With food more than perhaps anything else, I have a tendency to get a bit obsessed. Some obsessions are serious and long term, such as the one I have with figs. I’m also pretty consistently infatuated with desserts involving fruit and some sort of crumble, the kabocha squash, all summer fruits, big bowls of salad, hearty scones, super healthy muffins, dark chocolate and red wine. To name a few.
But some of my fixations are more temporary. I am a creature of habit, but only until I get bored and begin seeking out a new routine. Take breakfast, for example. Oatmeal was long my morning preference, garnished with summer berries, mixed up with a mashed banana, cooked with chopped apple and dates. But slowly, it became less exciting, until it no longer held the power to lure me out of bed in the morning. For months this summer, I was instead stuck on fresh fruit topped with yogurt and a well-spiced combination of toasty seeds and oats (a simple little preparation I really must share with you sometime). When that became tedious, I discovered the breakfast realm centered around chia seeds. I remain marginally contented with my favorite overnight oat and chia seed preparation, but boredom is, most likely, imminent.
Currently, alongside chia seeds are a few other obsessions: “noodles” made from zucchini and cucumber, mezze-style meals, avocados, toasted pepitas, pressed juices, pie. I suggest you go study and/or stock up on all of those, but I’m here today to talk about the noodles.
I first tried my hand at zucchini noodles while working with Kimberley, and by tried my hand, what I really mean is julienned and subsequently ate several pound of squash. Luckily, Kimberley has a nifty julienne peeler, which I find both blessedly safer to use and less fussy to clean, and furthermore, the dish she’d created was delicious and fully worth the rounds it took to reach perfection. I’d made plenty of zucchini ribbons using a normal vegetable peeler in the past, and I was fascinated at how different the resulting texture was with this kind of preparation. I was perhaps even more astounded when, by Laura’s suggestion, I tried the same technique with cucumber. These noodles remind me of glass noodles—crisp, smooth, light and utterly satisfying.
One benefit of obsession is that you learn a great deal about your chosen subject in a short amount of time. In the last couple months, I’ve concluded a few key things about zucchini noodles. First, a thick dressing or sauce is necessary. Zucchini releases a good deal of liquid when it hits salt, which is why many recipes instruct you to salt it, allow the liquid to release and drain and, finally, pat the noodles dry. However, if you make a thick dressing that might otherwise need water to be thinned out, the excess liquid is used to your advantage.
Second, the dressing must be flavorful. Zucchini is tasty but perhaps not the most exciting of vegetables. A zippy dressing helps immensely. Similarly, toppings are crucial for crunch and substance. I personally find these noodles to be fantastically fun all on their own and am usually quite content on filling up with vegetables, but crunchy, flavorful toppings will win over more normal eaters and fill stomachs to boot.
I’ll admit that I’ve backed down a bit with the vegetable noodles in the last month or so—all manner of beautiful winter squash are in season, after all, and new obsessions must be fostered—but not before creating this dish to share with you. I hope you find it as delicious as I do! Perhaps it will even spark a new obsession in your kitchen.
Tahini Zucchini Noodles with Pepitas, Feta & Sprouts
If you don’t have, or don’t like, any of the toppings mentioned below, other delicious options include avocado, croutons, garbanzo beans, goat cheese and any other toasted seed or nut.
FOR THE DRESSING
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus additional
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional
Freshly cracked black pepper
FOR THE SALAD
4 – 5 small zucchini, about 1.5 pounds
2 ounces feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons raw pepitas, toasted
Small handful sprouts, preferably radish or another spicy variety
Small handful cherry tomatoes
To make the dressing, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
With a mandoline slicer fitted with the julienne blade or a julienne peeler, slice the zucchini into noodles, using as much of the vegetable as possible. Place the zucchini noodles in a large bowl. Pour most of the dressing over the noodles, then toss thoroughly with salad tongs or two forks, continuing until the dressing is well distributed. Add the rest of the dressing if desired, or reserve for another use. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Transfer the noodles to a serving bowl. Top with the feta, pepitas, sprouts and tomatoes. Just before serving, add an additional squeeze of lemon juice, if desired. Serve cold or at room temperature.