Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

Easiest Instant Pot Risotto

This is an unapologetic ode to my Instant Pot, which I love and adore. I bought it used several years ago and yes, it did take some time to get over my initial fears of figuring it out, but once I started understanding how to best put it to use, I fell hard and fast. Yes, people, you can be a hardcore home cook and also love the Instant Pot! Loving to cook does not exclude loving the Instant Pot!

What I think is essential is figuring out how you personally will get the most use out of it. What might be important to me will not necessarily be as important to you. For example, I love the Instant Pot for making chicken broth. It's easier than cooking it on the stove and it results in a more flavorful broth, plus it's quicker. I also love it for cooking rice, as I've mentioned before. And braised meat and palak paneer, among other Indian recipes. (This book by Sarah Copeland is an absolutely wonderful must-have if you have an Instant Pot.) But the most important thing for me is Instant Pot risotto. I'll literally never make risotto on the stove top again.

Not only does risotto in the Instant Pot take a fraction of the time to make, but you barely even have to stir it. PLUS,  you're guaranteed the most perfect texture every time. It's magic and absolutely worth the price of the pot. (We eat risotto at least once a week and it is one of those rare meals that everyone loves and I don't even bother serving anything else with it, so it's easy as pie for me.) The first time I made IP risotto, we'd spent the afternoon at the playground and came home just at dinnertime. The children were hangry, as, frankly, was I, and I had prepared nothing for dinner. There was a moment of panic and then I pivoted to making this risotto and when I had a hot, perfect dinner on the table less than 15 minutes later, I felt like I could have bench-pressed a car.

I used a recipe from The Kitchn to get my head around quantities and time, but my risotto is more vegetable-forward and less cheese-centric. I usually make risotto with a box of frozen peas, but sometimes I'll use a medium zucchini, finely diced (as I did here). You can, of course, go nuts and use both! Or you could skip both and just add saffron to make risotto Milanese! (Add the saffron with the broth.) You can use fancy homemade broth, or store-bought boxed broth, or even just water with some bouillon cubes, which is what I usually do. (I use Italian Star cubes that I buy in bulk in Italy or at the Italian wholesaler here in Berlin.) If you have white wine, use it. If you don't (I rarely do), just substitute more water/broth. It's a very riffable base recipe and I love it so much I've committed it to memory.

Instant Pot Risotto

This is what the risotto looks like immediately after removing the lid. You have to then quickly give it a good stir, add the grated cheese and stir again. And then you have to serve it right away - risotto must be eaten hot hot hot, just like pasta, or the texture changes and it goes all wrong.

IP Risotto

Okay, now I'm very curious: What are your reasons for loving your Instant Pot?

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Easiest Instant Pot Risotto
Serves 4
Print this recipe!

4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water with two bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups (400 grams) risotto rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) white wine, optional (if not using, add an additional 1/2 cup broth)
1 box frozen peas or 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1/2 cup (45 grams) finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Warm the broth or water. Set aside.

2. Set the Instant Pot to SAUTÉ and pour the oil (or the butter, if using) into the pot. Add the finely chopped onion and sauté until fragrant and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat every grain with fat. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.

3. If using the wine, add and stir well. Cook until most of the wine has evaporated. If not, proceed directly to Step 4.

4. Turn off the SAUTÉ function. Add the warmed broth and stir in the frozen peas or diced zucchini. Cover the Instant Pot and set it to MANUAL, HIGH, and dial the time to 5 minutes. The Instant Pot will take about 3 minutes to come to pressure.

5. When the 5 minutes are over, immediately release the pressure using a QUICK release. Remove the lid. Add the grated cheese, stir well, season to taste, and serve immediately.


Nik Sharma's Ground Beef Pulao

Beef Pulao with Raita

As any close observer of my daily meals or longtime reader of this blog can attest, we don't eat a lot of meat. My husband was traumatized by gristle as a child, and by parents who made him clean his plate, no matter how long it took. In my family, where some form of Italian cooking mostly reigned supreme, vegetables and vegetarian meals were always the stars of the show. Roast chicken was the special occasion dish at my mother's house; brisket was the counterpart at my American grandmother's house. These days, there's the environmental factor to consider, which is huge, and also the cost: good-quality meat in Germany is expensive. We simply can't afford to cook meat that frequently if we insist on buying organic meat or even just sustainably raised local meat. It's just as well that my family would almost always prefer a meatless meal.

