Try a new twist on zucchini

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It is the A to Z time of summer: August brings an abundance of zucchini.

Zucchini is exploding in our gardens and filling up stands at farmers' markets. What do we do with this green veggie, and its close cousin, the yellow summer squash?

A popular option is zucchini bread. Recipes often add a lot of sugar and then we top the bread with high saturated fat butter. This tasty treat does not promote the health benefits of this summer garden gem.

One cup of sliced or spiralized zucchini is a great source of potassium. It has 295 milligrams, which is higher than an orange at 240 milligrams. We need 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day to ensure our heart beats well, our blood pressure is under control and we metabolize our food well. Zucchini also is a great source of the "eye vitamin" known as lutein. Lutein is one of two major carotenoids found as a color pigment in the human eye. It is thought to function as a light filter, protecting eye tissues from sunlight damage.

Zucchini has recently become popular in the foodie world. "Zoodles" or zucchini noodles, are the internet's favorite pasta substitute. The lean green spirals are thin slices of zucchini, styled to mimic the look of pasta. Zoodles are popular in low-carbohydrate menu plans. While one cup of pasta has 200 calories and about 40 grams of carbohydrates, a cup of zoodles has only 20 calories and about five grams of carbohydrates.

Using zoodles instead of pasta is an easy way to boost the amount of vegetables we eat. Vegetables ensure that we get the needed vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to ward off cancer, heart disease, diabetes, eye disease and other chronic conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 87 percent of Americans do not get the recommended two to three cups of vegetables. Adding spiralized vegetables, starting with this season's zucchini, can get us closer to this goal.

Spiralizing gives a new and enticing look that is pleasing to the eye and we know that we eat first with our eyes.

There are hand spiralizers and table-top spiralizers. Hand models are less expensive but only do thin swirls. Table-top models, which cost $25 to $40, usually come with multiple blades to make fancy fun shapes, including ribbons and half-moons. Small to medium zucchinis work best with the spiralizers. For a huge zucchini, try a hand-held julienne peeler to make straight thin zoodles that look like fettucine. You can also try a potato peeler to test this concept before purchasing a new device. I tried a hand-held spiralizer and the julienne peeler. I'm thinking about purchasing a table-top model to experiment with a variety of vegetables and add more eye appeal to my vegetable presentations.

A simple meal to try is zucchini spirals topped with your favorite spaghetti sauce. It works well to warm the zoodles in a frying pan. Heat a skillet with a little olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the zoodles and pepper to taste. Sauté the zoodles for one to two minutes, until slightly soft. Remove from the pan and place on a plate covered with a paper towel. Allow the paper towel to soak up the extra moisture for about two to three minutes. Then divide the noodles on plates and top with the sauce.

So, try a new twist on zucchini this summer.

Bonnie Brost is licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health. For zoodle recipes, find this column at www.superiortelegram.com.

Zucchini Caprese Salad

2 small zucchini or yellow summer squash, spiralized (about 2 cups)

1 green onion, thinly sliced

16 grape tomatoes, cut in half

6 large fresh basil leaves, torn in small pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pepper to taste

4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped in small chunks

Mix vegetables and basil in a medium bowl. Combine olive oil, vinegar and pepper; mix well and then add to vegetables. Top with chunks of cheese and serve.

Nutrition facts

Serving size, 1 cup; calories, 125; total fat, 8.5 grams; saturated fat, 3 grams; cholesterol, 20 milligrams; sodium, 95 milligrams; potassium, 270 milligrams; carbohydrates, 5 grams; fiber, 1.5 grams; protein, 6 grams.

Stir Fried Zucchini Noodles with Chicken and Peppers

2 small to medium zucchini, spiralized to make 6 cups of zoodles

1 large red pepper, cut into very thin strips

1 large yellow pepper, cut into very thin strips

2 tablespoons low-sodium teriyaki sauce (less than 150 milligrams sodium per tablespoon)

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon sambal oelek chili paste

1 ¼ pound fresh boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips

2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the zucchini noodles, Boil for 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Drain again.

In a small bowl, combine teriyaki sauce, brown sugar, cornstarch and chili paste. Stir to dissolve sugar. Set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and coat the pan. Add chicken strips and brown on both sides, for about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, garlic and ginger; stir. Add peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute. Return chicken to pan. Add zucchini noodles and sauce mixture. Stir together until noodles are heated through and coated with sauce. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Note: Peppers could be spiralized if you have a table-top spiralizer.

Nutrition Facts (calculated using Asian Fusion Low Sodium Teriyaki Sauce)

Serving size: 2 cups; calories, 300; total fat, 9 grams; saturated fat, 0.5 grams; cholesterol, 80 milligrams; sodium, 250 milligrams; potassium, 750 milligrams; carbohydrates, 18 grams; fiber, 4 grams; protein, 36 grams.

Zucchini Noodles with Chicken and Peanut Sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1 ½ cups)

1 cup red cabbage, shredded

1 large red pepper, very thinly sliced

2 medium to large zucchini, spiralized (8 cups)

2½ cups fresh chicken breast, cooked and shredded

Peanut Sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger

1-2 teaspoons hot chili sauce

Prepare peanut sauce first by combining ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until peanut butter has melted. If too thick, add 1-3 tablespoons of hot water. Remove from heat.

Over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil and garlic in a large skillet. Add carrots, cabbage and pepper slices. Cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini noodles and shredded chicken to skillet and cook for about 3 minutes. Pour peanut sauce over chicken and vegetable and toss until well coated. May be garnished with cilantro, chopped green onions or sesame seeds.

Nutrition facts

Makes 6 cups; serving size, 2 cups; calories, 320; total fat, 14 grams; saturated fat, 2.5 grams; cholesterol, 65 milligrams; sodium, 230 milligrams; potassium, 620 milligrams; carbohydrates, 18 grams; fiber, 4 grams; protein 28 grams.