Zucchini “Chenchki”


A vegetable that you enjoy when it first becomes available from the garden in the summer—or in our case, our CSA—but which then increasingly begins to feel like a curse, is zucchini. I don’t grow it for that reason: it’s good but then there’s altogether too much of it. If another gardener offers you some of their zucchini it’s probably a passive-aggressive move—especially here in the upper midwest. But it is a mainstay of the CSA table earlier in the season before the more charismatic vegetables show up and so we find ourselves with a decent amount of it on hand most weeks from mid-July on. As I grill a lot in the summer, it’s easy enough to slice some zucchini, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper and slap it on the grate. The missus makes a Korean banchan with it as well. And from time to time I put it into Bengali vegetable recipes as well.

It takes particularly well to the broad category of recipes called chenchki, which feature chopped or minced vegetables sauteed simply in mustard oil with very few spices. Other than the vegetable itself the main source of flavour comes from either panch phoron (the classic Bengali five-seed mix) or kalo jire/kalonji/nigella seeds alone. I break some dried red chillies into the oil as well and grate some ginger directly into the pan. Add the veg, salt and haldi and you’re pretty much done. In this version of the recipe, however, I noticed a little bit of raw shrimp in the fridge that needed to be used up and I threw it in as well. And having gone that far, I also added some shredded dessicated coconut. Which I guess makes this a cousin a few times removed of lau-chingri (bottle gourd with shrimp). Anyway, as presented here this is not a very traditional chenchki—and a very traditional Bengali cook might take issue with my using that name. It is, however, very tasty. And if you leave out the shrimp it’s also vegan. Give it a go either way.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs zucchini, cut into small chunks
  • 2-3 dried red chillies
  • 1 tspn kalo jire/kalonji/nigella seeds
  • 1 tspn grated ginger
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • 1/2 lb small shrimp or larger shrimp cut into smaller pieces
  • 1 tblspn shredded dessicated coconut
  • 1 tblspn chopped dhania/cilantro
  • Salt
  • 3-4 tblspns mustard oil or neutral oil of choice

Preparation

  1. Heat the mustard oil over medium heat till it just begins to smoke (or if using grapeseed oil or similar, till it shimmers) and break the dried chillies into it.
  2. As soon as the chillies turn glossy (very soon) add the kalonji and mix in.
  3. Add the grated ginger and stir for another 30 seconds or so.
  4. Add the chopped zuchhini, mix well and saute for a few minutes, stirring often.
  5. Add the salt and haldi, mix in and saute again, stirring often for a few minutes till the zuchhini begins to release a lot of moisture.
  6. Add the shrimp, mix in and saute, stirring often till the shrimp is almost cooked through.
  7. Add the shredded coconut, mix in and saute, stirring often, for another 2-3 minutes.
  8. Add the chopped dhania, mix in, saute for another minute or two and take off heat.
  9. Serve with a simple dal and rice.

Notes

  1. If you’re insane you can peel the zucchini.
  2. The shrimp is entirely optional (as is the coconut) but if you’re not vegetarian, it does add a nice flavour.
  3. There is a lot of stirring in this recipe but once you’re done chopping the zucchini the whole thing barely takes any time.
  4. Don’t worry about it sticking to the pan if you’re not assiduous about the stirring. For one thing, zucchini releases a lot of moisture and it’s not very likely to stick; for another, having it stick a little is actually desirable—a little scorch at the bottom adds nice flavour.
  5. Yes, there’s a Reel.

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