I have always been a little ambivalent about meat. Oh, don't get me wrong: I like it well and good. Broiling a nice juicy steak until it spatters and hisses and crusts up in all the right places is wonderful. Roasting a chicken and seeing the skin crisp up in the oven while the meat goes tender beneath is lovely, too. And most of the ills in the world can be cured with a few savory pork-stuffed dumplings, dripping broth and juice. But I don't need meat every day, or even every other day. And since moving to Berlin, my goodness, it seems all I do is eat it.
At first I blamed the winter. All that relentless ice and snow required spitting hot sausages and bacon-studded fried potatoes. Didn't it? Then we went skiing in Austria and were served meat every single night for dinner. And sometimes lunch, too. Every single day! I felt like it was 1962 all over again. And since it's nice to be back in a country where eating liverwurst isn't considered suspect or only for the aged and infirm, I made it a regular part of dinner (and sometimes breakfast), too.
Sometime a few weeks ago I'd had enough. I'd eaten more meat in the last three months than I probably had combined in the entire past year. Enough! I missed my meatless dinners, my all-green meals, my refrigerator full of leaves.
Since then, I've made a lot of spicy cabbage, several tomato-cucumber salads (eaten on the balcony!), and had more than a few cheese toasts instead of liverwurst ones. (The Sainsbury's cheddar, tragically, is all gone now. Good thing I've just booked another flight to London. For the conference! Of course. Not for the cheese. No, not at all.)
And I've been saying a little prayer every night to the gods that be at the New York Times dining section that they make Elaine Louie's Temporary Vegetarian column a little less Temporary and a little more Permanent. Seriously, that column? Is a gem. Remember the Chana Punjabi? Her cabbage strudel haunts my dreams. And these Turkish zucchini pancakes, dolloped with garlicky yogurt, were nothing short of stellar. Right now, her column is the best part about that dining section for me and I hope it becomes a permanent part of the Wednesday lineup.
But back to those pancakes. Hoo boy.
I once had zucchini pancakes, 10 years ago at a friend's one-room apartment in Paris. She was, to be polite, not a gifted cook and all I could remember was the pile of slightly blackened vegetable shreds lying on my plate, glistening with still-raw egg and oil. Oooh, not pleasant in the very least. "A for effort", though, as the 7-foot tall Massachusetts State Trooper folded into the passenger seat of my dad's sedan told me when I passed my driving test at 19.
So I had this recipe bookmarked for a year before I got around to trying it. What I didn't want were oily pancakes, or heavy ones. I wanted something light and fluffy and delicious and green, and, oh, did I get what I wanted. Readers, don't wait this long before trying these things. They are too good to be ignored.
I made a few changes to the recipe: First of all, dill remains the final frontier in my food world. It is the one and only thing I really, really don't like. I got over cilantro, so maybe I will one day get over dill, but I'm not holding my breath. It tastes like dirty fridge to me and that's all I can say about that. But mint and zucchini are such a lovely pair, such a springy pair of lovebirds that I substituted the one for the other with spectacular results. Also, I totally forgot to add the baking powder. It just slipped my mind. And the pancakes were fine! So I guess it's not entirely essential?
Other than that, the recipe was a charm. You quickly shred three zucchini (I used those very pale green ones, which are called marrows in England, held firmly against a big cheese grater) and squeeze the ever-loving life out of them once the shreds have been salted for a bit. You mix this limp green mess with eggs and crumbled feta and sliced scallions and the mint. Then you fry good-sized (3-4 tablespoons worth) mounds of the batter in vegetable oil until browned and crisping.
Piping hot, they were savory and sweet, full of yielding pockets of salty-soft feta and bright with mint and scallions, while the cool yogurt sauce balanced each mouthful. Very, very good.
But. Eaten cold from the fridge the next day? They were even better, if that's possible. The flavors were richer yet lighter, too; the pancake firmer and easier to eat. Totally transcendent, really. I had only two pancakes leftover and I actually caught myself wishing we'd eaten less at dinner the night before. I love discovering things that taste even better the next day: It makes my inner Martha Stewart emerge and I find myself planning elaborate buffet luncheons featuring entire tables covered with food cooked the previous day.
These pancakes? They'd be front and center. And no one would miss the meat.
Makes 12 pancakes
For the pancakes
3 medium zucchini, shredded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh mint
1 teaspoon baking powder (I forgot to add this! And they were fine)
4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, more as needed
For the yogurt sauce
2/3 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place zucchini in a colander over a bowl, and mix with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Allow to drain for five minutes. Transfer to a cloth kitchen towel, and squeeze hard to extract as much moisture as possible. Squeeze a second time; volume will shrink to about half the original.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine zucchini and eggs. Using a fork, mix well. Add flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, olive oil, feta, scallions, mint and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well, add baking powder, if using, and mix again.
3. Place a cast iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Place heaping tablespoons of zucchini batter in pan several inches apart, allowing room to spread. Flatten them with a spatula if necessary; pancakes should be about 3/8 inch thick and about 3 inches in diameter. Fry until golden on one side, then turn and fry again until golden on other side. Repeat once or twice, frying about 5 to 6 minutes total, so pancakes get quite crisp. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, and keep warm in oven. Continue frying remaining batter, adding more oil to pan as needed. Serve hot.
4. For yogurt sauce: In a small bowl, combine yogurt, garlic and salt. Mix well, and serve on the side or on pancakes.