Category Archives: A to Z Challenge 2015

A to Z Blogs

survivor-atoz 2015 - sm_zpsmfnq4uov

I made it!  I completed the A to Z Blog Challenge!  

Over the month of April, 2015, I participated in the A to Z Blog Challenge, writing 26 blogs during the month, one each day from Monday through Saturday, to correspond with the 26 letters of the alphabet.  My theme was about food, mostly vegetables with a few fruits thrown in and covered a little history about the food and how it was used.  Many had original recipes and all had links to recipes either on Skinny Girl Bistro or on other blogs.

To make it easier to find and read any of these articles,  here are the links to each of them:

 A to Z Blog Reveal
Awesome Artichokes – an Ancient and Strange Vegetable
Bountiful Beets
Championing Celeriac
Diversify with Daikon Radish
Eggplant is an Egg-cellent Choice
Fantastic Figs – A Good and Versatile Fruit
Glorifying Green Beans
Horseradish Is Hot!
Iceberg is Ideal for Salads
Join In on Jicama
Kooky Kohlrabi is Great!
Love My Leeks
Munching on Mung Beans
Nurture with Nopal
Olives or Olive Oil, the Opportunities Abound
Pursuing the Pasilla Pepper Confusion
Is Quince a Quasi-apple?
Rutabaga is a Delicious Root
Simply Yummy Snow Peas
Tart and Tangy Tomatillos
Unveiling Ulluku
Victorious Vidalia Onions
Wade into Water Chestnuts
Xigua is not Xeric
Yams are Yummy
Zest for Zucchini

Zest for Zucchini

Zucchini is one of the favorite vegetables of the world and it certainly ranks high in my culinary endeavors. It is delicious almost any way you prepare it and there are countless ways to use it in your cooking from salads, to main course to appetizers to desserts and breads. However, zucchini is part of a much larger family that includes other summer squashes, winter squashes, melons and cucumbers. Yep, they are all related, some a little closer than others.

Greenhouses, importers, and various growing locations worldwide have ensured that we can find zucchini in grocery stores at any time of the year. Others in the family, like yellow, crookneck and scallop squashes don’t show up as consistently. They each have their own unique flavor and blend well together when cooked. Zucchini has a delicate flavor, an edible skin, and a creamy off-white flesh. Generally the smaller, 3 to 4-inch vegetables are the best for eating since the seeds are smaller and edible and the flavor is at its best, I think. As they get bigger, they get tougher, seeds are bigger and the flesh isn’t as sweet. If you are stuffing a zucchini, try to look for about 5” and as big around as you can find.

Besides the delicious vegetables — oh, wait, that isn’t really a vegetable, but a fruit! It is formed in the same manner as fruits, so technically it is one of them. But I will continue to count it in the vegetable column. The zucchini also produces an edible golden flower. I admit, I have never cooked one of the flowers, although they are popular fried. I did have a couple of plants one summer that did not cross-pollinate because the flowers were all I got. The male flower blooms first to attract bees and the female blossom, which has the bud of a tiny fruit under it, needs to be pollinated by the bee. If this doesn’t happen, no zucchini will form. I was once told that you need at least two plants, but that apparently, isn’t necessary so long as the plant produces a female blossom. If no bees are in the area, you can transfer some of the pollen using a Q-Tip to dip into the male flower and put it in the center of the female bloom. Doesn’t that sound romantic?

All squashes have their ancestry in the Americas, but they have spread around the world. They are easy to grow and mature quickly. It’s one of the few plants that I can actually get a decent crop from in the micro-climate of South Reno. Native Americans called squashes one of the “three sisters” in their culture. The other two were corn and beans, which are also native to the Americas. The squash blossom is a popular design motif in Native American art and jewelry.

The squash we now call zucchini was developed in Italy from the root squashes brought back from America. It was cultivated,  in the late 19th century and likely near Milan. The name came from zucca, which is the Italian word for pumpkin or squash and the suffix “ino” or “ina”, meaning little and becoming zucchini in the plural form. The French called it “Courgette” and it is known that way in much of Europe, so if you see that in a recipe, you know it is zucchini or vice versa. They are known as baby marrow in South Africa.

As little as 30 years ago, the zucchini was barely known in the United States and it was referred to as the Italian squash. It was likely brought to the country of its ancestors by Italian immigrants. But it took hold and has become  popular to eat and grow.

