Dishin’ on the Dish: Marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin seed at Giant

The marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin seed has been on the menu since day one, and chef Jason Vincent said the plan is to keep it there.

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What’s cookin’ in and around Chicago? Here’s a closer look at one of the area’s delicious dishes you don’t want to miss.

What makes a cheeseburger, shoe-string fries and an ice-cold Coca-Cola pair so well together?

Giant in Logan Square doesn’t serve any combination of those three items, but that’s a question Chef Jason Vincent and his crew constantly ponder as they experiment in the kitchen for new menu items. 

“We literally do whatever we want,” said Vincent, who takes more of a scientific approach to food, looking to find the perfect balance between the acid and alkaline in each bite. 

An order of the marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin from Giant is plated.

An order of the marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin from Giant is plated.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Vincent’s rules for menu development are simple: “It needs to be good, it needs to be great, it needs to be delicious. It can’t be middling in any way, you know? We are allowed to look at something and say, ‘Does that look like the way we want it to look?’ And if it doesn’t, we don’t serve it. We go back to the drawing board and we go back down to the basement and we start picking apart the components and putting them back.”

Take Giant’s marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin seed, for example. 

Vincent said that dish was initially supposed to be centered around bok choy and queso fresco. But after many attempts, Vincent and his team realized that the bok choy was too watery, which washed away the plate’s complex flavors. 

So they went back to square one. Vincent said they might’ve tried one other vegetable before making zucchini the star of the dish. 

Sometimes “you put it all together and it sucks, and you hate it and you’re like, ‘OK, at least we have a place to start. We know what part we’re trying to agitate,’” Vincent said.

The zucchini, which in the summertime is locally sourced, is sliced in half and seared at a really high heat. That draws out the bitterns and moisture of the vegetable, giving you “a very sweet, creamy finished product,” Vincent said. 

He adds a little bit of acidity in the form of lime juice, which he balances with salt. He also adds queso fresco “to kind of punctuate the creaminess,” Vincent said. Added to the mix: tahini, cilantro and a mixture of pumpkin seeds, black bean and hominy.

The dressing for the entire dish includes fresh herbs, thia chili, fish sauce and sunflower seeds. 

“To us the whole dish makes sense,” Vincent said. 

The marinated zucchini with cilantro and pumpkin seed has been on the menu since day one, and Vincent said the plan is to keep it there. 

Still, he said they’re constantly experimenting with different food combinations. 

“We’re messing around with dishes that we’re not going to put on the menu till next year,” Vincent said. “And some of them are going to be done in time and we might put them on this year, if the produce is available.”

And if the produce isn’t available?

“We’ll just put it in our back pocket for next year and then we will be 100% ready,” he said.

Giant, 3209 W. Armitage Ave. Marinated zucchini costs $11. Visit www.giantrestaurant.com.

Got a favorite dish from a Chicago-area restaurant? Let us know via email at: dishinonthedish@suntimes.com.

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