Ever since I moved to the country and planted an herb garden, I've become a mint snob. During the winter, when the only fresh mint comes from the grocery store, I crave recipes like this orzo salad, but when I reach for the mint in the produce section, I can't quite bring myself to buy it. For me, "seasonal" means walking out the front door with my nippers in hand, and returning to the kitchen with a fist full of fresh herbs. If you don't have an herb garden, please don't forego this salad; tweak it a bit with lemon zest in place of the mint, and you'll have a vibrant vegetarian pasta dish that's a bit different, but equally lovely. The lemon zest plays up the lemony flavor of the zahtar. So, mint or lemon -- everything else the same -- two salads in one!
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My friend Louane hosted a progressive dinner with friends in our Boston neighborhood some years ago, and when it came time to selecting a course to serve at our house, I chose dessert. Now, you know I am a bake-o-phobe, but I was even more fearful of making the appetizers than I was of tackling some sort of baked sweet for the end of the meal. Appetizers set the tone for everything to follow, and I must admit that my appetizers tend to be more dips than dainties. This roasted red pepper and garlic hummus is one dip that works well as a spread on toasted slices of bread. It's easy to put together, and looks a little bit fancy when served on a nice flowered plate. A few crostini with a green salad would make a nice vegetarian lunch, too.
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My love affair with turkey meatballs continues, as intense as ever, this time under the exotic influence of Morocco and Tunisia. Cumin, coriander, parsley and harissa -- fundamental flavorings in North African cuisine -- turn a basic meatball recipe into something exciting, like a love affair should be. Even if you usually don't eat spicy food, please don't omit the harissa, a fiery hot pepper paste that includes chile peppers, coriander, cumin, caraway and garlic; a small amount, balanced by the cooling Greek yogurt and bland flavor of the turkey, will feel just right. And if you're a hot food lover, go ahead and add a bit more spice to your life -- I mean, add a bit more harissa to your meatballs!
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Susan, a long-time reader and fellow New Englander, sent me this recipe in early December along with a note: "One of the things I'm grateful for is the Perfect Pantry and you! Here's something that was on our Thanksgiving table which I though you'd enjoy. The source is a New Zealand food magazine called Dish, which we subscribe to online. The dressing came out nice and thick, so it could be a spread or dip. I thinned it with some yogurt for green salad. Hope you try it. I love this stuff!" Though Susan and I have never met (I hope to rectify that), she knows my taste well. I always have a jar of preserved lemons, a popular Moroccan "pickle", curing in the refrigerator, and I loved this vegan and gluten-free vinaigrette. I'm going to try it on pasta salad, too. If you don't have quinoa on hand for the salad, make some quick couscous instead, and if chickpeas aren't your thing, swap in some diced, cooked chicken.
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