredients and explore the wonders of the Spice Trail.
Since then, I’ve cooked a lot of Biryanis and improvised chutneys from just about every kind of fruit and nut. Yum. I also cook Indian food for many of my clients, since it is so easily customized to fit all kinds of diets. No dairy? Use coconut milk. No wheat? Easy to go with rice, millet, or quinoa.
So I got a little bored with some of my Indian go-to side dishes and decided to make up a new one, featuring fresh turmeric and an excellent method for cooking zucchini.
Zucchini is the ultimate in high water veggies, and can easily become a soggy mess when you cook it. That is no problem when you want to stew a ratatouille, where the juices of all the veggies combine and reduce to a syrupy finale. But for a solo act, I like to roast it at high heat, for an almost seared result. So, for this dish, I preheated the sheet pan in a 450 F oven, and used coconut oil to coat the zucchini. That way when the zucchini and spices hit the hot pan, the mustard and cumin will render their flavor the way they do in a saute, and the zucchini will be seared, then cooked to shrink and reduce it, not weep its juices into the pan.
It’s a little tricky to spread the ingredients on a smoking hot pan, just don’t burn yourself. Take the moment to make most of the zucchini planks are cut side down, to brown. Then get it back in the oven quickly.
This method is easily transferred, you can switch it to match your main course. Mediterranean flavors like rosemary and garlic, or Mexican seasonings like jalapenos and a lime would make your zucchini a good ensemble player in other meals.
Use lots of fresh turmeric and ginger, and you might just avoid some health concerns, and enjoy your zucchini more than ever before!
Roasted Zucchini with Fresh Turmeric and Spices
Serves 4 as a side
6 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh turmeric
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
Cilantro, lemon wedges and chopped cashews or peanuts
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Remove the stem and blossom end of each zucchini, and slice into long, 1/2 inch thick slices, then stack the slices and slice in half. Place in a bowl, and drizzle with coconut oil, add the turmeric, ginger, cumin, mustard, pepper flakes and salt, and toss to coat.
Place two heavy sheet pans in the oven to preheat for five minutes, then take it out and quickly transfer the zucchini to the pans. Spread to make an even layer, with room between the piecs, and place in the oven again.
Bake for 20 minutes, then stir and reverse the pans in the oven and bake for 15 minutes more. Serve hot, with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of cilantro, and cashews or peanuts, if desired.