Lebanese Rice Pilaf

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup vermicelli, broken up
  • 1 cup short or long grain white rice
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

  1. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small pan and add the vermicelli.  Cook, stirring constantly until the vermicelli is nicely browned.
  3. Add the rice, water, and salt.
  4. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes without removing the lid.
  5. Remove from heat and, without removing the lid, allow to rest, for 10 minutes.
  6. Fluff with a fork and serve.

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Chinese Smashed Cucumber Salad (low-fat)

Photo from NYT Cooking
A little technique transforms a simple cucumber into something incredibly delectable. Two versions:
NYT Cooking Recipe:

Ingredients

  • About 2 pounds English, Greenhouse or Persian cucumbers (thinned skin is key). (About 8-10 mini cucumbers, 4 medium-size or 2 large greenhouse)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for cucumbers
  • 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, plus more for cucumbers (I skip this)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Small handful whole cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons toasted white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Rinse cucumbers and pat dry. Cut crosswise into pieces about 4 inches long. Cut each piece in half lengthwise.
  2. On a work surface, place several cucumbers cut side down. Lay the blade of a large knife flat on top the cucumber and smash down lightly with your other hand. The skin will begin to crack, the flesh will break down and the seeds will separate. Break or slice the pieces diagonally into bite-size pieces, leaving the seeds behind.
  3. Place the cucumber pieces in a strainer and toss with a big pinch of salt and a big pinch of sugar. Place a plastic bag filled with ice on top of the cucumbers to serve as a weight and place the strainer over a bowl. Let drain 15 to 30 minutes on the counter, or in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.
  4. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine salt, sugar and rice vinegar. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir in sesame oil and soy sauce.
  5. When ready to serve, shake cucumbers well to drain off any remaining liquid and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with grapeseed or olive oil and toss. Add half the dressing, half the garlic and the red pepper flakes to taste, and toss. Keep adding dressing until cucumbers are well coated. Taste and add more pepper flakes and garlic if needed. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro and sesame seeds.

Cooks Illustrated Recipe

Photo from Cooks Illustrated

Ingredients

  • 2 English cucumbers
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar (or substitute a mixture of 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar and 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, pressed or minced finely
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry the cucumbers. Cut the ends and then cut them into thirds. Place in a ziplock bag. Gently pound or press the cucumbers just until they crack open into 3-4 spheres.
  2. Place the cucumbers into a colander. Break the pieces into bite sized pieces. Sprinkle 1.5 teaspoons salt over the cucumbers and let them sit and drain 15-30 minutes.
  3. Place the cucumbers into a bowl and discard juices.
  4. Mix the vinegar with the garlic and allow to marinate for 5-15 minutes.
  5. To the vinegar and garlic mixture, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar.
  6. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and mix well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.


Ina Garten’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

This is one of my favorite Ina Garten recipes. It is loaded with vegetables and full of flavor. It makes a great side dish, pot luck dish, or even a meal on its own. It’s great cold or at room temperature, and holds up beautifully in the fridge. I modified the recipe slightly to reduce unnecessary oil. I have also simplified the directions. The original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (I use 3 tablespoons)
  • 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt (I use 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound orzo
  • 4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3/4 pound feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled) (I use 1/2 pound)
  • 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Dressing

  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I use 3 tablespoons)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (I use 2 tablespoons – there is plenty of oil already on the vegetables)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I use 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425-F.
  2. In a large bowl toss the bell peppers, onion, and garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into long slices, approximately 1/2 inch thick). Lightly brush the slices with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once they are coated, cut the slices into cubes. Add the eggplant to the bowl with the other vegetables. (The reason I add oil to the eggplant separately from the other vegetables is because eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge and will prevent the other vegetables from getting coated).
  4. Pour the vegetables onto a sheet pan (two sheet pans may be necessary to prevent the vegetables from being over crowded). Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the orzo according to the package.
  6. For the dressing, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  7. Drain and transfer the orzo to a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing.
  8. Add the roasted vegetables and toss. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pine nuts, feta, and basil. 

Quinoa Salad with Feta, Grapes & Walnuts

This nutritious salad is a meal in itself. I love all the different textures and flavors. This salad is great in a packed lunch and holds up really well in the fridge. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (or use sliced or slivered almonds)
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins or currants
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, minced

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions

  1. Cook quinoa (great directions here). For roasted quinoa see here.
  2. Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar and shake well.
  3. Mix together all the ingredients for the salad in a bowl. Add dressing and toss well.