OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Get your vegetarian game on with squash cakes

Squash Cakes With Cheese and Herbs (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I liked this summer squash recipe from Deborah Madison's "In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes" (Ten Speed, $32.50) so much that I made it twice in one day.

The original recipe calls for Costata Romanesco, an heirloom variety of zucchini with distinctive ribs and green stripes. I made it with ordinary yellow squash.

The recipe is quite versatile — in addition to changing up the variety of summer squash, other cheeses or herbs can be used. In my second batch, I skipped the herbs altogether and opted for a bit of garlic and cumin. They were just as good as the first.

Madison pairs feta cheese with dill and lemon zest; and cheddar cheese with oregano, parsley or cilantro and tomatillo salsa. Other combinations I think would be good include gruyere with chives and thyme; mozzarella with basil and rosemary; Monterey Jack with jalapeno or serrano and oregano and/or cilantro.

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Squash Cakes With Cheese and Herbs

  • About 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil, divided use
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound summer squash such as yellow squash or zucchini, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline set on 3 mm)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced OR 1 teaspoon garlic paste, optional
  • Scant ½ cup chopped fresh herbs such as oregano, cilantro, parsley, basil and/or dill, divided use
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
  • ½ cup (or more) grated or crumbled cheese such as cheddar or feta
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • Ground cumin, to taste, optional
  • Tomatillo salsa and sour cream or yogurt, for serving

In a large, wide skillet heat about 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the squash, about ¾ teaspoon salt and the garlic, if using; stir well to coat. If the skillet seems a bit dry, add another tablespoon of butter or oil. Cook, turning the squash every few minutes, until the squash is golden in places, starting to dry out and is considerably reduced, about 20 minutes. Stir in a generous pinch or two of the herbs and cook for a few minutes more. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, ½ cup breadcrumbs, remaining herbs and ½ cup cheese. Stir in the squash and season with pepper and cumin, if using.

In the same skillet used to cook the squash (wipe it clean with a paper towel), heat a bit of butter or oil over medium heat. Drop in about 1 tablespoon of the squash mixture and cook until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, then turn and cook the other side until golden and crisp. Taste it and add more salt, pepper, cumin, cheese or breadcrumbs to the batter as needed.

After making any necessary adjustments to the batter, add about 1 tablespoon butter or oil to the skillet, swirl to coat and drop the batter in small mounds, flattening each with the back of a spoon or spatula, and cook until golden and crisp on both sides.

Serve warm with salsa and sour cream or yogurt.

Makes 4 appetizer servings or 2 main course servings.