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April 6, 2010

Miso, a Pantry Special (Recipe: ginger-maple-miso salad dressing) {vegan, gluten-free}

Miso salad 

When I think about miso, I remember steaming bowls of soup at Japanese railway stations, an indescribably delicious ginger-miso salad dressing at a Japanese restaurant closer to home, and the first time I tasted miso-glazed cod, just a few years ago. Somehow, the words fermented soybean paste don't conjure up those same memories, though miso is nothing more than that: soybeans (or barley or rice) fermented with salt and kojikin, a type of fungus. (Oh, that doesn't make it sound better, does it?) Used as a seasoning and a soup base, miso comes in different colors (white, yellow, red), mild-flavored or stronger, slightly salty to very salty. You'll find it in the refrigerated aisle of Asian groceries and some supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Regular grocery stores in my area don't stock miso, so it isn't a permanent resident in my pantry. When I do have some, it's a wonderful treat. And because it's fermented, miso will stay fresh in my refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to one year.

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March 7, 2010

Instant espresso powder, a Pantry Special (Recipe: espresso-nut cookies)

Espresso nut cookies

I grew up in a family of addicted coffee drinkers. Instant coffee ruled, because we could make it instantly, with the boiling-water attachment on the sink. For all the coffee we drank, and we drank a lot, we never graduated to good, strong, brewed coffee, and we never made espresso. In my own house, we brew, but from time to time I buy instant espresso powder for baking. The flavor is more intense than coffee, and the powder blends easily into the dry ingredients in cookies and cakes. If you have an espresso machine that grinds the beans before you brew -- or if you use espresso pods in a single-cup machine -- you can save the used espresso, let it dry, and process in a food processor to make your own espresso powder. A bit added to brownies will highlight the chocolate flavor.

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January 21, 2010

Smoked turkey or chicken sausage, a Pantry Special (Recipe: "chicks in blankets" with mustard dip)

Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time. Easy Apps Week, Day Three. 

Chicks in blankets

A sausage is highly seasoned minced meat, stuffed into a casing, cooked or cured. A smoked turkey or chicken sausage, in addition to being all of the above, has the advantage of being lower in fat and calories than a traditional pork sausage, and because of that it's an occasional visitor in my pantry. Though sausages aren't exactly health food because they often have a high sodium and fat content, a single sausage can add a huge flavor punch to beans, pasta, stuffing or soup. When shopping for turkey or chicken sausages, read labels carefully or know your source, if pork-free is your goal; many non-pork sausages are stuffed into pork casings. Turkey or chicken sausages, cooked or uncooked, can be stored in the freezer for months. This is one Pantry Special that's available in your local supermarket.

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November 17, 2009

Tonka beans, a Pantry Special (Recipe: spice snap cookies)

Tonka beans

Did you know that can you toss seven tonka beans into a river to make your wish come true? You can, but it's so much more fun to bake with them. Tonka beans are the seeds of Dipteryx odorata, a tree native to northern South America. The inch-long, black, wrinkly seed has a hard shell, but when grated on a Microplane, it smells sweetly like vanilla, for which it's sometimes used as a substitute, and almonds. (Tonkas also lend that sweet smell to perfume and pipe tobacco.) Though popular in other countries, in the United States tonka beans cannot be used in food, because they contain coumarin, an anticoagulant that can be toxic in large doses. If you have health challenges, please use caution; for most people, however, tonka beans used a pinch at a time present no danger, and enhance the flavor of baked goods with a slightly exotic flavor. Some cooks suggest substituting mahlab, or a mix of vanilla and almond extracts, if you find yourself tonka-free.

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October 22, 2009

Zahtar, a Pantry Special (Recipe: fattoush, a salad of pita bread, tomato and cucumber) {vegan}


Zahtar, zatar, za'atar: what's in a name? Though the word means thyme in Arabic, the name also refers to a blend of sumac, sesame seeds, salt and dried green herbs (thyme, usually, but sometimes oregano, marjoram or parsley). Zahtar, a popular table condiment in the Middle East, is sprinkled on or cooked with meat and vegetable dishes. Most often it's ground in a mortar and pestle, so the texture remains a bit coarse. For a perfect snack, mix zahtar with a bit of olive oil, and smear it on pita bread or pizza. And don't worry: sumac, the dominant ingredient in zahtar, is not the poison sumac we're taught to avoid in the woods. This sumac, from the dark-red berries of a shrubby tree native to the Middle East and parts of Italy, has a tart, fruity, lemony flavor.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my tiny kitchen in Boston's South End, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives. Thanks so much for visiting.

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