Many summers ago in Sydney, when our family lived in a house with a small courtyard, we cultivated a small vegetable garden in a recycled wine barrel. We grew cherry tomatoes, carrots, beets, and zucchini, all squished together in this modestly sized basin. I'd heard that zucchini had a reputation for easily overrunning a small garden-and our plants did just that. We were rewarded with more zucchini than we could possibly eat. The flowers-stuffed with ricotta, battered and fried to a crispy zenith-disappeared into our bellies quickly. But the oversupply of zucchini stumped me for a moment. Faced with vegetable preparation uncertainty, I did as I often do in this situation and fired up the grill, which has always been my favorite way of preparing large quantities of vegetables.
What I learned during my brief foray as a zucchini grower is that these marrows are absolutely ideal for the grill's intense high heat, which imbues them with deep flavors and complexity. (If you don't have an outdoor grill, as I don't anymore, using a grill pan on high heat on the stovetop works well too.) Sliced into thick planks, zucchini becomes sweet and earthy, with creamy flesh and an irresistible smokiness. When grilling, surface area matters; planks provide more exposed flesh for char marks and allow the zucchini to absorb the flavors of the grill more efficiently. Planks also cook quickly and are easier to maneuver around the grill or pan than zucchini discs.
After grilling, zucchini benefits from both generous salting and some acid, which draws out more sweetness and fruitiness. Red wine or apple cider vinegar are great options, and lemon works too. Nowadays, I rarely consume grilled zucchini without a hit of something sour.
This grilled zucchini and bulgur salad with feta and preserved lemon dressing embodies the breezy effortlessness of summer eating. Here, grilled zucchini is combined with bulgur, a grain best known as the main component of tabbouleh, but which also shines as a robust salad ingredient. The sharp dressing is anchored by preserved lemon paste, which delivers the layer of acidity that zucchini thrives upon.
In many ways, preserved lemon paste is summer's quickest route to big-flavored salads. Made of pulverized preserved lemons, this powerhouse paste is a multipurpose condiment that delivers deep citrus notes and a confident umami attitude.
While preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in North African cuisine, jars of the puréed version are relatively recent arrivals in the condiment world. As soon as I tried it, I fell for New York Shuk's heavy-hitting lemon paste: As co-owner Leetal Arazi explains, this sharp, funky, salty purée has transformative powers that simultaneously simplify and intensify daily cooking. "The holy combo of preserved lemon paste and olive oil is the base for every salad dressing we make," she says.
In my everyday cooking, I prefer the paste over whole preserved lemons because it's easier to use-it's scoopable and can be incorporated into food straight from the jar, no chopping required. If you can't find preserved lemon paste, though, you can make your own: Simply blitz one whole preserved lemon in a blender with one to two tablespoons of brine until smooth.
For salads, preserved lemon paste achieves what fresh lemon does by lifting the overall flavor of a dish and imparting a fresh, clean roundedness, but it goes one step further by adding umami and depth. It also takes the guesswork out of balancing a dressing. You can make a punchy vinaigrette by simply combining the lemon paste with olive oil as Arazi does, or you can whisk it with tahini for a nutty, creamy dressing. In my bulgur and zucchini salad recipe, I stick with olive oil, adding a touch of honey, garlic, and black pepper to round out the flavor.
Beyond bulgur and zucchini, this zesty dressing is delightfully versatile. Bold enough to serve with other grilled or roasted vegetables (it would do well paired with cauliflower or eggplant) or toss through chickpeas, quinoa, roasted potatoes, or pasta for a quick salad, preserved lemon paste will bring an unforgettable brightness and complexity to your next meal.