Hunting for Ways to Use Zucchini (and a Recipe for Zucchini Relish)

I have never been much of a gardener. Most of my time is spent out fishing, hunting, and foraging and I never really had a yard or the space to plant a garden. When I was growing up, my mom kept a garden, as did my aunts and grandmothers. My great grandmother also used to keep a garden; most years, she would plant 60-80 tomato plants and then can all of the tomatoes. She did this until she was in her 90s, when she slowed down and only planted 20-30 plants. I don’t ever remember eating a lot of fresh produce out of these gardens but I do remember all the canned goods that we used to eat. To this day my grandmother’s stewed tomatoes and canned green beans are my favorite canned foods to eat. I have tried to duplicate them, but they are never the same as Grandma.

Several years ago, I tried to grow some jalapeños in a pot and some herbs in some hanging baskets at a townhouse where I used to live, but the only thing that seemed to grow was thyme. My jalapeños never got a chance to grow due to some small creature nibbling them down to the roots. The same thing happened when I tried to grow tomatoes in pots.

Then, two years ago, my family and I moved into a house with an actual yard and one of the plans once we got our house was to put in a garden. Last year was our first year with a garden and we did pretty well even though we had no idea what we were doing. Everything we planted came in except, again, the jalapeños. We had green beans and zucchini and enough pickling cucumbers to feed an army. I pickled everything last year and made so many different kinds of pickles that I ended up giving them out as Christmas gifts. I still have zucchini pickles and sweet dills in the pantry from last year; thankfully, they have matured nicely and are still very delicious.


This year, when we started talking about our garden, the first thing we discussed was if we could do something other than pickle everything we harvest. When we planned out our garden this year we decided to plant more vegetables that we could freeze and can instead of pickle. I am still pickling some of our vegetables but not everything. We put in about a dozen green bean plants and have been harvesting about 1 to 1.5 pounds of beans a week for the last couple of months. This has given us the opportunity to pickle some and to can the rest. The same goes for our beets and carrots; we are getting a lot done with both freezing some and pickling others and have also made a couple of types of jam with the carrots.

Like last year, the one vegetable that has been almost overwhelming us are the zucchini. Anyone who has ever planted zucchini knows that they can take off in a hurry and if you don’t check them regularly you will come out one morning and find a small submarine in your garden. As far as I can tell, the only trick to growing zucchini is trying to find a use for all of it. My family and I love zucchini; we grill a lot of it and my wife makes a wonderful zucchini and roasted pepper salad. Last year, we made a lot of zucchini pickles and they were all pretty good, but they weren’t so good that we needed 12 pints of them.


Zucchini, fresh from the gardenZucchini, fresh from the garden

Hands down, our favorite thing to do with zucchini is make zucchini relish. A couple of years ago, my sister gave me a Better Homes and Gardens canning book that included a recipe for zucchini relish. I made my first batch and was instantly hooked. I really like to make relishes because they are so versatile – for example, this zucchini relish goes great on hot dogs and burgers but can also be added to mayo to make one hell of a tartar sauce, and it also goes great with just about any type of grilled meat. I like to serve it with some of the charcuterie I make and think it goes perfectly with some crusty bread and my wild boar lonzino.

I like to play around with recipes after I have followed the original recipe once or twice and this zucchini relish is no different. The original recipe is wonderful but I felt like it needed just a little something extra. It is a sweet relish and nothing balances sweet like spicy, so I tried a couple of different ways to add some heat. At first, I just diced up a couple of jalapeños and added them to the process; next, I tried habañeros. Depending on how hot you want the relish, both were delicious. I also tried adding a hot curry powder and really enjoyed the way the curry worked with the sweetness of the relish. This year, I have made two batches of zucchini relish already and will probably make a couple more before the end of summer. I have been experimenting with Berbere, which is an awesomely hot North African spice blend with cayenne peppers, cinnamon, fenugreek, cardamom, and other spices. It is intensely hot and beautiful, and it really adds a depth of flavor to this relish like nothing else I have tried.


Zucchini relish processZucchini relish process

Zucchini Relish

Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Special interest Publication on Canning

Makes six half pint jars

Note: This is the basic recipe I use and then from here you can add whatever you would like. One habañero usually makes it hot enough for my liking. When I used the curry powder I used this recipe and added 1 tablespoon of the hot curry powder from Penzeys; likewise with the Berbere powder.



  • 5 cups chopped zucchini ¼ inch dice (I like to use a combination of yellow and green)
  • 1 ½ cups finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped hot banana peppers (seeds removed)
  • 1 sweet red pepper finely chopped
  • ¼ cup pickling salt
  • Cold water
  • 1 ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp. celery seeds
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds



  1. Chop all the zucchini, peppers and onions and place in a large nonreactive bowl, sprinkle with the salt and then toss to coat all the vegetables. Cover with cold water and then refrigerate for up to 24 hours but not less than 3 hours.
  2. Rinse the vegetable mixture with cold water and then drain in a colander.
  3. In a large pot combine the remaining ingredients and then bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. After five minutes add the vegetables to the pot and return to a boil, once boiling lower heat back down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Ladle into sterilized half pint jars and process in a water bath for ten minutes.


Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an Rn at the Minneapolis VA hospital. He enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it is prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures cooking everything from Pickled Venison Heart to Roasted Dove on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him at @youcookitright. He writes the Hunting for Dinner series for SGT; his last post for SGT was Hunting for Dinner: Boundary Waters Canoe Trip (and a Recipe for Fish Curry).