These days, the meat that ends up on our table most often is (organic) ground beef. Max will never understand the appeal of a rare steak, but give the man a hamburger or a meatball and he's in seventh heaven. The children love the meat ragù that I make on a weekly basis, but they're hot and cold on burgers and meatballs, which is insane, but these are the same children WHO DON'T LIKE PIZZA I AM SERIOUS SEND HELP. Since I am the only cook in the house and I will die of boredom (or become extremely resentful and grumpy) if I can't try new recipes, I'm always thrilled to have a new way to try and get ground beef into their bellies.

(A brief interjection here to rail against the fact that it is still nearly impossible to find ground poultry in Germany. Butchers consider it a hazardous substance and almost all of them refuse to prepare it—only one that I know in western Berlin will grind it for you on the condition that you buy no less than 5 kilos of it. Recently, the grocery store on the corner has started occasionally selling packages of ground (conventional, not organic) turkey, but it's seasoned and...I....just refuse to buy it. For a while, I thought I'd just be resourceful and make my own. I bought a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer years ago only to have it languish in my cupboards until...I resold it a few months ago. Sigh. So beef, pork and lamb are our only options.)

Beef Pulao

One way, of course, is Fuchsia Dunlop's celestial spicy celery with ground beef, but it is too spicy for the boys at their ages now. (I shake my fist at their northern European taste buds!) Another way is in this one-pot meal that has you cook ground meat with spices and aromatics, then mix that with turmeric-colored rice that you cook in the same pot (don't bother washing it out). Fresh mint and scallions folded in at the end give the dish a little lift, though it's the cool bowl of cucumber raita alongside that really makes this a pleasingly complete meal.

The recipe as written was originally meant for lamb, which is far fattier than ground beef, so Nik Sharma has you cook the lamb first to get the excess fat out before you continue with the spices. I made it as he wrote, but since the ground beef had less fat to give off, I actually think you could move steps around a little to get a more aromatic result. In other words, cook the ginger and garlic first, then add the spices and salt and cook until fragrant, then add the beef and cook until slightly browned. Lime juice on top, scrape out of the pan, proceed with the rice. If you do it this way, then I think you should also add a chopped onion together with the garlic and ginger. My adjustments to the recipe are below.

Either way, when the pulao's finished, be sure to make raita to dollop on top. The one in the photo I made by pouring plain whole-milk yogurt into a smallish bowl and seasoning it with salt and ground cumin to taste, then grating in a small Persian cucumber. I love the cooling feel the raita gives against the piping hot rice and meat, plus, if you've actually made the pulao with red chile powder, you'll be happy for the respite from the heat. (I left out the chile powder because I wanted the children to eat the pulao for lunch. And Bruno obliged happily, a minor miracle. Hugo, on the other hand, was unimpressed and left half behind. As I scraped his portion into the trash at the end of lunch, I thought to myself hey, at least our parenting has progressed so far that we don't make our kids clean their plates anymore, right?)

Serenity now.

Ground Beef Pulao
Serves 4

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4
garlic cloves, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon red chile powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 bunch scallions (about 6), trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1. Check the rice and discard any debris. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl, cover with water by 1 inch, and soak for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 250°F/120°C.

2. As the rice soaks, cook the beef: Place a medium saucepan with a heavy lid or a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the saucepan is hot, add the olive oil, garlic, ginger, and onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garam masala, chile powder, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through and slightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and stir well. Scrape the mixture into an oven-safe bowl or pan and keep warm in the oven.

3. Drain the soaked rice. Add to the same pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, the turmeric and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, and reduce heat to simmer until the rice absorbs all the water, about 10 minutes. (Do not stir the rice as it cooks, or the grains might break.) Remove the saucepan from heat, and let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

4. Fluff the rice and combine with the cooked meat, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Fold the scallions and mint into the rice, and serve immediately.
Print this recipe!


Aglaia Kremezi's Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens

Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens

Another soup, I know, but you're going to want to know about this one for the warm days of spring and summer. I got the recipe from Aglaia Kremezi's Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, which was published almost two years ago, but which I only got my hands on last week when Aglaia came to Berlin to launch the book. Aglaia lives on Kea, in the Greek Cyclades, is the author of several books on Greek cuisine and, together with her husband Costas, runs dreamy-sounding cooking vacations. Bucket list alert!

Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts is a really thoughtful assembly of recipes not just from Greece and Italy, but also Turkey, France, the Balkans, and the Middle East. But it's also a very personal book, full of Aglaia's favorite recipes collected over the years, like the stuffed vegetables she grew up with as well as the simple loaf of bread she and Costas eat every day. I can already tell it's going to become one of those books I just keep in the kitchen so that I can cook from it all the time.

