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May 13, 2015

Easy rice pilaf

Rice pilaf, easy to make in 20 minutes, makes a perfect side dish for anything off the grill.

Now that my husband Ted and I have moved back to Boston, we miss more than ever the long-closed Cedars Restaurant that used to live at the end of our street. Cedars served Middle Eastern food in a space that reminded you of your favorite aunt's kitchen, with formica tables and frilly curtains, and velvet paintings on the walls. We almost always ordered the garlic chicken on skewers, and it always came with a mound of rice pilaf on the side. If you have access to a Middle Eastern market, you can buy authentic chayrere, the thin vermicelli-like noodles, or look for fine egg noodles in the supermarket. Or, buy the thinnest vermicelli pasta you can find, and break it into two-inch pieces. The remaining ingredients come straight from your pantry. Make a pot of this rice ahead of time, and reheat in the microwave. It's the perfect side dish for anything you throw on the grill.

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April 22, 2015

Pressure cooker brown rice risotto with asparagus, mushrooms and toasted almonds {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Use your pressure cooker to make brown rice risotto in no time. This one has asparagus, mushrooms and almonds, too. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

Please accept my apologies, but I absolutely cannot wait one more minute for the official start of asparagus season. Here in New England, the uber-snow has delayed everything: flowers, vegetables, and our general good humor. Asparagus season usually begins in early- to mid-May. This year, who knows what will happen? So, last week I gave in to temptation, and bought asparagus at the supermarket. Risotto seemed like the perfect transitional dish, and I'd been wanting to try short-grain brown rice in place of the Arborio rice I often use. Because brown rice takes so much longer to cook, I pressed the pressure cooker into service to speed things up. After 15 minutes of cooking at high pressure, the risotto gets finished just like it would on the stovetop, by stirring in vegetables, butter and cheese. Of course, you can make this recipe on the stove; just be prepared to spend more than 45 minutes stirring (tired arms!). Toasted sliced almonds echo the nuttiness of the brown rice, and provide a great contrast in texture.

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March 25, 2015

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with shrimp {gluten-free}

New Orleans-style red beans and rice, with or without shrimp, makes every day Mardi Gras!

In the final weeks before we moved from the log house to our city space, we dipped into the pantry almost every night to use up ingredients before the move. Some of our from-the-pantry creations were winners, others not so much. This red beans and rice variation, one of the keepers, came together quickly after I soaked dry beans overnight and then cooked them in the pressure cooker (I'd already run out of canned beans, which would be a fine substitute). Typically, the rice would be prepared separately, but I cooked it right in with the beans. If you omit the shrimp and use water instead of chicken stock, you'll have a hearty vegetarian main dish. Try to use homemade stock if you are gluten-free, but again, you can swap in store-bought low-sodium chicken stock. Don't wait until next year's Mardi Gras to enjoy this New Orleans-style recipe; make dinner a celebration, at any time of year.

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March 22, 2015

Lighter chicken and black bean enchiladas

Lighter chicken and black bean enchiladas, fun to make with the kids!

In the house where I grew up, nary an enchilada graced our dinner table. In fact, we never ate any Tex-Mex or Mexican food at all. (A deprived childhood. I know that now.) In my own kitchen, I love to create pans of enchiladas with leftover bits from the Thanksgiving table, and sometimes I make the classic combos, too. This version of the popular creamy chicken and black bean enchiladas is a little bit healthier without losing any of the gooey goodness that makes them crave-worthy. Use whole wheat low-carb tortillas, low-fat cheese, and nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in the filling; you won't miss a few calories and carbs. I love my own crazy mixed-up red enchilada sauce, which gets its light, bright flavor from sofrito; a good-quality canned sauce will be fine if you don't have time to make your own. The small amount of green chiles doesn't make these very spicy, but you can leave them out if you wish. Let your kids help you fill and roll the enchiladas for some family fun in the kitchen.

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March 15, 2015

Mediterranean couscous, tomato, cucumber and feta salad {vegetarian}

Mediterranean couscous, tomato, cucumber and feta salad takes a bit of inspiration from all around the sea.

A real-life Boston friend, on vacation in Key West, posted on Facebook the other day, "If you're on the street or in a shop, and happen to mention you're from Boston, at least five people will come over to you to commiserate about the snow." We're having a crazy winter here, and perhaps that has put me in a Mediterranean frame of mind. I'm craving the sun and the sea, blue skies, outdoor cafés, long lazy lunches, naps in a hammock, and warmth. A jar of Israeli couscous inspired this quick and easy salad that takes a little spin around the Mediterranean, with bits from Greece, France, Italy, the MidEast and North Africa. I love the large, chewy nuggets of Israeli couscous; you could substitute Italian fregula sarda, or any small-grain couscous, if you prefer. Or orzo or ditalini. You get the idea. Chop up some oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes or your own slow-roasted tomatoes; the oil adds tons of flavor, so don't drain the tomatoes before adding them to the salad. Throw in some crunchy fresh vegetables and parsley, and toss everything with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing, just as they do in countries that border the sea.

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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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