As a kid, I mistakenly called zucchinis “bikinis” — and that was pretty much the extent of my relationship with them for the past 30 years. My mother, on the other hand, could and would eat steamed zucchini for every meal of the day, which just goes to show the polarizing nature of this vegetable. Some people enjoy zucchini raw, while others need a load of butter and the threat of no dessert to choke them down.
But here’s what I’ve learned about zucchini in my past few years of adulthood and culinary experimentation: they are chameleons.
The Chameleon Vegetable
Depending on how you cut, cook, and dress it, the taste of zucchini changes dramatically. It can be grilled, steamed, stewed, shredded, and yes, eaten raw. It pairs well with both sweet and savory ingredients, and it can be easily hidden in the background of a meal — but does just as well when allowed to shine as the star of a dish.
So if you’re not a zucchini-lover, like myself, it might be time to give it another chance. Because maybe zucchini is an acquired taste that comes with age and maturity, or maybe it’s just about finding the right recipe. And hopefully with the following list of zucchini-forward bites (that go beyond zoodles), you’ll find one that pleases your palate and snacking needs.
Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups
A thin slice on a mandolin and a quick grill is all the prep you need for these easy appetizers. Once slightly cooked and softened, fill the wide zucchini noodles with a firm-yet-creamy cheese (like goat or ricotta), then roll it up and fasten with a toothpick. Just don’t forget to add your own spices and herbs to the cheese, like chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil or dill, or lemon zest. Or, of course, bacon bits. These are great for both happy hour and your kid’s lunchbox.
If you find yourself with a massive amount of zucchini and you’ve made all the zoodles your stomach can handle, turn all that squash into a butter-like spread. It takes some time on the stove, but then you can add zucchini butter to your next bowl of spaghetti (made with real or vegetable noodles), your morning avocado toast, garlic bread, or scrambled eggs.
This is the gateway snack for anyone who is “zucchini-skeptical.” Simply pick a DIY tater tot recipe you love, then mix shredded zucchini in with your shredded potatoes — I used cooked hash browns to make it super easy, but fresh, boiled potatoes work too. At this point, you'll probably add in Parmesan cheese, egg, or garbanzo bean flour to act as a binder, as well as spices. Then, just set the oven to 425°F, oil a non-stick baking pan, and cook until the outside of the tots get brown and crispy — about 15 to 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Just try not to eat them all while your kid naps.
Baked Zucchini Boats
Sometimes, the easiest way to get over a food-phobia is to get a little silly and play with your ingredients until they no longer scare you. Zucchini boats will do just that, turning the green vegetable into a vehicle for other favorite ingredients, from taco filling to BBQ chicken to mozzarella and olives. Really, anything goes. So have fun.
Mini Zucchini Banana Bread Cakes
If everything else fails to win you over, then try making mini zucchini banana bread cakes. Simply take any zucchini bread (or banana bread recipe), add dried fruits or even chocolate, and then divide it into well-oiled muffin tins or ramekins. Cook the cakes at the same temperature as the original recipe, but cut down the baking time by one-third. Check doneness by inserting a toothpick or knife into the center of a mini cake. When it comes out clean, it is ready to serve (with whipped cream), or pack them individually in your lunchbox for a sweet and healthy snack at work the next day.