Going back to its roots, zucchini, like all summer squash, is delicious with its other two sisters, corn and beans, and popular in Native American and Mexican foods. While beans and corn are used sparingly in a low carb lifestyle, summer squashes are very low in carbohydrates, which makes them awesome!

Nutrition information 1 medium (196 g)
Calories: 33 Fat: 0.5g Net Carbs: 4.0 g Protein: 2.4 g


There are several recipes on this site that feature zucchini:

Bacon & Zucchini Stuffed Sole
Zucchini Fritters
Chicken with Tomatoes & Zucchini
Zucchini and Sausages Bake

Featured Recipe

Since Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner and the squash is a Native American, which includes Mexico and South America, crop, it seems apropos that the recipe should honor that heritage. The Mexican name for squash is calabacitas and the Mexican zucchini is similar to the Italian one but more rounded and tear drop shaped. This is an original recipe I’ve developed over the years.

Calabacitas y Carne Con Queso

Mexican Squash with Meat and Cheese
Recipe by Rene Averett

3 cups Mexican Zucchini (or regular zucchini)
1 lb Beef, ground
1 can Chiles, mild or medium to your preference
1 cup Cheddar Jack Cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Mexican Cheese, Queso Fresco or similar
1/2 cup diced Onions
1 cup canned Diced Tomatoes, with juice
2 Low Carb Tortillas
1 cup Jicama, shredded or cubed or Daikon Radish, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano
2 tablespoon fresh Cilantro
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F.)

Slice zucchini into 1/4″thick rounds.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and heat a minute or so, then add garlic, jicama and onions. Stir cook the onions until they are fragrant and shiny. Add ground beef and lightly brown, then add seasonings, chiles and diced tomatoes. Stir and cook for about 10 minutes until hot and bubbly. Stir in the fresh cilantro.

Spray a round 2 qt. casserole dish with baking spray. Layer 1/3 of the zucchini on the bottom of the dish. Pour 1/3 of the meat mixture over the top, then sprinkle 1/3 cup of cheddar jack cheese over that. Put a tortilla on top and repeat with another layer of zucchini followed by the meat and cheese. Put the second tortilla on top and use the rest of the zucchini, meat and cheese on top of that.

Bake for 25 minutes until the casserole is hot and bubbly. Sprinkle the Mexican cheese over the top and return to the oven for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition Info per serving :
Calories: 260 Fat:17.0 g Net Carbs: 8.7 g Protein: 16.3 g

And it’s Z-end of the the A to Z blog challenge! I will resume my usual Tuesday post schedule next week, but I thank everyone who stopped by to visit and comment during the A to Z Challenge. I hope you will continue to visit now and then.


Input for this article came from World’s Healthiest Foods,  Nutrition and You, Wikipedia, and The History of Zucchini.

All photos taken by R. Averett for Skinny Girl Bistro.

Yams are Yummy

But they may not be what you think they are…

Many people are confused about the difference between yams and a sweet potato and it’s easy to see why. When we see them in the grocery store, they look similar. More than that, they are basically interchangeable in recipes. Candied yams can easily become candied sweet potatoes, mashed yams don’t look much different, and they both bake into a delicious potato-like food that you can slather with butter, brown sugar or a bit of maple syrup.

But they are not the same. Not even related. The yam comes from South Africa and Asia and is related to lilies and grasses while the sweet potato is in the morning glory family. Interesting that two very similar vegetables developed in two different plant families. Yams are tropical and sub-tropical and won’t grow if the temperatures are below 65 degrees (F). There are over 150 varieties of yams.

One major difference between yams and sweet potatoes is that yam cannot be eaten raw. They have naturally occurring toxins in the flesh that make them bitter.   When they are cooked, the toxins are are removed or neutralized. Having said that, there is one yam that is edible raw and that is the Japanese Yam, but the yam is soaked in a vinegar-water solution to neutralize the irritants found in the skin. Taro is one variety of yam and is often referred to as yam in Asian countries.

Among the other differences, the yams’ flesh color varies from white to purplish or brown, whereas sweet potatoes are orangish. They are also larger tubers with rough dark brown to pink skin compared to the sweet potato’s smaller size and thin peel.  And they are starchier and drier.

Yams are a major food crop in Africa and many recipes use them.   They are eaten like potatoes with their meals. Their name came from the African word “nYami” meaning “to eat”. Although the yam is grown in many parts of Africa, Nigeria is the largest producer in the world with over 70% of the crop coming from there.

