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Facing a fear of frying

January 29, 2013


Few things terrify me more in cooking than frying. A psychoanalyst would trace this fear back to an early trauma during “The Mighty Egg Roll Cook-Off” (the title was later shortened to “The Great Egg Roll Off” — don’t laugh, even then it wasn’t funny). Delving deeper into my Elektra-like complex, I might point out that I’ve always resented my mother for only feeding me low fat, low sodium foods. As a consequence, later in life, following a petty challenge and related goading at a bar, I find that I have no idea how to deep-fry an egg roll.

Turns out you don’t heat up the oil with the lid on.

The “poof” of the fireball before it shot up towards the kitchen cabinets was so soft and gentle.

Since that formative experience of carrying a pot full of flaming oil out the back door, across the deck, down the steps to the driveway to be put out, I have been a bit tentative. I often don’t let the oil get hot enough. Or I flip things over too soon. I get hot and frustrated and feel like my food is turning out charred, raw, and oily all at the same time.

So I’ve forfeited the task of frying to my betrothed. Not that this keeps me from being bossy in the kitchen. He completes me or whatever.

Have I told you about my dill compulsion? I adore fresh dill. I love the way it smells. I love the way it feels — like a big fluffy plume from a beautiful, green, lightly-scented bird. It reminds me of summertime and redwing blackbirds. I used to, back when I was weird, carry sprigs of it in my pocket, just to smell throughout the day.  Like an herbal security blanket.

I grow dill at home and I also occasionally get it in our weekly Community-Supported Agriculture allotment from Old Well Organics. And yet, if I come across a big, fluffy bunch, say at Your DeKalb Farmers Market in Atlanta, I bring it home too for no other reason than to marvel at. I did this the other week, committing the household to a flurry of dilly meals.

The recipe below is for dill and zucchini pancakes. You can fry them or bake them. You should definitely add a dollop of the zingy, lemony yogurt sauce on top. Combine with a green salad on the side and you’ve got yourself a brightly colored, fresh dinner.  Enjoy!
Deepest Fear Zucchini Pancakes with Lemony Yogurt Sauce
(modified from Jekka McVicar’s recipe in Jekka’s Herb Cookbook)
Makes 6-8 pancakes
Time: ~ 40 minutes, mostly active
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/2 cup more if frying
1 large onion, grated
2 zucchini, grated
2 tsp. dill seed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2-3 oz. feta cheese (optional)
2 tsp. flat-leafed parsley, chopped
3 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
2 eggs
2-4 Tbsp. flour
salt and pepper

Lemony Yogurt Sauce Ingredients
~ 2 cups plain yogurt (I like full fat but I assume you can use any kind)
zest of one lemon
1 clove of garlic, minced
If you are baking your pancakes, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and liberally grease a baking sheet with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Place the yogurt in a paper towel-lined strainer over a bowl and set aside. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pan and cook the onion for several minutes over medium heat. When the onion begins to soften, add the dill seed and red pepper flakes. Before adding the grated zucchini, gently squeeze it in your hand to remove as much extra liquid as possible. Add to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Set aside to cool.

Mix together the feta, fresh dill, parsely, and mint, 2 Tbsp. flour, and eggs. Using a slotted spoon so as to drain off any excess liquid, add the zucchini-onion mixture to the rest of the ingredients, including a pinch of salt (maybe more if you’re omitting the feta) and pepper. Stir together and add more flour as needed. You want the mixture thick and gloppy.

If you are making someone else fry your pancakes, have them wipe out the pan and heat the rest of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, tell them to drop in the zucchini mixture in 1/4-cup spoonfuls and flatten out with a spatula to 1/2 inch thick pancakes. Not to be bossy, but they should be told to flip them once so both sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stir together the strained yogurt, lemon zest, garlic, and a few grinds of pepper.

If you are baking your pancakes, again drop the zucchini mixture in 1/4-cup spoonfuls on the baking sheet and flatten out into 1/2 inch thick pancakes. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. This is a good time to mix together your strained yogurt, lemon zest, garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Using a spatula, flip the pancakes and pat down again to flatten them. Bake another 5-6 minutes until golden brown on both sides. Let them cool for a minute or two then serve.
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at

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