Article: Swap zucchini for pasta for healthier meal


It is zucchini time again! One veggie – so many options! If your garden (or your neighbor’s garden) is overflowing with zucchini, I have some suggestions for turning that wonderfully mild veggie into a variety of dishes. When I think about zucchini, my mind goes right to Italian food and memories of my Nonna in the kitchen, adding love to every bite! So we can start there, but you’ll see that zucchini crosses all cultures and we will even end up with a Latin-inspired zucchini salad recipe.

Cook Smart:
While zucchini is delicious in ratatouille and a must in Minestrone, it can actually take the place of pasta altogether!  Depending on how it is sliced, zucchini can be transformed into fettuccine (using a veggie peeler to make wide thin “noodles”), spaghetti (a kitchen tool called a spiralizer does wonders) or cut into “planks” that can take the place of lasagna noodles. Little to no cooking is needed for these “noodles”, as a warm sauce or vinegar based dressing (see my recipe for Thai Zucchini Salad at will soften the zucchini just enough. If you like a softer texture, steam the prepared zucchini for 1 minute. (Cook Smart Tip: Steaming preserves the nutritional attributes much better than microwaving or boiling.)

Eat Smart:
Why swap zucchini for pasta? If you are not a fan of portion control when it comes to noodles, but don’t want to blow your calorie budget at the same time, zucchini is truly a gem! One cup of zucchini noodles offers only 20 kcals, compared to 200+ kcals for the same amount of pasta! Zucchini is also a wonderful source of phytonutrients (especially in the skin), provides important omega-3 fatty acids, a slew of B vitamins, one third of the daily recommendation for vitamin C and many important minerals, including manganese, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, all while being ridiculously low in sodium!

Don’t forget about adding grated zucchini to baked recipes to take the place of much of the moisture.  Go beyond your standard zucchini bread, and think about adding zucchini to cornbread, muffins, savory pancakes or even chocolate cake! We enjoy cut zucchini, bell pepper and carrot sticks with hummus or other bean dips, sliced and grilled zucchini on sandwiches (it cooks in a few minutes on the panini maker/indoor grill or under the broiler) and love it stuffed with a seasoned rice/quinoa and lentil mixture. I also add julienned zucchini to my weekly salad mix, but also have a “one dish meal” to share with you that is perfect for the warm weather. A very close friend of mine tasted this recipe during one of my hands-on nutrition classes and now makes it all of the time! It is very economical, won’t involve heating up your kitchen and can be enjoyed all week long (great to bring for lunch)!

Fresh Zucchini Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
This salad is wonderful on it’s own, but is also excellent in a wrap or pita with some crispy salad greens.
Salad Ingredients:
2 cups corn (fresh off the cob or 10 oz pkg. frozen corn)
2 medium zucchini (diced small or julienned)
1/4 cup green chili peppers, canned
1-2 medium sized tomato, diced (~1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans
1/4 cup pistachios, dry roasted, roughly chopped*

Cumin Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 TBSP veggie broth or water (in place of oil)
1 tsp chia seeds or flax seeds
1 small date (in place of 2 tsp sugar)
1 tsp cumin seeds, whole
Salt (optional) and pepper (to taste)

Make cumin vinaigrette in a blender by combining vinegar, broth/water, chia/flax, date and cumin and set aside to thicken. Toss corn, zucchini, chilies, tomatoes and beans with cumin vinaigrette. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and add more vinegar if desired. Sprinkle with pistachios right before serving (so they stay crunchy).

Nutrition info (~1/4 of recipe): 240 kcals, 5 g fat, 12 g protein, 40 g CHO, 10 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 195 mg sodium (with 1/4 tsp salt), 772 mg potassium, 263 mg
phosphorus, 4 mg iron, 55 mg calcium, 149 mg folate, 75 mg magnesium

Inspiration for recipe from

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.

Read my article as published in the Lodi News Sentinel.

2 Responses
  • Brenna Melanson
    September 8, 2013

    This is something I would love to try soon. The stuffed zucchini/quinoa/lentil dish also sounds like a great dish. I’m curious, though. Instead of having a surplus of zucchini in my garden, I have tons of eggplant. Eggplant has a very similar texture to zucchini, at least when raw. What do you think of trying to replace zucchini with eggplant for an alternative to pasta? How do you like to use eggplant in recipes?

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