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Celebrating the Versatility of Zucchini: A Summertime Staple Redefined

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Celebrating the Versatility of Zucchini: A Summertime Staple Redefined

A Gluten-Forward Food Diary

In my early 20s, I wasted way too much time worrying if my interests were cool. I had just moved to Brooklyn and found myself surrounded by a cluster of late 20-somethings with impeccable style and taste in music – two things I thought I sorely lacked. I wanted to be quirky, I wanted to be hip, and I knew at least that I didn’t want to be basic.

I began to keep quiet about the things I loved that didn’t align – sweetgreen salads, Taylor Swift, pumpkin spice. Luckily, I came to my senses over time and adopted a new perspective: who the fck cares? I learned to stop prioritizing the potential judgment of others over my own joy. Shamelessly, I still love salad, Taylor Swift still speaks the words of my soul, and goddammit when the first signs of autumn hit, I become the biggest sucker for pumpkin spice.

These mooncakes are dedicated to that past self and to all the joys and comforts that fall brings us. Enjoy these with people that make you feel cozy, maybe even with a pumpkin spice latte in hand. A post-vaccine life motto I’ve adopted: seek more opportunities to turn ordinary moments into special ones.

Decorative Sourdough and Main-Character Energy

I buy all the flowers at the farmers market stand as it closes and cover every surface of my apartment with them. I lug bushels of apples home to make apple crisp in batches, dropping in on my friends on a random Tuesday for a special delivery. I thrift a red dress that makes me feel like the 🌟 emoji, mustering all the main-character-energy I can and strolling around NYC in it without a so-called occasion. I find myself delighting in the ability to infuse this everyday magic into the familiar worn grooves of routine in a way I have never felt before.

There is something that feels so fun, so dramatic, so extra about decorative sourdough. Unlike a cake, bread isn’t often thought of as pretty – maybe that’s why I’m even more appreciative of those who have made sourdough an art. It’s decorative gourd season, y’all, so let’s make sourdough pumpkins! I’ve wanted to try this pumpkin shaping ever since I saw it on my Instagram feed last year.

Sourdough Discard Ingenuity

Baking in Taipei without my usual suite of tools has really pushed me to reflect on what one truly needs to bake good sourdough bread. I optimistically brought Doug, my sourdough starter, with me to Taiwan. I say optimistically because it turns out it’s pretty rare to have an oven in a typical Taiwanese kitchen.

I walked into my Airbnb to find a countertop air fryer, a robust blender, and a cabinet where an oven might have been installed. Luckily, a lack of a proper oven was nothing a bit of resourcefulness and a lot of enthusiasm from my roommate couldn’t solve. Together, we managed to get access to a toaster oven for an afternoon, cobble together a suite of tools, and still get pretty incredible results. If ever you find yourself in a similar situation, may your days be filled with bountiful carbs wherever you may find yourself.

The Joy of Feeding People

Sourdough cracker toffee may be the best treat I have ever made for my friends. I’ve seen grown adults reaching for a quickly emptying tub, eyeing the crumbles at the bottom only to eventually tip them eagerly into their mouths to get that one last bite. These moments of feeding people and witnessing their response bring me an almost embarrassing amount of joy. It’s my not-so-secret love language.

In Chinese culture, feeding people is a common way to show care when the words aren’t quite there. It’s a universal, unspoken “I love you” – often followed by enthusiastic consumption. “I love you too.” I’ve been baking these a lot lately for my Bay Area friends. At first, I was timid, always asking for permission to swing by, until one friend remarked, “Erica, you don’t have to ask – the answer will always be yes.”

So I practice. I practice showing care without restraint. I practice not feeling self-conscious. I practice the small act of vulnerability that is showing up unexpectedly with treats and trusting there will be someone on the other end to devour them happily.

A Newfound Appreciation for Dill

I’ve always considered dill to be a second-tier herb. My mother cooked with a multitude of herbs, often even growing chives and green onions in our backyard. During peak harvest times, she would cook nothing but chives for weeks at a time – chive dumplings, chive bao zi, chive pockets. She fed it all to my brother and me until we became bloated from the fiber. Dill just never had a place in my pantry, never harmonized with the warming notes of our rotation of ginger, star anise, and chilis, and never made it into our cart during our biweekly trips to Shanghai supermarket.

In the past few months, however, I’ve been flirting a lot with dill. A dill-less salad now feels naked, like it’s missing an ingredient as crucial as the lettuce itself. I’ll never leave another PLS (pita, lettuce, and shrimp) ungarnished. Above all, I’ve become hooked on the combination of cheese and dill. After trying a roll from La Farine with the feedback of over seven taste testers, I’ve developed a delicate, puffy, pizza-crust-like roll that centers cheddar and dill.

