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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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May 6, 2015

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Quick and easy creamy tomato soup, the perfect mate for a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the years after World War II, tomato soup served with grilled cheese sandwiches became a popular school cafeteria menu combination that carried over into home kitchens everywhere. Here's the most plausible explanation I've found for why this happened: institutional food service (including school cafeterias) paired grilled cheese with tomato soup to meet the minimum school lunch requirements for sufficient Vitamin C (from the tomatoes) and protein (from the cheese). As canned soups became more available and economical, and processed cheese extended its shelf life, soup and sandwiches were a practical choice for many school systems. Today there's only one reason we eat grilled cheese and tomato soup -- because it's still the best comfort food combination around. Of course, you can fancy up the cheese and bread in your sandwich, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a basic creamy tomato soup. When it's this easy to make soup from scratch, there's no reason to default to canned soup. By the way, both of my grandsons are dunkers, just as my school friends and I used to be, and this soup makes for great dunking of melty grilled cheese sandwiches.

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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 8, 2015

Egg salad with avocado, jalapeño and lime {vegetarian}

Grown-up egg salad with avocado, jalapeño and lime. Great for roll-ups or lettuce boats. [ThePerfectPantry.com]

After you've eaten your way through all of the sweets and Peeps of the holiday season, you probably have a few leftover hard-boiled eggs languishing in the refrigerator. It doesn't take much to turn those eggs into a truly peppy egg salad, one that absolutely will not remind you of what you found in your grade school lunch box. Here's an egg salad for grown-ups. It's filled with tangy little bites of jalapeño pepper, creamy avocado, and bursts of lime. Fill a roll-up, top some crackers, or serve it in a lettuce leaf. I used a low-carb flatbread one day, and romaine lettuce the next day, and both were equally delicious. Okay, maybe not as delicious as a chocolate bunny, but much healthier, and a fine way to use leftovers. I like to use my egg slicer rather than a knife to make a first pass at the eggs; the eggs won't roll around, and it makes them easier to chop and smoosh with the avocado.

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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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