Stir Fried Zucchini tempered with Nigella Seeds

When I first moved to the US, Zucchini was the first vegetable I fell totally in love with. It has a very mild flavor profile and it picks up the flavor of what it's cooked with. It reminded me of Kancha Kumro. Kancha Kumro (which means raw or tender Pumpkin in Bengali), refers to tender dark green pumpkin/squash with a thin skin and a very mild taste.

For the longest time, I used to cook Zucchini, using my every day Indian spices. As and when I got comfortable with my oven, I tried baking, roasting and grilling this versatile veggie. Needless to say, my love for it just grew even more. I was shocked to hear few chefs (at Food Network) calling Zucchini sad and boring! There is nothing boring about zucchini. It tastes amazing, irrespective of how it was cooked. The only criteria being, it should be well seasoned.

Before moving on to today's recipe, I would like talk about this amazing spice - Nigella Seeds. It is widely used in Indian and Middle eastern cooking especially to flavor flat-breads and vegetable dishes. It has a mild, nutty onion flavor and looks almost like black Sesame seeds, except it has a sharp triangular shape. In India its called Kalonji in Hindi and Kalo Jeere in Bengali.

Apart from its culinary uses, this spice has amazing healing properties too, and it often called "seed of blessing"! Here are few of its health benefits:

Nigella Seeds contains nigella and melatin, two ingredients that give it highly diversified medicinal powers. These substances work together to improve digestion and to cleanse the body.
Nigella seeds also help fight against respiratory ailments.
It also acts as an antihistamine, which helps to reduce the negative symptoms of allergy sufferers.
It is also a strong antioxidant and helps cleanse the body of toxins.
Nigella Seeds provides a rich supply of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which play a key role in daily health and wellness. They help to regulate metabolism, balance insulin levels, control cholesterol, improve body circulation, and promote healthy liver function.
Mix a teaspoon of Nigella Seeds in boiling water and inhale the vapors twice a day. This helps to relieve nasal congestion.

Nigella Seeds or Kalonji is extensively used in Bengali Dishes to flavor various dals, vegetable stir fries and fish curries. I love the slightly smokey onion(y) flavor it imparts to stir fries. I flavored this particular recipe with just grated ginger, as most Bengali vegetable dish doesn't use onions or garlic. But feel free to add onion or garlic or both. The taste of the resultant dish wouldn't be the same, but it would be just as good. Finishing off the dish with a handful of fresh herb like cilantro brings a burst of freshness, which I personally love. It is an optional step though.

I used Zucchini as the main vegetable here, because it is abundantly available and a family favourite. But back home the same recipe can be recreated with Pumpkin or Bottle Gourd (Lau/Lauki) or Ridge Gourd (Jinge/Taroi).

Recipe Snapshot: Stir Fried Zucchini tempered with Nigella Seeds

Serves: 3 serving
(1 serving = 1 cup)

What I used:
Zucchini- 4, medium sized, diced into cubes

Nigella Seeds (Kalonji/Kalo Jeere) - 1/2 tsp

Tomato - 1, medium sized, chopped

Ginger - 1 tsp, grated (about an 1'" knob)
(Garlic can substituted for ginger and also a combination of ginger and garlic can be used)

Green Chilies - 2 (or more for a more spicier version)

Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp

Red Chili Powder - 1/2 tsp (substitute paprika for a milder version)

Olive oil or Mustard Oil - 1 tablespoon

Salt to taste

Cilantro or Coriander leaves - a handful, roughly chopped

What I did:

1. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large wok/kadhai or in a wide pan, over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add half a teaspoon of Nigella Seeds (Kalonji/Kalo Jeere) and 2 green chilies.

2. Once you are hit with the aroma of the Nigella Seeds (Kalonji/Kalo Jeere), add the diced zucchini, chopped tomatoes, grated ginger (ginger-garlic paste or just garlic also works), turmeric powder, red chili (or paprika), salt and a touch of sugar (optional) and mix well.

3. Cover and cook on medium- low heat for 5-7 minutes. The zucchinis and the tomatoes will release a bit of moisture and get cooked in its own steam.

4. After 5 or 6 minutes open the cover and check if the zucchinis are soft and cooked through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If it's still watery, increase the heat and let the water evaporate, stirring continuously, leaving a dryish consistency.

5. Take off the flame and add a handful of chopped cilantro (coriander leaves).

6. Serve warm with fresh roti or paratha. It can be enjoyed on its own or even as a side to dal and rice.

If you prefer a milder heat level, do not add the green chilies while tempering the oil with Nigella seeds. Add it along with the cilantro. You will still get the flavor of green chili and not much of the heat.
Onions and garlic can be added to this recipe for a variation. If using Onions, add it right after tempering the oil with Nigella Seeds and chilies. Saute it till slightly brown and then add the diced Zucchini. Grated or finely minced Garlic can be added along with or in place of the grated Ginger.

Diabetic Platter:
Zucchini is a highly alkaline food that is one of the mildest and easiest vegetables to digest. Zucchini is a great source of vitamin A, C, & B-complex as well as minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, and manganese. It is high in fiber and low in calories which makes it a great weight loss food and helps to reduce constipation and bloating.



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