This roll has a crisp and thin crust encrusted with thinly shredded cheddar and speckled with fresh dill. Bready walls surround a small divot where the cheddar pools and bubbles when you bite in. It’s like eating a sauceless, herby micro-pizza. No matter where you are in your relationship with dill, these rolls will make you fall in love all over again. Bread and cheese tend to have that kind of effect.

The secret to the perfect texture and bite is using olive oil instead of flour while shaping. It is of utmost importance that you use as little flour as possible during this step. I encourage swapping the dill for chives or scallions for a different flavor profile. In fact, I’ve tested this with scallions, and the result is just as wonderful. See the three rolls in the left corner of the cover photo. Though I haven’t tried it, Gruyère could also be a nice cheese accompaniment to the dill if your cheddar is on the saltier side. I would skip the extra salt in that case.

Tiny Sourdough and the Magic of Wildlands

The last time I lived close to wilderness, I was 11 years old. I had a patch of wood in my backyard, and a small trickling creek ran through it. Wild turkeys the size of vacuum cleaners would often visit. Life whisked me away to more and more urban areas until it found me in the Berkeley Hills this winter. Here, I once again remembered what it was to notice – how to greet the bickering crows, how to spectate the scurrying squirrels, how to pay attention in wonder.

At least once a week, I would walk down the street to ascend a steep, winding dirt trail above Claremont Canyon. What started as a simple hike became a stumbling prayer of gratitude. I learned to recognize the wild rosemary bushes near the top. I began to visit often, and when the bushes looked healthy and weren’t flowering, I would pick a few sprigs, taking home a piece of the mountain with me.

When the world gifts something as magical as fresh wild rosemary, what else is there to do but to share something with the world in return? This recipe is my offering. Perhaps you, too, will pause when your hands run over the sprigs of rosemary, and when you smell it filling up the crevices of your home, this ritual has become my small, delicious meditation on all the magic that grows from the earth. I hope it becomes yours too.

Sourdough Rosemary Crackers 2.0

I wasn’t planning on re-visiting sourdough crackers. I’ve already written two recipes, yet I knew there were a few issues I needed to resolve: dryness, thickness, toughness of bite, and blandness. This updated recipe addresses all these shortcomings with a wetter, more flavorful dough.

These sourdough rosemary crackers roll out into thin sheets more easily and bake up more crisply. I am generous with the rosemary – they are pretty, they are aromatic, and they are delicious. Ingredients matter, lastly but not leastly. I have a stiff starter at 80% hydration, so please do adjust the amount of flour if yours differs.

Rediscovering Cheese Rolls

I ended last year hung up on three things. First, a boy – isn’t it always? Quarantine fact: breakups are much, much harder during a global pandemic when there is not much else to do except sit on a rollercoaster ride of uncomfortable feelings and thought patterns.

The second was Brooklyn, seeking proximity to family and an escape from the impending winter. I left New York. Quarantine fact: there’s nothing like cinematic nostalgia to leave you on the ground, curled up in a blanket burrito, sobbing, watching Dash & Lily destroy me.

Last but certainly not least, my beloved Arizmendi cheese rolls. Back in August, I had scoured the internet for the recipe. I had racked my brain for the taste profile of the cheese. Quarantine fact: I had tasted cheesy, bready greatness, and I could not go back.

Luckily, when I moved last month, I discovered Cheeseboard, Arizmendi’s sister bakery. Needless to say, I have since consumed many a cheese roll. This also had the happy side effect of mitigating the first two aforementioned hang-ups – a small sacrifice in the name of research.

After much neighborly taste testing, I’m confident this formula produces a remarkable likeness to the original cheese roll, with improvements. I’m doing a similar type of analysis and reconstruction for the other parts of my life – basking in the sunny, warm winter days, reconnecting with old friends over focaccia, trekking through miles of redwood forest.

I’m not saying these cheese rolls have magically cured my afflictions, though I notice progress every day. All I’m saying is this: if even one person is spared from the sadness that is a life without cheese rolls, then my work here will have been worth it.

As always, please adjust the formula based on the hydration of your starter and adjust the timing of the bulk rise based on the temperature of your kitchen. This recipe was developed during the winter in a 60-degree kitchen at 50% humidity.

You might be tempted to use a different type of cheese. I strongly recommend you resist this urge – asiago cheese just hits different. I repeat: these rolls will not have the intended flavor without asiago. As per my other experiences baking with cheese, parchment paper is a must. Melty cheese can easily crust over.

This recipe preserves all of the loveability of these iconic rolls while also providing a softer bite, lighter texture, and smaller size. I’m especially excited about this recipe, and I hope you all will be too.

Kimchi Sourdough Discard Pancakes

After a rejuvenating August, I intended for September to be a time to discover sourdough steamed buns. Instead, I found myself grappling with a lack of motivation and curiosity for most things I normally loved. I felt overwhelmed by the world and drained by my personal life.

