Some time during the summer, my slow cooker took up residence on the kitchen counter, and ever since, I've been inspired to adapt some of my favorite stove top recipes to the low-and-slow method. Kasha (buckwheat groats) reminds my taste buds of the best comfort food that came out of my Polish grandmother's kitchen, and it never fails to satisfy, whether I'm serving it as a side dish with roast chicken or brisket, or a lunch or light supper entree with a tangy green salad on the side. If you've never cooked with kasha before, look for it in the ethnic foods aisle at your grocery store; it comes in three different granulations -- fine, medium, and coarse. This kasha, kicked up a bit with caramelized onions and mushrooms, does its thing without the frequent tending the stove top version demands, down to browning the onions right in the slow cooker. You can make ahead and freeze, then reheat in the microwave.
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To everything, there is a season. Everything except lentils, which are timeless. Depending on what you have on hand, and what you find at the farmers' market, you can pair lentils with acorn squash, or tomatoes, or mint, or fresh green peas. Or you can make this Greek lentil soup with red pepper and feta using ingredients you probably keep in your pantry all year round. Lemon, feta and thyme (or oregano), the classic Greek seasonings, all play off the earthy lentils; you can omit the cheese and substitute homemade mushroom broth for the chicken stock to make this vegan. Lentil soup freezes beautifully, so make a big pot on the weekend, and portion it out for lunches or worknight dinners. Serve with a hunk of crusty bread and a light green salad on the side.
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When the last of Bob and Charlotte's canoe-size zucchini appeared in my car (how careless of me to leave the car unlocked in their driveway), I planned to turn that zucchini, along with a few trimmings of some very ripe tomatoes, into a curry. Along the way, however, cinnamon and cumin called out to me, and just like that, this mildly spicy vegan zucchini and tomato stew veered off toward the Middle East. A few sprigs of mint from my garden gave the dish just the right amount of brightness, without overwhelming the delicate zucchini flavor, and turmeric turned it a glowing golden color. As with all stews, this was even better on the second day, served over fluffy brown rice.
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Necessity -- or is it forgetfulness? or humidity? -- being the mother of invention, this cucumber ribbon salad owes its spectacular ranch-style buttermilk herb dressing to a great pantry, and to my strong desire not to drive five miles to the grocery store for a quart of buttermilk on an unbearably hazy-hot-humid day. Powdered buttermilk, a baking pantry staple that will keep perfectly happy in the refrigerator for months, contributes the characteristic tangy ranch flavor, with a boost from Greek yogurt and a small amount of mayonnaise. I like the combination of dill, parsley and chives from my garden for a vibrant herby punch. The overall result? Delicate, much more so than traditional ranch dressing. I'm planning to use the leftover dressing on grilled salmon. The cucumber salad didn't last much longer than the time it took to photograph it. I ate it for breakfast. All of it.
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