The first recipe that I made from the book was this Turkish yogurt soup that's thickened with rice and cornstarch and streaked with soft leafy greens. The soup is traditionally made with Swiss chard, but on our Saturday morning market run, I found some nice-looking baby spinach to use instead. Just about 30 minutes after getting home, lunch was ready to be served. I know that for some, the sound of "warm yogurt soup" will not be appealing, but please trust me - it's delicious. The dried mint, pepper flakes and olive oil drizzle give the light, creamy soup liveliness and pep. The cornstarch and rice helps give it body, and the water-thinned yogurt base is just the right level of sour. It's so refreshing. I served it with nice sourdough bread and a big salad to eat afterwards and we were all very happy. Well, "we" the adults. Hugo refused to even try the soup, but we found out afterwards that he had a fever. He gets a pass!

I've been loving our Saturday routines recently. I wrote a little bit about it on Instagram. Our weekends used to feel scattered and grumpy. But since instituting this new rhythm - market, playground, cooked lunch at home in the dining room, not the kitchen - things have changed rather dramatically. Things run more smoothly, we all feel calmer, saner and happier. Funny how such a seemingly small thing can have such impact. Do you have any routines or weekly traditions that you feel have helped your family harmony? I'd really love to know.

Aglaia Kremezi's Warm Yogurt Soup with Grains and Greens
Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
Serves 3 to 4

1 bunch Swiss chard or several bunches spinach or baby spinach
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
3 scallions, white and most of green parts, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup/50g white rice or 1 cup/160g cooked wheat berries or pearl barley
1 cup white wine
5 cups water
Salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups/480ml plain yogurt (not Greek)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried mint
Crushed red pepper flakes

1. Wash and trim the chard. Cut the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into bite-sized pieces. If using, spinach, wash and chop. If using baby spinach, wash.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and scallions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the chard stems, if using, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Add the rice or wheat berries/barley, stir well, then add the wine and water. Add salt to taste, bring to a boil, and reduce to medium-low. Cook for 10 minutes. Add the chard leaves or spinach/baby spinach. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the greens are very tender. Remove from the heat.

3. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water. In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt with the cornstarch slurry. While whisking, pour in a ladleful of hot soup. Slowly add 2 to 3 more ladlefuls of soup, whisking until the yogurt mixture is pretty hot. Pour it back into the soup pot, return to low heat and cook, stirring, until it almost boils. Add black pepper and the dried mint. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Serve, drizzling each bowl with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkling with red pepper.


Riso al Forno alla Siciliana

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We are in the final days of our vacation, when things get sort of panicky and weird. The temperature has dropped and it's now colder here than in Berlin, which is no good at all. I'm wearing a very strange mish-mash of clothing (palm-frond leggings! a stained t-shirt! my mother's cardigan! white Birks!) from the vacation closet to stay warm. And in a minute, I'm heading downstairs to make our third crostata this vacation so far. But! I know what you're making for dinner tonight! Or tomorrow. Or this weekend. WHENEVER. You're making this.

I found it in yet another of my mother's cookbooks, you know, the ones with no author, the ones you'd normally see in a grocery store instead of a bookstore and pass on by without a second glance. This particular one was published by La Repubblica, the newspaper, and is part of a series on regional Italian cooking. The region in this case, Sicily.

I paged through it the other day and found about seven hundred and thirty things I wanted to make right away, but this baked rice dish stood out because it didn't require much of anything exotic, besides maybe caciocavallo cheese (which I substituted with provolone.)

You par-cook Arborio rice and dress it with olive oil and grated cheese. Then you stew together garlic, onions, bell peppers, eggplants and tomatoes and season them with basil, some red pepper flakes, salted capers and cured black olives. This mixture is layered with the par-cooked rice and more of that grated cheese and baked in the oven until the top is good and melty and brown.

It sounds sort of fussy, but the payoff is huge. We loved how elaborate it looked and tasted and yet I slapped the whole thing together just before lunchtime. Vacation lunchtime, but still - this could totally be a weeknight dinner. (I'd even go so far as to say it could be dinner party fare, but it falls apart on the plate in a way that might not be quite what you're going for when you have guests. But I don't know your life, so do whatever the spirit tells you to do.)

150 grams of cheese sounds like a lot of cheese, but it's spread out throughout the dish and seasons the rice really nicely. Plus, when you dig out a scoop of the rice, tiny filaments of cheese hang off the spoon and wiggle. YESSSSS.

Riso al Forno alla Siciliana
Serves 6

320 grams Arborio rice
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish
150 grams caciocavallo or provolone, grated
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 small eggplants or 1 large one, halved and sliced
3 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons salted capers, soaked and rinsed
1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted
Red pepper flakes, to taste
8 basil leaves
Salt

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the rice and lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain the rice. Place the rice in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir in 50 grams of grated cheese. Set aside.

