Thick-Cut Zucchini, Smashed Cucumbers and Grated Tofu

Vary the way you prep ingredients to get the absolute most out of them.

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By Tejal Rao

The way you cut an ingredient can change everything about it. This past spring, I went on a snap pea bender in which I obsessively made Melissa Clark’s simple snap pea salad, and slicing whole raw pods really made me appreciate their sweet, juicy and slightly starchy crunch.

If you’ve been prepping an ingredient in the same way for a while, even the smallest deviation can be transformative. Take raw zucchini. I used to drag a vegetable peeler across the length of them to make long, sheer ribbons, which were beautiful, but released so much water, diluting the dressing.

Alexa Weibel’s raw zucchini salad starts with much thicker pieces — batons, she calls them — dressed in a garlicky caper vinaigrette and tossed with pecorino, herbs and chopped almonds. It’s a very small adjustment, but it changes everything: I can make the best of raw zucchini without the immediate sogginess. The salad is great as is, or mixed into some warm pasta or cooked grains dressed with some more olive oil and lemon zest.

And if it’s been a minute, don’t underestimate the power of smashing a few cucumbers on a hot day. Whether you use the side of a cleaver or a thick rolling pin, smack the vegetable so the skin splits and the cucumber breaks up into a few parts, then cut them up to get rough-edged, craggy, satisfying pieces.

You can drain and chill these in the fridge, then dress them simply to make a version of pai huang gua, sometimes translated as smashed cucumber salad, or you can pile them on top of Ali Slagle’s grain salad. And I love this creamy cucumber salad from Superiority Burger, drizzled with spicy honey, which builds on that same technique.

One more idea for you today: Grate your tofu. Unlike cutting it into neat, smooth-edged pieces or even crumbling it in your fingers, a large setting on a grater can turn a block of firm tofu into a really light, fluffy pile of shreds. Let it drain unattended for a while (or press it, if you prefer) and these shreds will sauté beautifully with mushrooms and edamame in Melissa Clark’s quick and very delicious stir-fry.

Zucchini Salad With Pecorino, Basil and Almonds

Go to the recipe.

Spicy Smashed Cucumbers With Lime, Honey and Croutons

Go to the recipe.

Shredded Tofu and Shiitake Stir-Fry

Go to the recipe.

One More Thing

I read every single email you send, and after last week’s artichoke-centric newsletter, there were so many about the joys of microwaving artichokes. I’ve never tried the technique (I will, I promise!), but Barbara Kafka walked readers through artichokes steamed in the microwave in her 1987 cookbook, “Microwave Gourmet.” Here are the basics, if you’d like to give it a go with me this week:

Trim a 6- to 8-ounce artichoke. Using a serrated knife, cut the stem off where it meets the artichoke, then cut about 1 inch off the top of the artichoke, getting rid of all those spiky tips. Place the artichoke in a microwave safe bowl with a fitted lid, and cook on high for about 10 minutes. Watch out for the rush of hot steam when you remove the lid! The artichoke is done when you can push a knife tip against its bottom and it gives very easily.

Thanks for reading The Veggie, and see you next week!

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