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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 26, 2015

Orzo with slow-roasted tomatoes, lemon and parsley {vegetarian}

Make this orzo with slow-roasted (or sun-dried) tomatoes, lemon and parsley in a skillet. An easy side dish!

A great all-purpose side dish to accompany roast chicken, salmon or lamb chops, this orzo with slow-roasted tomatoes, lemon, and plenty of fresh parsley tastes as good at room temperature (for a picnic) as it does hot off the stove. Orzo is a small, flat pasta; in this recipe I cook it in a skillet, in the way I might cook rice for risotto, letting the pasta absorb the liquid slowly to give it a creamy texture at the end. I buy beautiful tri-color orzo at my local supermarket; it gets its color, and flavor, from spinach and tomato, and adds visual interest to this dish. Use regular or whole wheat orzo if that's what you have. I found the last of last summer's slow-roasted tomatoes in my freezer, and added them to the pan along with their oily juices. Good-quality sun-dried tomatoes will work well, too (be sure to add some of the oil from the jar). To turn this side dish into the main attraction, toss in some feta cheese, chickpeas, shredded cooked chicken, or steamed shrimp.

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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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April 19, 2015

Broccoli slaw salad with peanut-mango-Sriracha dressing {gluten-free}

Broccoli slaw salad with peanut-mango-Sriracha dressing: flavor explosion in a bowl!

QUESTION: How do you know when a salad is really, really good? ANSWER: When you plan for it to be a side dish, but find yourself eating a huge bowl of it as your main course. This broccoli slaw salad hits all the high notes -- sweet, creamy, crunchy, and Sriracha-spicy. Best of all, it's a quick and easy dish if you take advantage of some conveniences from the grocery store, like a bag of pre-shredded broccoli slaw. In the produce section of my supermarket, I found "rainbow slaw", which is broccoli slaw (shredded carrots, cabbage and broccoli stems) with broccoli florets mixed in. Rinse it under cold water before you make the salad, to perk up the vegetables. You can prepare this dish early in the day, and let it sit in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve. Try it on top of a salmon or tuna burger, or with roast chicken or grilled fish. Look for mango nectar in the Latino foods aisle.

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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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