It’s a sweltering July afternoon and even though the back door is open wide, only the scorching dry summer heat comes into the kitchen. Mother is standing by the gas stove, flipping thinly sliced zucchini just as they turn golden brown. A tray sits on the counter, filled with a few layers of the uncooked ones, salted and dipped in flour, just luxuriating and waiting to be covered with egg batter and pan fried.
Father walks in on his way back from the hospital, grabs the top-most zucchini, and pops it in his mouth without stopping, oblivious to the fact that it’s still sizzling from the hot pan. The three of us saunter in the kitchen, refreshed from the shower we just took, exhausted and ravenous after a few hours spent at the city pool. I can’t help but sneak a zucchini off the platter, even though I make sure that Mother notices me rolling my eyes at the sight of her pan-frying a mountain of them on the hottest day of the century.
Chewing slowly to prolong the enjoyment, I swear that I will stop the tradition and avoid the kitchen when I grow up. After all, Aristotle would not have been Aristotle had he spent every waking minute cooking, cleaning, sewing, and helping children with their homework, as I sagely pointed to Mother fairly often, scolding her for abandoning her easel and her sketchbook for the degrading and not-at-all rewarding life of a housewife.
Some years later, here I am standing next to a gas stove in my southern California kitchen, flipping golden brown egg-battered zucchini slices, my apron speckled with flour. I checked the items off the list in my head as the mound on the platter next to me keeps on growing. I will have finished everything I intended to before going to work in the afternoon, including pan-frying zucchini and eggplant for next day’s Food Bloggers LA monthly meet-up.
As I proudly pat myself on the shoulder, my fourteen-year old enters the kitchen in a quest for something “sweet, creamy and delicious”. “That looks like the most tedious chore in the world!”, she proclaims, throwing one of her famous disdainful looks my way. And all of a sudden I am transported from this gorgeous, balmy May afternoon in California, with the breeze that brings the smell of roses and rosemary through the open front door, to one of the scorching summer days in Serbia filled with crates of pale green, tender-skinned zucchini begging for attention.
And I understand that Mother did not find her role as degrading as I thought it was at the time. She enjoyed preparing the most wonderful meals for her family, even though the job was not that rewarding and we definitely took her creativity, talent, and effort for granted. My precocious teenager is as haughty as I was at her age and I know better than to try to explain to her that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan would probably praise me for my choice to sacrifice a few hours of my precious free time to cook a delectable meal, as it makes me infinitely happy.
- 6-8 zucchini or 2 eggplants, peeled
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup sunflower oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup vinegar (my mom used white, I prefer either red wine or apple cider vinegar)
- ¼ cup water
- 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- Cut the zucchini lengthwise in slices about 5 mm thick (between ¼ and ⅛ inch).
- Cut the eggplant in rounds about ¼ inch thick.
- Lay the cut slices on a tray lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt (you can put them in several layers separated by paper towels)
- Leave them on the counter for 30 minutes.
- Squeeze the vegetables and drain the liquid in the sink.
- Place flour on a plate.
- Beat the eggs, milk, and water with an electric hand-held mixer until fluffy and combined.
- Mix flour and salt.
- Pour eggs and milk into flour and stir vigorously to combine (it should be the consistency of crepe batter).
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
- Add oil (check if it is done by placing a drop of batter in it; it should sizzle and foam around the drop)
- Coat each slice with flour on both sides and dip into batter.
- Let the excess drip off and place carefully into heated oil.
- Pan-fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown and flip.
- Cook the other side until done.
- Remove to the plate layered with paper towels.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- You can serve zucchini and eggplant like this as a side dish or an appetizer, or you can turn it into a salad:
- Place all the ingredients for dressing except for garlic in a small jar.
- Put the lid on tightly and shake to combine.
- Place a layer of pan-fried vegetables on the bottom of the platter, sprinkle with garlic and spoon some dressing on top.
- Continue until all the vegetables and all dressing have been used.
- Put the platter in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to meld.
- Serve as an appetizer, salad, or a side dish.