I used to hate zoodles.
A noodle can be many things, I believed (and still do): It can be Italian spaghetti or bucatini; it can be Japanese udon; it can be Chinese lo mein; it can be Indian sevai. But it can't be a vegetable.
And the New Oxford American Dictionary backs me up on this; it defines a noodle as "a strip, ring, or tube of pasta or a similar dough, typically made with egg and usually eaten with a sauce or in a soup."
Pretending that zucchini are noodles—implying that strands of zucchini are equivalent or, more egregiously, suggesting that they are an adequate substitute for pasta—is ridiculous. Zucchini will never stand in for noodles. They will never have the starchy bite or the satisfying firmness. They will not taste good with Alfredo sauce. They cannot be prepared like cacio e pepe. They will not make you full. (Or, they will not make me full.)
Zucchini are not noodles; oven fries are not French fries; Solange is not Beyoncé. Why are we trying to fool ourselves?
But who's to say that one is better than the other?
The problem isn’t with food—the problem is with language. That we rely on words and definitions to communicate is both language's beauty and its burden. It's nothing shy of a miracle that two separate people can conjure up similar mind-pictures when they think of "zebra" or "cloud" or "clementine." And without setting markers as to what a clementine is—it is small and orange and leathery—how would anyone create a specific picture of it in her mind?
Thus a definition is not only a "statement of the exact meaning" (again, the New Oxford American Dictionary)—it is also an outline, a boundary, a restriction. Language is inherently exclusionary and destructive, and it sets limits that may be stricter in abstraction than they are in reality.
In Maggie Nelson's book The Argonauts, she fights with her partner about this very subject:
Once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. All that is unnameable falls away, gets lost, is murdered. You call this the cookie-cutter function of our minds.
So was my aversion to zoodles a submission to the straightjacket of language? Had I had allowed my strict sense of "noodle" to suffocate any possibility that this thing can be more expansive than I had thought?
In order to appreciate zoodles for what they are, I had to forget my noodle preconceptions. I had to stop thinking of them as noodles' competitor and start appreciating them as their own entity.
Ultimately, there's nothing so different between transforming a zucchini (or another vegetable) into long strands and using a mandoline to shave it thinly. Wispy zucchini ribbons can be eaten raw, but they're also fast to cook and take well to sauce. I like to sauté them in a bit of oil and dress them with a quick peanut-sesame sauce and top it with chopped scallions. Sometimes I toss the raw pieces with cooked pasta and melt in some ricotta and Parmesan.
People are bothered by the fact that zoodles are zucchini masquerading as noodles. Food52 editor Caroline Lange sums this up nicely: "I have a real pet peeve when foods pretend to be other foods. Eat them as strands of zucchini, amazing and wonderful; but do not call them zoodles and eat them instead of noodles. They are not noodles."
Let's stop thinking of zoodles as zucchini noodles and start thinking of them as zoodles, period. Let's stop letting "noodle" get in the way. Call them shaved zucchini or zucchini strands if it makes it easier.
And while we're at it, let's give cauliflower rice another chance, too. But let's consider calling it "shredded cauliflower" instead.
Do you hate zoodles? Or do you love them? Tell us how you really feel.