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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For the past five-plus years, I've been preaching the gospel of a well-stocked pantry, so when a recent medical episode grounded me for a few weeks, I dove into my pantry enthusiastically, and cooked some great meals with what I had on hand. These pita pizzas topped with caramelized onions, slow-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, olives and parmesan cheese, epitomize pantry cooking. The small size pita, a low carb oat-and-flax flatbread from Joseph's, has few calories and fewer carbs, and it's just the right size for an individual pizza topped with whatever treasures your pantry offers up. I love this combination of caramelized onions (made two weeks ago in the slow cooker), sun-dried or slow-roasted tomatoes, olives and cheese; if you're into broccoli, or roasted red peppers, or pepperoni, pile them on. Pita pizzas are great for a party, too. Set up an array of toppings, and let each person create his or her own masterpiece.
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