I really, really like courgettes (zucchini!). Grated, salted and squeezed of excess water, their moist shreds melt into any number of dishes, adding oozy texture and complex, powerful nutrition. A newly tried recipe for Courgette Tian – a glorious harmony of absolutely tons of courgettes, a little rice and some Parmesan – is coming up soon.
Today’s recipe, however, is one of my favourite, go-to uses for this vegetable – bright, lemony, cheesy, baked ‘fritters’ – shaped large like the burgers above or into mini balls for unparallelled tasty snacking.
I used two Greek recipes – one from Closet Cooking and one from Saveur magazine – as flavour inspiration, but changed the cooking method. These recipes both called for deep-frying them, but I discovered one day when I had run out of frying oil that they actually taste better when baked. I didn’t even need to oil the baking tray.
That means that these versatile ‘fritters’ not only taste amazing, they are light and chockful of fantastically healthy ingredients. Instead of rare deep-fried treat, they are an everyday staple. Courgettes, lemon, fresh herbs, garlic, feta. Without tasting them, you will never believe that this combination of ingredients can taste THIS good.
I started off serving these as part of Greek- and Middle Eastern-inspired feasts. However, they have recently proved to be a massive hit when served with Indian food as well, although there’s nothing Indian about the flavours here. They are also great on a buffet as they are delicious hot, warm or cold.
But my new favourite way to eat them is as a veggie burger. One of the problems I often encounter with veggie burgers (apart from tasting like crap!), is that they fall apart when squashed between a bun, but these hold together absolutely beautifully. And consisting almost entirely of vegetables, they are truly a veggie burger.
When choosing your courgettes, aim for the smallest ones whenever possible. Small summer squashes are more tender with less seeds and a softer skin. And as they’re sold by weight, there’s nothing to lose!
I think you could adapt the flavourings in these fritters quite freely, as courgette is a fairly neutral flavour. Perhaps add some chopped dried tomatoes or use spices instead of herbs. I would, however, hang on to the lemon. It adds a clean, fresh, bright flavour which really complements the courgette. And it’s healthy!
Incidentally, an aside on how to choose lemons (you know you were wondering). The thinner the skin on the lemon, the better. See the lemon on the right? It’s basically the same size as the other lemon, but with more juicy flesh. You can tell them apart by giving them a squeeze. The thick-skinned ones will be very stiff and difficult to press. The thin-skinned ones will give. You can often find me in the shop squeezing entire displays of lemons to find the thinnest ones there. I know how to have a good time! Read more about the fascinating world of lemons and other cool tips here.
For a vegan version of this dish, you could use ground flax seeds instead of the egg and change the feta flavouring to something else. Does anyone have any suggestions for a vegan ingredient that could fulfill the role of salty feta?
To make these gluten-free, change the whole wheat flour to one more suitable – gram/chickpea flour often works as a healthy and delicious alternative (mmmm, maybe I’ll try that next time), or you could use a speciality celiac product. I haven’t tested them with other flours, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t hold together. Do let me know if you try this recipe with any other kind of flour.
This recipe makes about 6 large burger patties or 10-14 smaller balls. For them to hold together properly they need to cool down after being removed from the oven – this process firms them up. If you want to serve them hot, it’s better to reheat them rather than eating them straight out of the oven.
- 6 smallish courgettes
- 1 medium onion, diced 1cm
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 200g feta, crumbled
- juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1 large handful mint, roughly chopped
- 1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 lightly heaped tablespoons whole wheat flour, or similar
- Grate the courgettes into a colander, sprinkle evenly with salt (I used about 1 teaspoon) and toss to combine. Leave to drain (put a bowl under the colander or leave it in the sink) for about an hour. The courgettes are probably useable in less time than this if you're in a rush, but I like to leave them as long as possible. When ready, pile half the courgette into the middle of a clean tea towel and twist the towel around the courgette to squeeze out as much water as possible (read more about this technique here).
- Preheat the oven to 200c. Transfer the courgettes to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix thoroughly to fully combine (few chunks of feta is okay).
- Shape the mixture into balls or patties and place on a non-stick baking tray. The size you choose will depend on what you use them for. They are great as nibbles, beginning or accompanying a full meal, but they also make an awesome veggie burger for which you will probably need to make them larger.
- Bake for about an hour, until they are brown all over, turning once about halfway. Exact timing will depend on the size of your fritters and your oven.
- Allow to cool so they firm up and hold together (reheat later if necessary). Serve hot, warm or cold.