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The Key to Perfectly Seasoned Grilled Zucchini Is a Quick Brine

The beauty of cooking a vegetarian meal is that you don’t need to deal with a lot of the fussy steps involved in meat preparation: There’s no need to worry about letting anything come to room temperature or putting something in a marinade hours before cooking, and you don’t have to memorize a long list of internal temperatures to ensure your food is safe to eat.

But that doesn’t mean vegetable dishes don’t have their pitfalls. Take grilled zucchini, for example, which usually comes out both under-seasoned and overcooked. It’s a bummer. But America’s Test Kitchen is attempting to solve for this problem, with a technique that echoes those aforementioned fussy meat-cooking steps: brining. Does letting the squash sit in a 45-minute brine in a saltwater solution before cooking actually help the final results? That’s what I’m here to investigate.

How to Make Brined Zucchini

To make this brined zucchini, you need to make a solution by whisking 4 cups of water and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Next, you cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and submerge them in this solution for 45 minutes to an hour (you might need to use a plate or something similar to weigh them down and keep them submerged in the solution). After they’ve soaked, transfer them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and pat dry. While they soak, make a simple salsa verde with herbs, capers, garlic, oil, and vinegar.

Meanwhile, preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high heat, oiling the grates as needed. Cook the halves cut-side down until you have dark sear marks and the zucchini has slightly softened, then flip them and cook them for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and spoon the salsa verde over them. Congrats! You just brined and cooked your first vegetable.

I can totally relate to this zucchini conundrum. I love a grilled zucchini plank, but I do agree that this is a surprisingly tricky veg to perfect over the grill. The planks are either so thin that they char super quickly and become soft and wet, or they’re too thick and retain too much crunch without ample seasoning. I found this technique to be extremely clever, and it really did solve this summer squash dilemma. The planks were cooked to perfection and well-seasoned throughout.

Because I take these recipe trial runs very seriously, I decided to leave one plank out of the brining solution and see how it stood up next to the brined version. (A control group, if you will.) Instead, I simply sprinkled the exterior with salt before grilling. Eating the brined and non-brined versions next to one another made it clear that the brining method was extremely effective. You could very easily taste that the brined halves were well-seasoned throughout the entirety of the vegetable. The non-brined version reminded me of eating pasta that was cooked in unsalted water, which is an experience that I do not recommend. And while we’re discussing flavor, let me just say that the herby, acidic salsa verde was the perfect complement to the dish; I’ll be making it again.

As far as texture goes, these zucchini halves were cooked for a shorter amount of time than I would usually grill a plank, given that I usually slice my squashes into 1/2-inch-thick planks, whereas these halves may have been closer to one inch. Frankly, I didn’t mind that the halves still had a slight crunch to them. The texture was slightly soft and creamy with the most subtle bite at the end. I am excited to make this again for a casual, late-summer dinner, and I definitely plan to adopt the brining technique for any grilled summer squash in my future.

My Tip for Making Brined Zucchini

In a perfect world, everybody would light up their charcoal grills for a smoky, flavor-packed zucchini experience. However, if you’re like me and don’t have access to a grill (charcoal or gas — please pity me), you’re going to have to take the fun inside and do it on a grill pan. It’s certainly not as desirable and you may need to ask your roommate to fan the smoke alarm while you cook (not speaking from personal experience or anything), but it will be well worth it.

Sara Tane

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Sara Tane is a food writer and private chef based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education and has written for Cooking Light, MyRecipes.com, and The Feedfeed. She also has a serious thing for oysters.

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