One thing yams and sweet potatoes do have in common, apart from  very similar flavor, is that they are both high in carbohydrates, so they are no longer a part of my lifestyle.

Nutrition Information for yams – 1 cup, cubed (150 g)
Calories: 177 Fat: 0.3 g Net Carbs: 36.0 g Protein: 2.3 g

Preparation and Recipes:

The yam can be used in most ways you would use a sweet potato.
It can be boiled, baked, fried or roasted and works in a variety of cuisines.

Fried mashed yam and rice with water lettuce.
Fried mashed yam and rice with water lettuce.

The most common cooking method in Africa is “pounded yams”. A special dish called Fufu is made during the Yam Festival. Yams are pounded, seasoned slightly then shaped to make a cake which is then eaten with sauces, stews, and soups. This is similar to taro in Hawaii and other South Pacific countries. I tried taro made like this in Hawaii and I wasn’t thrilled with it, although my brother enjoyed it. The key, apparently, is to eat it with a sauce or stew.  I’ve often heard mashed taro compared to the taste of library paste.  Well, I’ve never tasted that, but taro was pretty bland.

Yams cab be used interchangeably with sweet potatoes in cakes, casseroles, breads, and other dishes.  I’ve used yams and find them pretty delicious no matter how you prepare them, but my preference is for sweet potatoes.  Partially because of the color, but also because of the texture.  But I wonder…?  When I bought canned yams, were those really yams or sweet potatoes?

Here are a few recipes from around the web in case you want to get adventurous. But they are all high in carbs, so don’t over-do it if you’re trying to stay on track.

African Fufu
Nigerian Yam and Vegetable with Ukpaka
Ulpaka or ugba is an oil bean seed that is fermented before using.  Not sure where you would find them, so possibly just omit.
Spicy African Yam Soup
Penang Yam Cake
Louisiana Yam Cake
Buddhist Yam Delight

Here’s another tip: If you really want to try any of these recipes without the high carbs in yams, substitute in a winter squash, like butternut, pumpkin or acorn. It will work almost as well. Not sure if would hold together on the Fufu though.

These resources provided information for this article: Nature’s Pride,,  Nutrition and You,  and Hawaii Edu .

Top photo of yams from Wikipedia Commons, used by public permission grant – By Yemisi Ogbe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Mashed yam and rice cake – By Hhaithait (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Xigua is not Xeric

Yes, I am truly reaching for the “X” in this and I have settled on using the Mandarin Chinese name of a commonly known melon… the watermelon. It actually is a specific kind of melon that is grown in China, but essentially, the same as watermelons around the world. The xigua, pronounced shee-gwa, is a small roundish melon with deep green stripes on a lighter green skin.

The watermelon itself is believed to have originated in south Africa and records from Egypt showed it was cultivated in the Nile Valley as far back as 2000 BC. Eventually, it began to spread across Europe and toward the east. Moorish traders carried the fruit to Spain where it was grown in Cordoba and Seville. By the 7th century, it was being cultivated in India and by the 10th century it had reached China, where it really took hold. Today, China is the world’s largest watermelon producer. It came to the Americas with European colonists and their African slaves. Spanish settlers brought it to Florida in 1576. By 1650, it was grown in Peru, Brazil and Panama and other settlers brought it to the British and Dutch colonies while Native Americans in the Mississippi Valley and Florida had begun growing the crop as well. Explorers took the seeds to the South Pacific where they were quickly adopted in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. Who doesn’t love watermelons, after all? They are colorful, refreshing and delicious.

While I grew up with watermelons used as a dessert, basically a big slice or wedge of watermelon on a plate, I have had to cut back severely on them with a low carb lifestyle. Yes, they are primarily water, but they do have a lot of natural, although flavorful, sugar in them. I remember we used to sprinkle a little salt on the fruit and it would make it taste even sweeter. Mostly, I eat watermelon raw, just chilled and sliced is perfect, or I have actually processed them for a glass of watermelon juice. They also are a great recipe ingredient in salads and salsas.

Of course, it’s easy to make a basic fruit salad with cubed watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, sliced strawberries, and grapes, but the watermelon has a much larger range than that. It combines well in green salads, goes with avocados, olives, and beets or other vegetables to create different salads. You can even make a watermelon jelly – go ahead, Google it — watermelon lemonade and watermelon sorbet. In fact, I am inspired and when watermelon season comes into full swing this summer, I’m going to try to make a low carb version of a few of these recipes. That’s your cue to come back to see if I can meet this challenge.


