Pan Seared Summer Squash with Spiced Lemon Vinaigrette

Chef and author of "Secrets of the Southern Table," Virginia Willis is making a delicious side dish.


  • 3 or 4 small yellow squash (about 1 pound)
  • 3 or 4 small green squash (about 1 pound)
  • Zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt (see note, page 22)
  • 1 teaspoon harissa or chile paste, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


1. Trim the stem and flower ends of the squash, and then use a chef’s knife to quarter each one lengthwise. Using the tip of your knife, trim away the seeds. (The seeds can make the dish watery.) Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Without crowding, add the squash to the dry skillet and cook, stirring often, until lightly blistered on both sides and tender to the point of a knife, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or jar with a lid, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, garlic, harissa, and cumin to make the dressing. Stir or shake to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Place the squash in a large bowl and drizzle some of the dressing over the top. Toss to coat and combine, and add more as needed. Sprinkle with the parsley. This dish is excellent served hot or room temperature or cold as a salad. If you serve it cold, make sure to taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper before serving, as chilling dulls the seasoning.

Harissa is a spicy, aromatic, and flavorful chile paste used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. The blend differs from country to country, but it’s a puree of hot chile peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices such as cumin, coriander, and caraway. It can be found at Middle Eastern markets, well-stocked gourmet stores, and natural foods stores.

To prepare the garlic paste, place the unpeeled garlic on a cutting board, broad-side down, set the flat side of a chef’s knife on top, and give the knife a quick whack with the palm of your hand to crush each clove. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the end of the clove. Halve the garlic and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with a pinch of coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps grind the garlic.) Using the side of the knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the cutting board and crush the garlic a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

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