As one might expect of someone who introduces himself as a Wild Bulgarian, Blago was quite the character. From the moment we met to our heartfelt goodbyes 40 minutes later, he had no shortage of advice and opinion to share, whether on the subject of healthy fats ("olive oil is king") or posing for photographs. I had not intended to have my own picture taken but Blago insisted upon art directing, down to the angle of my knee, the stiffly exuberant pose you see below. As for Helen, she just laughed and shook her head as if she'd been through this before.
Blago was particularly interested in my work as a food writer and after mulling it over and conferring with his wife, he decided to give me one of his finest recipes to share with readers. Drumroll...
Cut zucchini into rounds a little less than half an inch thick. Put them in a dish and sprinkle salt, pepper, and dill on top. Microwave until the zucchini is soft.
It struck me as a rather tame recipe for a wildman, but Blago proudly insisted that it was both healthy and delicious. I didn't have the heart to tell him that microwave cooking isn't really my cup of tea; I don't even own the appliance. Instead, I thanked him for so generously sharing and then tucked the idea away for future experimentation. For zucchini and dill did sound like a good combination and, come July and August, one can never have too many ideas for summer squash.
Zucchini and dill, I've since learned, are common partners in Bulgarian cuisine. They most often appear together in a traditional dish of fried tikvichki (zucchini) served with yogurt-dill sauce, and my recipe is a riff on that. In homage to Blago's interest in lighter cooking, I broiled rather than fried the zucchini. It's hardly more complicated than microwaving, and the result is caramelized and sweet. Brightly flavored dill does indeed complement the squash, and I think Blago would approve of the use of olive oil and tangy yogurt (preferably Bulgarian!).
It's a simple little dish, and one that I expect to make for years to come, always remembering my heartwarming and hilarious encounter with the Wild Bulgarian.
Broiled Zucchini with Yogurt-Dill Sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 small clove garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat broiler. If using the main compartment of the oven (as opposed to a separate broiler compartment below), place a rack about 5 inches from the broiler element. (See How To Use Your Broiler.)
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, dill, garlic, and lemon juice. If necessary, thin with water to a pourable consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Trim ends off zucchini. Cut in half crosswise, then cut each half lengthwise into 4-6 spears. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Place zucchini in an oven-proof skillet or pan and broil, flipping occasionally, until slightly charred and tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler.
Serve zucchini warm or chilled with yogurt-dill sauce.
(Images: Emily Ho)