Zucchini is a quintessential summer food. The squash grows so voraciously during the sun’s strongest months that growers practically beg for ways to get rid of it (hence, the originally odd inception of the now-classic zucchini bread)! Well, here’s another option: zucchini fritters. But don’t panic—as unhealthy and greasy a reputation as fritters have, its comfort food status can be enjoyed in this guilt-free dish with a couple of health-nourishing upgrades: chickpea flour and heart-healthy ghee. Kick out the processed white flour and inflammatory oils for frying, and you have the best of all possible fritters, made extra special with a spike of spice and heat from cumin and cayenne.
Store-bought chickpea flour makes a protein-rich and gluten-free alternative to wheat flour, also excellent as a binder, thickener for gravies, or dredging batter for fish and meat. It has a slightly sweet, buttery flavor that’s best left out of sweet foods, but perfectly enhances the flavor of these fritters. Cook them to golden crispiness in health-nourishing ghee, which also cuts down the inflammatory effects of frying. Served alongside salad, or served alone or with a quick yogurt-based sauce, these fritters make a satisfying and special vegetarian main dish.
Gluten-Free Zucchini Fritters
6 tablespoons melted ghee, olive oil, or unscented coconut oil, divided
1 large leek, white and pale-green parts, thinly sliced (about 1½ -2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 cups (firmly packed) peeled and grated zucchini
¾ cup chickpea flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large egg
½ cup warm (not boiling) water
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet (nonstick if possible), over medium-high heat. Add leek, season with ½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is translucent and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, just until the zucchini is soft, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat, and transfer zucchini to a bowl or plate to cool down. Wipe out skillet and set aside to cook the fritters.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the chickpea flour, baking powder, cumin, cayenne and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir in the egg, 1 tablespoon ghee and ½ cup water, mixing until completely smooth. Season with a few grinds of pepper and let sit for 10 minutes for chickpea flour to thicken.
- Heat 1½ tablespoons of ghee or oil in the reserved skillet over medium-high heat. Add the batter in small mounds to make 4 pancakes; gently flatten them to ¼” thickness. Cook until tops of fritters form bubbles and the bottoms turn golden brown, about 4 minutes; use a spatula to flip fritters over, and cook until cooked through, another 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate covered with foil to keep warm. Repeat with another tablespoon of ghee and remaining batter. Keep warm until ready to serve.
It’s important to get the oil hot enough in the pan before cooking to avoid soggy fritters. The oil is hot enough when you tilt the pan (carefully!) and see small ripples or waves; take it too much further and the oil may burn. When you see the waves, it’s time to cook.
If given a choice, buy smaller-sized summer squash; they’re less bitter and watery than the overgrown giants.
- Chickpea flour has a high protein content; 6 grams in 1/4 cup.
- Zucchini, and all summer squash, have a high water content that makes these vegetables hydrating. Their tender flesh is easy to digest and rich in fiber, carotenes, and many cancer-fighting phytochemicals.
- Ghee is rich in medium-chain fatty acids that, like coconut oil, bypass processing by the liver and provide an immediate source of energy that’s not stored as fat in the body.
Ghee is a sacred, nourishing fat in Ayurvedic tradition. This golden elixir of pure butterfat has been believed for centuries to have healing and purifying properties, far removed from the butter stigma that dominates contemporary nutritional attitudes. But, butter in moderation is nothing to be afraid of; in fact, science is uncovering the fact that demonized saturated fats have been falsely accused of causing heart disease (as long as we are talking about natural, wholesome fats, of course).
To make ghee, butter slowly simmers on the stovetop until the milk solids sink and separate from the fat. The milk solids take on a complex, toasted flavor that is delightfully resonant of caramel; those solids are then strained, leaving behind the fragrant oil called ghee. Ghee makes a perfect higher-temperature cooking oil for sautéing or roasting because it doesn’t contain the heat-sensitive milk solids that are unhealthy to ingest when burned. It’s important to choose high-quality ghee from organic, grass-fed sources to avoid concentrated animal growth hormones.