Friday, September 6, 2013

Raw Summer Squash Salad

Best Thing I Cooked This Week

Friends of mine recently signed up for a CSA share.  You know, that program with the mystery boxes. Community Supported Agriculture they call it.  Once a week people in communities all over America pick up or are delivered a cornucopia of local farmers delights- asparagus and peas in April, corn and tomatoes in August, and the usual assortments of greens and other good-for-you produce. 

But as my friends have discovered, more often than not, their box includes an abundance of certain vegetables that, though they may grow like weeds this time of year, are not part of their regular cooking repertoire for two adults and two children under the age of two.  (“Help!” She once wrote.  “What do I do with all these radishes?”)

On the upside, the couple has grown increasingly fond of some vegetables they would never have purchased in the past.  Kohlrabi, for instance, now regularly gets sliced and added to stir-fries.   

But sometimes, particularly in this abundant time of the year, the mystery box overwhelms their culinary imagination and leaves them facing an unused pile of produce with no clue what the next move should be.

After a recent visit I was the beneficiary of my friends’ excess, helping them to make a smoky eggplant dip out of an oversized version of the purple nightshade.  I also took home several summer squash and zucchini vowing to use it in a way that would be novel for me.

As a child, the texture of cooked zucchini and yellow squash led me to dramatic gagging episodes at the dining room table.  (I have only somewhat matured past that stage.) A raw salad on the other had would protect against any displeasing texture and bring new possibilities for seasoning with fresh herbs, nuts, and maybe even cheese.

The mandolin made quick work of the squash, slicing it into paper-thin sheets in a matter of minutes.  I then squeezed over the juice of a couple lemons and let the two hang for a couple of hours.  The acid from the lemon was just strong enough to gently soften the squash without disintegrating.  To finish dressing the salad it needed little more than good olive oil, salt, and pepper.  As I had some basil on hand I tossed in a good handful of torn leaves.  For crunch I threw in some slivered almonds.  Finally for a bit of tang, some crumbled cotija cheese.

That night a few girlfriends who were over for dinner gobbled the salad down.  Two days later, I made another batch for myself for a light lunch.  The combination of squash, cheese, nuts and herbs I settled on was delightful but I could have easily substituted pine nuts for the almonds, parsley or mint for the basil, and feta or shaved parmesan for the cotija and would have been perfectly happy.  Between the CSA’s, farmer’s market and friends’ personal gardens, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of chances to keep experimenting.

Raw Summer Squash Salad
Serves: 4

1 large zucchini
1 large yellow summer squash
2 lemons
3 T. olive oil
handful of basil, torn or cut in a chiffonade
1 oz. Cotija cheese (feta would be nice, as would shaved Parmesan)
¼ cup slivered almonds

Slice the zucchini and yellow squash thin on a mandolin or with a thin, sharp knife.  Squeeze the juice of two lemons over.  Let sit for a couple of hours until the squash has softened a bit and soaked up the lemon.  Toss with olive oil, basil, crumbled cheese, almonds, and salt and pepper to taste.  

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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