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I don’t remember the last time I made regular white rice on the stovetop—instead, I almost always make brown rice, and I have a few tricks. For at least the past few years, I’ve been using this amazing method from Cook’s Illustrated to make baked brown rice, and I usually keep some cooked rice in the freezer in case of rice emergencies. And just recently, I learned from Mark Bittman how to swap brown rice in for white in any recipe (boil the brown rice for 10-15 minutes, then drain and continue on as the recipe directs), and it worked beautifully in an otherwise lackluster vegetable paella.

But probably my favorite rice trick these days is this baked “Mexican” seasoned brown rice. It’s only a hair more involved than the Cook’s Illustrated brown rice, but you end up with something worlds away from plain old brown rice.

Nice spiced rice.

Toss in some beans and veggies, maybe with cilantro and cotija cheese on top, and it’s a fabulous meal.

Nice spiced rice, you more than suffice!

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My recent acquisition of a grill has, unfortunately, left me with fewer “recipes” to write about—much of my cooking these days is throwing assorted bits of protein or vegetable on a hot grill and hoping for the best.  It’s been tasty, but not necessarily something worth writing home about. I mean, everyone knows that meat and veggies (especially eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and mushrooms) taste great on the grill, right?

But here’s something I, at least, did not know until last night: okra is fabulous on the grill. It gets charred and tender and not at all slimy. In fact, grilled okra is probably the most addictive vegetable I’ve encountered in ages. I highly recommend making its acquaintance as soon as possible.

Okra, OK!

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I’m moderately obsessed with leeks these days. They have such a mild, sweet onion flavor, and they can stand on their own as a vegetable in a way that regular onions are often too harsh for. I’ve recently made Orangette’s leeks vinaigrette and the aforementioned leek and blue cheese toasts, and one of these days, when I’m feeling reckless, I’m going to make these creamed leeks.

Then there are these surprisingly lovely leeks in white wine.

You should consult this photo, not the New York Times photo, if you want to know what this recipe looks like. I have no idea what's in their photo, but it's not these leeks.

There’s not a drop of butter, but somehow this treatment makes the leeks feel buttery, all rich and luxurious. I knew wine must have magical powers.

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It’s Chanukah, which for many years has been for me not so much about presents as the opportunity to FRY THINGS. It’s a religious obligation to submerge foods in hot oil, thereby making them even more delicious. This is a religious practice I can get behind!

Both toil and trouble.

I scoured my bookmarked recipes looking for new delicious things to fry. (In addition to all the old delicious things to fry.)  I looked at polenta fries, leek fritters, tempura green beans, eggplant fries, and innumerable variations on doughnuts. So many choices! But as much as I delight in frying things, I was having a bit of a dilemma this Chanukah: I wasn’t planning on having any kind of party or other occasion where people would help me eat the food that I fried, so either (a) I would eat all of the fried food immediately and make myself ill, or (b) some of it would go to waste. I moped.

Finally I hit on possibility (c)—make fried food that would reheat well and have enough nutrition content to qualify as a part of a Reasonable Lunch. Those two conditions eliminated everything except Smitten Kitchen‘s Indian-spiced vegetable latkes, which, in addition to reheating well and being chock full of vegetables, turned out to be absolutely superb. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for years, and now, having finally experienced the results, I’m horrified that it took me so long.

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Okra, I’ve done you wrong. For years, I’ve been telling okra-haters—of whom there are many—that they’d love okra if they’d only try it fried. Any other way but fried, I’d insist, and it would turn into slimy goo.

Now, thanks to Harold McGee, I know the truth: okra’s potential sliminess comes out to play as a thickener in soups and stews, but it “can be minimized by using dry cooking methods (frying, baking).”  As this recipe shows beautifully, another dry cooking method is pan-roasting in a hot cast-iron skillet until it’s charred and tender.  This amazing technique lets okra taste like okra, not just hot, crisp breading. (Not that there’s anything at all wrong with hot, crisp breading, mind you. It’s possible that I served this with fried catfish.)

Okra, okay!

I thought I liked okra before. Now I really, really like it.

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As I’ve been trying to learn how to cook more meat and fish, I’ve found myself in an odd conundrum: for the first time, I’ve had to start making distinct side dishes if I want vegetables in my meal. It used to just be that I’d whip up a big bowl of pasta and toss lots of veggies in, but now I actually have to plan what kind of vegetable might go with my protein. It’s weird.

But when I recently decided to make salmon with a za’atar yogurt sauce (based on this recipe), there was no question in my mind what side would go alongside it—this splendid creamy spinach, which is one of my very favorites.  The original recipe claims Turkish origin for this dish; although I never tasted anything like this in Turkey, I’ll stick with that label, because this recipe highlights some of my favorite things about Turkish food—copious use of yogurt and fresh herbs.

Yogurt everywhere.

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I love winter squashes, but my love for them is somewhat conditional. I love them only when savoried-up, spiced and roasted. The more desserty applications do nothing for me—the squash is sweet enough to start with, so I want salt and spice and contrast. Maple syrup is for pancakes.

The problem has been that I’ve been running out of new ways to gussy up roasted winter squash.  My favorite may always be this panzanella with squash and brussels sprouts, or maybe this salad with chickpeas and tahini, or maybe this spicy application. (I confess, I’m terrible at picking favorites. I can’t even pick a favorite color, let alone a favorite book or winter squash recipe.)

But now there’s a new entry in my roasted winter squash recipe book. This gratin is as warm and comforting as the other squash recipes, but it adds a lush richness with goat cheese and cream. It would be a wonderful side dish for Thanksgiving—or, really, for any meal. Rather, any meal where you have some kind of bread to scoop up the gorgeousness that is the cream, goat cheese, leek, and hazelnut goo you’ll find on your plate once you’ve eaten all your squash.

The squash is quashed.

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