Cool Tip: To Salt or Not to Salt... That is the Question

Salted zucchini

So … the summer season is starting to wind down - the grape harvest is in full-swing here in Napa Valley - and we all are searching for more ways to enjoy the abundance of zucchinis, cucumbers, and eggplants … from our own garden, your friends’ gardens, or the farmers’ markets … before winter descends. And as we approach this bounty, with a variety of recipes in mind, the fundamental question is salt or not to salt?

In our pantry, multiple varieties of salt enjoy a prominent position. But for these watery vegetables, plain old kosher salt has a special role to play: to extract excess moisture so that their flavors can be enjoyed in whatever preparation or dish you’re planning to enjoy. Salt will draw out the excess moisture and leave your vegetables better able to show their flavors in your final dish.

There are three basic cutting techniques employed for most dishes incorporating these vegetables: slicing, julienning or grating. And the choice of cutting technique drives the choice of salting  and draining technique.

Slices - think eggplant - either Italian or Asian varietals - for Eggplant Parmesan or for grilling, simple zucchini for a stir-fry or basic saute, or cucumber slices as platforms for smoked salmon topped with creme fraiche - need to be cut to the desired thickness and laid on a paper or cloth towel, sprinkled liberally on both sides with kosher salt, and left to leach for 20-30 minutes. Then simply blot off the moisture that has appeared and … voila! … you’re ready to go to the next stage of your recipe.

Julienning creates vegetable noodles. Once you salt and drain these for about 30 minutes, they become flexible and very noodle-like without the glutens or the “bad” carbs. We use this technique fo
r Zucchetti alla Colbrook. Be sure to rinse off the salt, and allow enough time to drain the water that you used for rinsing.

Grating makes these vegetables even more versatile. Simply grate the desired quantity, put it into a colander, salt liberally, and let drain into the sink or a bowl for 20-30 minutes. Next, you must rinse off the salt - yes you will be putting back some moisture, but you do need to remove the saltiness! - from the drained vegetables. Finally, put a ball of the rinsed vegetables into a dish towel, twist-wrap the towel abound the ball, and squeeze as hard as you can - over the sink - to extract the moisture ...and then squeeze some more! Depending upon the recipe, this can be done most effectively in batches. When you’re done, you will have a very flavorful ingredient for your recipe … think cucumbers in Tzatziki, or zucchini for a quiche or frittata, or simply for a crisp sauteed note in a wide range of dishes.

Major points: salt liberally to remove excess moisture, rinse to remove excess salt, and enjoy the more intense flavors of these summer vegetables before they disappear in the coming seasons! Enjoy!