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July 8, 2015

Chayote squash, avocado and strawberry salsa {vegan, gluten-free}

Mild chayote squash, avocado and strawberry team up in an unusual salsa fresca!

After fifteen years at the log house, which was surrounded by goat farms but miles from a grocery store, it's nice to be back in the city. Within blocks of our house, we have an Asian supermarket, a Middle Eastern market, a fromagerie, a fish market, and a Whole Foods. A few blocks farther afield, Tropical Foods Market offers all the goodness of the Caribbean, with plenty of specialty ingredients for the African and Latino populations that live in the community as well. Among the items that were hard to find in Rhode Island, chayote squash is one of my favorites, and I now have multiple sources, including my regular grocery store. Chayote, a light green squash that looks like someone punched in the bottom end, always needs to be cooked before eating; it's more firm than zucchini, closer to a patty pan squash, and you can swap zucchini or patty pan squash in most recipes that call for chayote. Here I've paired the mild-flavored squash with creamy avocado and tangy strawberry, in an unusual fresh salsa that tastes great with fish or grilled chicken. You can cook the chayote ahead and refrigerate it, but don't put the salsa together until an hour or so before you're ready to serve; the salt will draw liquid out of the fruit and vegetables, and make it a bit watery if it sits around.

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June 28, 2015

Spicy eggplant caponata toasts {vegetarian}

Slightly spicy eggplant caponata makes a great topping for toast. Picnic perfect!

After living for 15 years in the log house in the woods, my husband Ted and I returned to our full-time home in Boston's South End to discover that restaurants, cafés, and food markets have grown up all around us. On our corner, the store that used to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets now boasts a huge wine cellar. My old greengrocer's storefront has morphed into a fromagerie. A below-ground space that once housed a men's gambling club now peddles pastries and organic salads. I love all of the changes, especially one that brought a tapas restaurant to the arts center across the street. The eggplant caponata, served as a warm tapa in the restaurant, makes a fine topping for toasts with some melted cheese; use something mild, like fontal or fontina, or something with a bit more bite, like manchego. Fresh mozzarella would work, too. The vinegary eggplant caponata has the slightest bit of a kick from red pepper flakes, which you could omit, though of course I'd urge you not to do that. Make this a few hours, or a few days, ahead. It would be perfect for a picnic.

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May 3, 2015

Spanish chicken with saffron and green olives {gluten-free}

Spanish chicken with olives, an easy party dish with real wow!

Whenever my parents entertained, my mother served one of her party dishes, a short list of easy-to-cook chicken (always chicken) dinners with a wow factor. She never made those dishes for everyday dinners, only for parties. I'm not sure why, but that's how she rolled. Mother would have added this Spanish chicken to the party list, because it's really easy on the cook (though it looks complicated), and it's beautiful on the plate. I want you to enjoy it on a weeknight, for lunch, for no particular occasion, or even on a picnic. The wow factor comes from a pinch of saffron, and some smoked paprika (pimentón), which is much easier to find these days, even in the grocery store. Smoked paprika comes in several degrees of heat; dulce (sweet, with no heat) is the most common, but if you can find picante (hot), that's the one I like to use here. This is not a hot and spicy recipe, and I know that, even if you think you don't like hot food, you'll miss the slight bit of hot paprika if it's not there. If you can't find picante, use regular smoked paprika and add the tiniest pinch of cayenne. Put this dish on your party list, and on your everyday list, too.

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March 11, 2015

Crazy mixed-up red enchilada sauce

There's nothing traditional about this easy homemade enchilada sauce!

As I organized the pantry shelves in my new kitchen, grouping all of the tomato-related products together -- canned chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, Ro*Tel -- I realized I didn't have any cans of enchilada sauce, which is pretty much a fixture in my perfect pantry (and which isn't usually made with tomato, but that's where I'd look for it). However, I did discover a bunch of ingredients I thought would make a perfect, if not perfectly traditional, sauce for enchiladas, and I tossed them a pot. The result was this rich sauce with just a hint of cilantro from a jar of storebought sofrito (you'll find it in the Latino foods aisle). Depending on the filling I use in my enchiladas, I might stir in a teaspoon of adobo sauce (from a can of chipotle peppers with adobo), to add some smokiness to the sauce. If you like your enchilada sauce thinner, just add a few teaspoons of water. I prefer mine with a bit of body. It's an easy recipe to double, and you'll want to stash some sauce in the freezer for burritos, flautas, soup, beans, pasta, meatloaf, or just about any type of enchilada you can dream up. A jar of homemade enchilada sauce makes a great hostess gift, too.

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February 15, 2015

Salsa verde turkey and brown rice bowl with avocado and cheese {gluten-free}

Salsa verde turkey and brown rice bowl, topped with avocado and cheese, makes a perfect one-dish meal.

When I set out to create a recipe for The Perfect Pantry, I often begin by jotting down ingredients and the quantities of each that I think will bring the dish to life. As I cook, I adjust and fine-tune. When the recipe works, you see it here. When it doesn't, I go back to the drawing board and start again. In the first notes about this salsa verde turkey, I was certain I'd add a can of chopped green chiles. Fortunately -- and here is the important lesson -- I tasted the salsa first. I used a jar of Trader Joe's Hatch Valley Salsa, a hot-hot-hot green chile salsa, and it was plenty hot enough for me. In the recipe, I caution you to taste your green salsa, as there are so many varieties of store-bought salsa that will be great in this recipe. Use a mild tomatillo salsa, or an incendiary one; it doesn't matter, as long as it's green, and you like the taste.

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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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