Are fried vegetables the "gateway" technique for vegetable haters? I admit a weakness for fried plants: fried onions, fried green beans, fried pickles, fried okra, fried eggplant. Fried eggplant? Yes, it's been known to turn self-proclaimed "we are not eggplant people" into fried-eggplant fiends.
So why no fried vegetables on A Veggie Venture? Well, it's a healthy-eating thing. Because we all know that fried food is bad, right? Right?
Well maybe it is, maybe it isn't. These Fried Zucchini Sticks were fried in a skillet that started with 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) of vegetable oil. When they were done, 5-1/3 tablespoons (1/3c) of vegetable oil was still in the pan. That means that exactly 2-2/3 tablespoons of oil were used to fry the zucchini sticks.
Now granted, 2-2/3 tablespoons of oil is considerably more than the 1 tablespoon of oil I typically allow for a pound of vegetables. But it's also considerably less than the 1/4 cup of oil I often see used in vegetable recipes in magazines and cookbooks.
That said, I really did want to see how Fried Zucchini Sticks and Baked Zucchini Sticks compared, taste-wise, goodness-wise. The verdict?
The Fried Zucchini Sticks were better than the Baked Zucchini Sticks – but not by much. If the Fried Zucchini Sticks warranted an A+ (and they did, oh they so did!) then the Baked Zucchini Sticks earned a solid B+ or even an A-. But if I'd tasted only the Baked Zucchini Sticks? I'd have loved them.
So you decide. Fried Zucchini Sticks or Baked Zucchini Sticks. The choice, always, is yours. If you hate vegetables and the fried version can be your gateway technique? Go for it!
RECIPE for FRIED ZUCCHINI STICKS or BAKED ZUCCHINI STICKS
Time to table: 25 minutes for Fried Zucchini Sticks, 40 minutes for Baked Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 (6 pieces each)
1 large zucchini, about 1 pound
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppper
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups panko
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Ranch or blue cheese dressing, for dipping
PREHEAT OVEN If frying, preheat oven to 150F. If baking, preheat oven to 400F.
CUT Wash the zucchini well, trim off the stem and flower ends. Lengthwise, cut the zucchini into thirds, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. With the cut-side down, cut each piece into four equal-width pieces.
ASSEMBLY LINE Build an assembly line with three shallow plates. With a fork, whisk the flour, salt and pepper together in Plate One; whisk the eggs well in Plate Two; pour the panko onto Plate Three. Place a baking sheet on the side.
DIP One by one, dip each zucchini stick first into Plate One, dredging (that means "covering with flour") on all sides; then into the egg in Plate Two; then into the panko in Plate Three. With each dip, try to cover the entire piece. It's a sticky-messy job, you won't be able to do anything else without washing your hands.
TO FRY In a large skillet, heat about 1/2 cup vegetable oil on MEDIUM HEAT until the oil sizzles when you flick a little water on your fingertips into the skillet. With tongs, gently drop about half the zucchini sticks into the hot oil (they too should sizzle a bit), just enough to cook without crowding. Cook until golden on all three sides, turning twice with the tongs. Place hot zucchini sticks on a plate covered with a paper towel and place in the 150F oven to keep warm while cooking the rest of the zucchini sticks.
TO BAKE Arrange zucchini sticks on a baking sheet without crowding and bake for about 25 minutes or until golden.
TO SERVE Serve piping hot with ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
Use vegetable oil or peanut oil (not olive oil) for frying, olive oil has what's called a "low smoke point" - that means it has a tendency to burn at high temperatures.
If you have trouble getting the flour to coat, try patting the zucchini pieces dry with a paper towel first.
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