Home gardens are overrun with zucchini these days.

It's a vegetable that just loves to grow. And grow. And grow.

Which makes Peggy Raisglid very happy.

"I love zucchini," says Raisglid, the owner and chef of Lovin' Spoonfuls vegan restaurant.

"It's so versatile. You can make zucchini bread, salad, pie, lasagna. It has a delicate taste but picks up the flavors of what you're making, and it has a really nice texture that can change - it can be crunchy or very soft. It's adaptable to whatever recipe you're making."

Sounds like a woman who knows her food.

Cooking wasn't always Raisglid's passion - chemistry was. But there are parallels between the two, she says.

"The only difference between the laboratory and the kitchen is that in the kitchen I can eat my mistakes," says Raisglid, 58, taking a break between her busy lunch and dinner hours.

"I've a disposition to like that activity - mix something together and get something good out of it."

As a child in New York's Flushing, Queens, she and her brother would wait until their parents went out and then they would "start cooking up our own creations," she said.

Then, as a teen, she fell in love with chemistry, eventually getting a Ph.D. in the field at the University of Arizona. Her involvement with cooking while studying was pretty much concentrated on her job.

"I cooked chicken for the Colonel when I was in college," she says, referring to the late founder and spokesman of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

A career in the oil industry, then in education, kept her busy, though cooking was something she did and enjoyed. And she was a happy meat eater.

But while living in California, she left her carnivore ways behind and became a vegan.

"I moved to a plant-based diet 24 years ago," she says. "That was way before anyone heard about it, and that pretty much made me a Martian."

When she was invited to dinner parties, she would offer to bring a dish.

"I always brought enough for other people. A common drumbeat I heard is, 'Hey, this is delicious. You should open a restaurant.' After hearing that for so many years, I was convinced it was my idea."

Chemists are meticulous folks, and Raisglid had detailed recipes of vegan dishes she had developed.

She put them to good use and opened Lovin' Spoonfuls in September 2005. Her recipes, precise down to the very last ingredient and instruction, became the soul of the business.

And zucchini is key in the restaurant.

"We always have it on hand," say Raisglid.

There isn't a secret to cooking with the vegetable.

"I think zucchini is pretty forgiving," she says. "You don't want to undercook it, or overcook it. Other than that, it's pretty easy to work with. It's perfect for summer."

She counts it as one of her favorite ingredients, along with corn and basil.

She's combined them all for this salad, a regular feature on the Lovin' Spoonfuls menu.

Lovin' Spoonfuls Summer Zu-Corny Salad

Serves: 4

• 2 medium-sized zucchini, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced

• 1 pound (approximately 4 cups) fresh or frozen organic corn kernels

• 1 large red pepper, finely diced (approximately 1/2 cup)

• 1 ounce fresh basil, chopped (approximately 1/4 cup tightly packed)

• 2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar

• 1 tablespoon Braggs liquid aminos (may substitute soy sauce)

• 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

• 1 pinch cayenne pepper

Place the zucchini slices in a large hot skillet with about two tablespoons of water and cook on high heat until the water evaporates and the zucchini turns a little brown, about five minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add corn to the hot skillet and brown, about five minutes. Add to bowl with zucchini. Add red pepper and basil to the zucchini/corn mixture.

In a separate bowl, mix vinegar, Braggs liquid aminos (or soy sauce), oregano and cayenne. Add to bowl of zucchini-corn mixture and toss with veggies. Chill for at least an hour and serve.


Lovin Spoonfuls vegan restaurant is at 2990 N. Campbell Ave., 325-7766.