Humble zucchini transforms into Indian delight

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Everyone has heard the story of people running about stealthily dropping off pounds of zucchini on neighbors’ porches. Anyone who gardens knows that this does not always ring true.

While zucchini are not difficult to grow, the plants are still susceptible to disease. Seemingly overnight, one of my plants was wiped out by the squash vine borer. I was saddened because every year I look forward to a bumper crop so I can make my favorite dish — zucchini kofta curry.

Kofta, eaten throughout central and south Asia, are a type of savory meatball individualized with local flavors. In India, there are as many vegetarian versions as there are meat versions. Lauki kofta is made with bottle gourd, a type of summer squash. Zucchini, similar in taste and texture, is the American equivalent.

If you think zucchini must always be disguised in a sweet bread, you need to try these kofta. Mixed with onion, ginger and a variety of spices, the result is a melt-in-your-mouth delight. Once the balls are cooked, they are served in a creamy tomato-based sauce. Compared to other Indian curries, this one is very mild.

The recipe involves a lot of vegetable prep, so I always make enough for a couple of meals. I freeze the zucchini balls and sauce separately and then combine them when serving.

Although you don’t need a food processor to make them, using one speeds up the process.

Zucchini kofta curry is a great way to glamorize this humble squash. One taste and you will think you are in an upscale Indian restaurant.

Zucchini Kofta Curry

3 medium-sized zucchini

½ teaspoon salt

1 hot green chile, minced

1 medium onion, finely minced

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro

1/3 cup chickpea flour

¼ cup rice flour

vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, finely minced

¼ teaspoon turmeric

dash cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 2 cups)

½ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon salt

Grate the zucchini on the coarse side of a grater and sprinkle with the salt. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Drain well, and using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible into a bowl. Reserve the liquid for the sauce and add water if necessary to make 1 cup. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Form about 16 1½-inch balls. In a large frying pan, heat about 1 inch of oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the balls and fry until they turn reddish brown. Drain on paper towels.

To make the sauce, remove 5 tablespoons oil from deep frying and place in a skillet. Add the onions and fry over medium heat until the onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, cayenne, cumin and coriander and fry for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Then add 1 cup of the reserved zucchini juice.

Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Add the cream, cumin, garam masala and salt and stir. Put in the zucchini balls, spooning the sauce over them. Cover and cook on low for 5 minutes to heat through.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.