Another popular use for the xigua and other watermelons is carving. They are a wonderful artistic medium for food artists and are carved into flowers, animals, and whole scenes. To some artists, they can carve a watermelon the same way you’d carve jade. There are carved melon festivals around the world. Here are a few links to some of these:

Watermelon Festival of Italy 
Monticello Florida Watermelon Festival 
Pardeeville, Wisconsin Watermelon Festival
Beijing Watermelon Festival

For my dragon-loving friends, there’s this:

And there’s this peculiar use of watermelons from those fun-loving Aussies: Watermelon Skiing 

Nutrition Info for xigua (watermelon) 1 cup diced
Calories: 48.7 Fat: 0.7 Net Carbs: 10.2 g Protein: 1.0 g


Recipes using Xigua or watermelons from

Did you know you could use the watermelon rind as well as the fruit? Try this Watermelon Rind Slaw
Water Melon Glazed Meatballs 
Stacked Jicama Chicken Salad 

Information to help write this article came from Melons for Vegetables,  The Hungry Kitchen,, and Wikipedia

Photos are from Wikipedia media Commons and used under public-use agreement. Top photo “Watermelon – Fruit Bazaar – near Besat sq – Nishapur 08” by Sonia Sevilla – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Food Carving photo by Rlevse  via Wikimedia Commons

Wade into Water Chestnuts

Quite literally. It’s called a water chestnut because that’s where this vegetable is grown — in a watery bed. In fact, it is often a rotating crop in rice paddy fields in many Asian countries and Australia, particularly because it is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine. It has been cultivated in China since ancient times. Most likely, you’ve tasted it if you noticed a crunchy tan-looking nut thing in your Chinese food. It’s used in many recipes for the crunch and mild, fresh taste so it blends well with the other flavors.

The water chestnut isn’t actually a nut, but the root corm of a marsh grass in the sedge family. When they are fresh, they do resemble the actual tree-grown chestnuts and have what is described as a “mildly sweet apple-coconut flavor”.  Most of us obtain our water chestnuts from cans and some of this flavor has dissipated.

Like jicama, water chestnuts don’t get soft when they’re cooked, so they maintain that crisp crunch that works so well with stir-fried recipes. I love them in my broccoli beef or chicken stir-fries, but there are other ways to use them. The are a key ingredient in a Thai dessert dish called Rubies in Coconut Milk and in a Water Chestnut Cake that uses water chestnut flour, also called singoda flour. While I’d love to try this, the flour is entirely too high in carbohydrates to be effective in my meal plan, but if you’d like to give it a try, you can order it on-line from Amazon. Fortunately, I use the canned water chestnuts sparingly and a little goes a long way in a recipe.

Nutrition information for Water Chestnut 1/2 cup (62 grams)
Calories: 60 Fat: 0.0 Net Carbs: 13.0 g Protein: 1.0 g


Here are a couple of recipes from Skinny Girl that use water chestnuts:

Egg Foo Yung
Teriyaki Stuffed Mushrooms

My featured recipe is this simple to make and delicious appetizer. How can you go wrong with bacon and water chestnuts? The only caution is to not eat too many of them!

Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

8 fresh Water Chestnuts
3 tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar Substitute
4 slices regular Bacon, cut in half
8 Toothpicks, use sturdy ones

Use warm water to rinse and drain the water chestnuts.

Put the soy sauce into a shallow dish and add the water chestnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for about 3 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F.)

Put brown sugar substitute on a saucer. Roll each water chestnut in the brown sugar, then wrap 1/2 slice of bacon around it and secure with a toothpick.  Roll each appetizer in the brown sugar mixture.

Put the wrapped chestnuts on a rack in a baking pan, then bake for 15 minutes, turn them over, then bake another 15 minutes, Baking them allows the bacon to cook thoroughly.

Makes 8 appetizers.

Nutrition Info per appetizer
Calories: 41.7 Fat: 2.8 g Net Carbs: 1.1 g Protein: 2.4 g

Tip: You can make these appetizers ahead of time and freeze until you are ready to cook them. Place them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

Information for this article was taken from Food Facts, Wikipedia,  About Food

Top photo is from Wikimedia Commons and is used with permission – “Wasserkastanie 2”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons