Zucchini Pancakes Are Still Pancakes, Right?
Even a toddler will like the underdog vegetable in this format
Just typing that word on my keyboard makes me salivate, Pavlovian style. So, if that’s the case for a grown-ass adult like me, imagine what the word “pancakes” can do to a kid.
My daughter Grace, who is 2, relishes breakfast. As a kid, I never really gelled with the meal, probably because I just preferred to sleep in and start with lunch (and, to be honest, I hope Grace follows suit), but I did always really like pancakes. And she’s no different.
In the mornings, around 6:30 a.m.— you know, the average time mothers of toddlers transform into short-order cooks — she can often be heard request-yelling pancakes as I’m trying desperately to drown out her crib cries and get approximately four to six more minutes of sleep. When I get out of bed feeling alert and ambitious enough to make her some pancakes, she eats like she’s going to baby jail. Usually, it’s straight off the griddle, her two little hands on either side, no syrup necessary. It’s glorious to watch a child enjoy food like that, so it’s rare I decline her request.
Fast forward to dinnertime. Besides pasta, there are few things my daughter begs me to cook for her. She’s meh on chicken and meat, generally. She eats vegetables with a little coaxing, but none besides asparagus (!) inspire true excitement. She’s even blasé about meatballs, which send most other kids into tailspins.
It’s become my daily project to create and inspire a love of eating, an appreciation for the variety of foods and flavors that we consume in our home, and a curiosity about cooking within my daughter. And while I took on this personal project with enthusiasm, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s much, much harder than I thought it would be. As long as I’m serving Grace one thing that she absolutely loves in her dish, she’s willing to eat the accompaniments, if for no other reason than to get more of the food she’s digging. I’m always on the hunt for those recipe gems.
So when I stumbled on Elaine Louis’ recipe for Zucchini Pancakes in the New York Times Cooking App — as you can imagine — I was overjoyed. They seemed the perfect side dish to make the rest of her dinner tolerable. Plus, ahem, the recipe has the word “pancakes” in the title.
Coming from an Italian family, zucchini (along with broccoli rabe) has been part of my life since childhood. It had never been my favorite, probably because my mom stewed it down into a mushy mess with tomatoes and onions. But I remember coming of age in my zucchini appreciation at the now-shuttered NYC restaurant The Red Cat, where a dish made of raw zucchini matchsticks, flash-fried and topped with almonds and pecorino, set my palate to happy. So simple, so delectable. Since then, I’ve come to really enjoy this vegetable and wanted my daughter to realize early on that zucchini could be her friend. But how?
Enter the pancake ruse.
I love the addition of feta cheese, transforming a fritter that’s often made with parmesan cheese to something more Greek or Turkish. It also allows me to introduce her to another type of cheese. The recipe also called for dill, which I love in dips and garnishes, but not cooked into my food. Merging the recipe with my own taste, I came up with a riff on the Times’ version and hoped for the best.
“Mommy cooking,” my daughter narrated as I started clanging around in the kitchen that night. I debated telling her that I was making pancakes to get her excited, but then realized it would set off impatience and images of the morning’s maple syrup version only to deliver a “different” version later. So, I said nothing and just allowed her to stir the raw batter as I dropped tablespoons of the mixture onto the hot griddle.
I debated telling her that I was making pancakes to get her excited, but then realized it would set off impatience and images of the morning’s maple syrup version only to deliver a ‘different’ version later.
As Grace caught onto what I was doing and made the connection. “Pancakes,” she cried gleefully. “Zucchini pancakes,” I corrected. “Zoo-keeeeeey-kneeeee pancakes,” she repeated slowly, feeling each syllable on her little tongue. “Zoo-keeey-knee pancakes,” she stated again with more conviction and then reached out her hand.
“You have to wait, very hot,” I warned my daughter before turning back to cooking the remaining batter, letting a few of the finished pancakes cool off on the serving plate alongside Grace. Turning back a few moments later, I smiled. She had already dug into the dish of finished pancakes, and held up her prize. “I do it myself,” she said, beaming, and took another bite. “Zoo-keeeeey-knee,” she laughed. “Yummy.”
Just a few notes on the recipe. I subbed onions for scallions, only used one egg, and didn’t include the dill.
As a dipping sauce, I alternate two recipes. The first is a classic yogurt dip flavored with garlic, dill, cayenne, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil that I love from Minimalist Baker. The second is a tahini-based sauce that I pretty much put on everything that needs a dressing of some sort. It’s straight-up tahini loosened with cold water to desired consistency, a hit of lemon juice, few shakes of cumin, and a pinch of salt.