It’s August and the summer vegetable harvest is in full swing, which to me is kind of like Christmas. At least once a week, my husband lugs home plastic bags filled with spoils from his family’s vegetable garden like heirloom tomatoes, white streaked eggplants, and crooked banana peppers. I love homegrown vegetables. Last week I think I even I did a little victory hop in the living room when I saw him hauling the latest bounty through the side door. Not only are the vegetables incredibly tasty and fresh, but I know that for the next week or two we won’t need to plan dinner. Just a peek at the veggies in our fridge and our imaginations will do the rest.
Zucchinis were the theme of last week’s delivery. We must have received about fifteen. I knew I would need a recipe that would use a lot of zucchinis, so I reached for one of my favorites, Chocolate Zucchini Cake.
I made Chocolate Zucchini Cake for the first time in 2008 when my husband and I had just moved into Athens’ Marousi neighborhood. It was August and our fridge was, similarly, overrun with zucchinis. I needed a bulk-use zucchini recipe to do a little population control. Growing up, zucchini bread was my mom’s standard summer recipe so I decided to bake a riff I had seen online, a chocolate zucchini cake.
I got to work. In our mini-chopper, I grated the zucchinis. Then, I coated them with eggs, sugar, and olive oil. Next I stirred in a mixture of flour, cocoa powder and instant coffee. The batter was lumpy with zucchini pieces, but glossy and smelled like chocolate cake. In the oven, the dark auburn batter rose and baked into a shiny, lofty sculpture which lifted beautifully out of its Bundt pan. I deemed the venture a success and, when the cake cooled, got a knife to cut slices for my husband and myself. I was just about to cut when he put his hand on my shoulder.
“It looks so nice,” he said. “Maybe you should take it to my parents’ house tomorrow for the party.” A bit disappointed—because no one likes to be denied cake, mid-slice –I agreed that it would be a nice gesture and set the cake aside for the next day’s get-together.
When we arrived at his parents’ house the next afternoon, my husband told his mother what I had brought.
“Fantastic!” she said. “I had no idea you could make cakes with zucchinis. It looks just like a regular chocolate cake. Although why don’t we keep the zucchini a secret? People will be more willing to try it then.”
Until that moment, I hadn’t considered that zucchini cake might seem odd to Greeks. Perhaps even an American would have found it strange. Since zucchini bread and cookies were part of my childhood, it had never entered my mind that others might be a bit squeamish about squash in their baked goods. I took her advice and kept quiet about the zucchini.
The party continued. Near the end, everyone wandered towards the dessert table. There was yogurt with spoon sweets, halva, and baklava. My cake was there too. I was surprised that nearly everyone took a slice and by the end of the evening, not much remained. It’s good that we didn’t mention the zucchini, I thought. Then one of my husband’s brothers sat next to me, eating a slice. “This is a great chocolate cake, Lauren, what did you put in it?” When I looked at him to reply, I saw a piece of green zucchini peel dangling between his front teeth.
“Oh you know,” I said, looking away, “just chocolate, oil, eggs…the usual.”
“It’s a zucchini chocolate cake,” said my husband, coming up from behind me, “It’s got zucchinis too.”
“Oh right?” said his brother, continuing to eat. “It’s amazing, I couldn’t tell.”
Last week I baked Chocolate Zucchini Cake again. This time I modified the ingredients a bit; half of the oil I replaced with Greek yogurt—it adds richness and a lovely tang. I also intensified the chocolate and instant coffee. The resulting cake is delicious with coffee for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. During these hot summer days, I quite like keeping it in the refrigerator.
I don’t think I’ll ever be disappointed with an abundance of summer squash, at least not when I have a recipe that makes good use of them, like this one. Vegetable gods, keep the zucchini coming!
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
4 cups grated zucchini, about 2 pounds zucchini
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup + 3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, full fat or 2%
1 tablespoon (scant) instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
- Preheat oven to 350oF (176oC) Place the grated zucchini in a strainer set over a bowl to drain excess liquid.
- Meanwhile combine the whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
- Press the grated zucchini in the strainer with a wooden spoon to release some remaining liquid but not all. This is what makes the cake moist. Combine the grated zucchini, sugar, eggs, olive oil, yogurt, instant coffee granules, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Stir until combined then add the flour mixture in three additions. Stir until blended.
- Pour into 2 buttered and floured 9″x5” loaf pans or one large, buttered and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350o for 50-60 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pans to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the edges of the pans and invert cakes onto plates. Let cool completely before cutting.