I took comfort in other people’s recipes – a few batches of chocolate-dipped miso almond butter cookies, a dozen red bean paste and salted honey peanut mooncakes. One of my favorite recipes was Artisan Bryan’s sourdough pan de coco. It’s a recipe as chill and foolproof as they come, which was exactly the vibe I needed: simple, uncomplicated, without compromising an ounce of deliciousness.

The creamy coconut with the tangy sourdough meld together to create a yogurt-y like flavor. I’d highly recommend giving this loaf a try. It’s perfect for folks just starting out with sourdough and also perfect for more experienced folks looking for a different voice and process.

Zucchini Fritters with Sourdough Discard

Long, lazy summer days call for simple, produce-centric meals. I love spending weekends gobbling up as many colors as I can – heirloom tomatoes topped with flaky sea salt, watermelon with handfuls of fresh mint, cucumbers with avocado and dill. What are your favorite farmers market finds?

Summer squash is one of mine. Every June, zucchini and its friends burst onto the farm stand and backyard garden scene in abundance. I love cooking them with eggs, putting them in dumpling filling, and baking them into quick breads. I have delicious memories of my grandma cooking them up with noodles for a breakfast noodle soup.

Lately, I’ve renewed my love for zucchini in the form of fritters – crispy and light on the outside, full of oniony and garlicky goodness on the inside. I like to serve them hot, sometimes with a dollop of cold yogurt for extra fancy summertime vibes. I garnish with some freshly picked herbs.

Best of all, they’re super simple and super fast. This version is also completely vegan, thanks to sourdough discard. The final batter is fairly thick to reduce the wateriness of the zucchini, and I include two additional steps. As always, please adjust the recipe to suit your starter’s hydration.

I strongly recommend frying these fritters, as in my experiments, they tasted way better and the crispiness can’t be beat. But you probably already knew I was gonna say that.

Sourdough Discard Shao Bing

This is the very first guest post on this blog. Charlotte, the author, and I share a long, beautiful friendship over our love and appreciation for food, among many, many other things. We first met in 6th grade in suburban Minnesota. Her culinary creativity constantly inspires my own.

While versions of this sesame flatbread abound throughout the Chinese-speaking world, most of Charlotte’s memories of shao bing are from summers spent in Taiwan. There, shao bing are often served with a kind of fried cruller, you tiao, sandwiched in between its flaky layers, then dunked in a steaming bowl of freshly pressed soy milk.

When she was younger, they would go to the neighborhood breakfast shop with her Ah Gong and Ah Ma, still shaking off the jet lag of a long international flight, sweating in the heat and humidity of the morning. They’d cram around one of the plastic tables, ringed by round metal stools, and order from the Lao Ban, watching him sling ladles of rice milk and flip rows of egg crepes at the front of the shop.

Everywhere, the smell of frying dough, steaming xiao long bao, motorcycles, sun-on-asphalt – these little breakfast shops, once ubiquitous in Taipei, have mostly given way to Western-style cafes and bakeries. But a few remain, and Charlotte’s family makes a point to go every year.

Unable to travel to see family in Taiwan this year, they’ve resorted to sighing longingly over old photos of past breakfasts and occasionally attempting to recreate their favorites. Shao bing is one of Charlotte’s mother’s favorite breakfasts, and she and her sister endeavored to recreate them for Mother’s Day.

She very loosely adapted this recipe from Edwina at Cooking in Chinglish, incorporating sourdough discard rather than using instant yeast. Eat immediately after baking for breakfast – we like them split open on the side with a scallion-flecked omelet nestled into the layers or filled with heaps of fresh alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes and a dash of salt. Honestly, they’re also pretty great plain, served with some freshly made peanut rice milk for a taste of a classic Taiwanese breakfast.

Sourdough Discard Dumplings

I learned how to make dumplings from generations of women in my family, passing down this one tradition. From a young age, my mother made it clear to me that the way we made dumplings was not like other Chinese families.

First, she said we made our own wrappers – a skill she urged was not one to be overlooked. Thus, my childhood kitchen table became my training ground, me struggling to roll out dumpling wrappers while my palms hurt, Mom generously wrapping plump morsels, Dad manning the boiling station, brother too young to contribute beyond eating, eventually stepping up into assistant wrapper.

There are many different ways to make Chinese dumplings, each region having its preferences for wrapping, pleating, filling, and cooking methods. Shandong-style dumplings are known for thicker, chewier dumpling wrappers. They are fat with filling and don’t care to impress with braided pleating. Oftentimes, my mother squeezes them shut in a dual cupping-pinching motion I have yet to master.

Though incorporating sourdough discard into the dumpling dough is far from traditional, it does create a flavor that’s very compatible with the black vinegar sauce and fillings I usually use – cabbage

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