2. Place the remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the onions, peppers and eggplant. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Then lower the heat to low, cover and stew for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the lid and add the tomatoes. Stir well, then cover again and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, add the capers, olives, red pepper flakes and basil leaves. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Oil a baking dish.

6. Place half the rice in the dish evenly. Distribute half the vegetable mixture over the rice evenly. Top with half of the remaining grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining rice, vegetables and cheese. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.


Rice and Peas and Broth and Cheese

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I've just returned from a week in Sicily, where Rachel and I taught our food writing workshop at the splendidly picturesque Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School. I have so much to tell you, but the words and impressions and images are still swirling around in my head and haven't had a chance to settle yet. While I was away, Hugo and Max went to visit Max's grandparents in deepest Bavaria. They communed with sheep, cows and chickens, wore rain boots all week, and generally had the best vacation a little boy could hope for.

We all got home this past weekend, to an empty fridge and an uninspiring larder. Even the bread box was bare. And since stores in Germany are closed on Sundays, shopping was out. Mercifully, my mother had us over for lunch on Sunday. There were oven-baked polpette encrusted with breadcrumbs, roast potatoes, salad, and gratineed eggplant. After a week of being cooked for at breakfast, lunch and dinner, I thought I might feel like cooking again once I got home. But no, actually, being fed by someone else still felt pretty good.

At dinnertime, though, we were on our own. I picked up and considered a can of baked beans, a jar of millet, some carrots asleep in the fridge. I thought about doing a bit of tinkering. Roasting nuts, cooking lentils, trying to make something fresh out of the drabness staring back at me from the pantry. But after all that Sicilian home cooking - the expertly balanced menus, richly flavorful sauces, the vegetables that tasted so deeply of themselves and the earth, and crisp fritti - culinary experimentation felt a little sacrilegious. And after a week of not seeing my loves, the last thing I felt like doing was sequestering myself in the kitchen for an hour.

Instead, I went all the way back to the most basic of basics with the things I always always always have around: rice and peas and a little bit of broth; an abbreviated, simplifed risi e bisi. You could go elsewhere for more complicated versions of that classic Italian dish (David Tanis' with pancetta and pea shoots and lemon zest, oh my, or Rachel's via Marcella Hazan, with homemade stock, fresh peas and Italian rice). But in a pinch, it's good to know that cutting corners works just fine too. This is how I cook when I don't want to cook.

I heated olive oil in a pan, then cooked the rice (regular long-grain, nothing fancy) in the oil until it was toasty and fragrant. In went a lot of water, enough to cook the rice and still have a bit pooling in each plate after serving. The water sizzled as it hit the hot pan. Then a few spoonfuls of Better than Bouillon's vegetable base were stirred in. (You could also use a bouillon cube. I often do.) When the rice was halfway cooked, tiny droplets of oil pooling at the surface of the water, I added twice as many frozen peas, then let the whole mixture cook together until the rice was finished.

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I spooned the rice and peas into our bowls, the broth pooling just slightly at the edges, put grated Parmesan on top to shrivel in the heat and melt. It felt like the truest nursery food, calming and nourishing, piping hot and agreeably savory.

You don't actually need a recipe for this, I think. But sometimes it's nice to know about the simplest, silliest meals, how we feed ourselves when we must make do. Knowing how to make a little thing that will fill you up and taste like home is just as important as knowing how to make a feast. These are the dishes that end up making up the fabric of flavors of your life.

Rice and Peas and Broth and Cheese
Serves 2 adults and one toddler

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup long-grain rice
2-3 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon vegetable base (or a bouillon cube)
2 cups frozen peas
Grated Parmesan, for serving

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan, then add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is fragrant and slightly toasted. Pour in 3 cups of cold water and add the bouillon base. Bring to a boil, then reduce to the heat to a simmer, with the lid on and slightly askew.

2. After about 7 minutes, add the frozen peas and stir well. Raise the heat to bring the water back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer again and finish cooking, with the lid on and slightly askew, another 7-10 minutes. The rice should be soft but not mushy. There should still be some liquid in the pan.

3. Ladle the mixture into bowls and top with freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.


Amy Chaplin's Black Rice Breakfast Pudding with Coconut and Banana

Black rice pudding

Last fall, a publisher sent me a heavy package. Inside were two copies of Amy Chaplin's At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, a vegan cookbook and whole foods manual of sorts. Amy used to be the executive chef at Angelica's Kitchen, the legendary vegan restaurant in New York City, and now works as a private chef, teacher and recipe developer. At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen is her magnum opus, if I may be so bold, a well-researched, deliciously crafted and carefully written guide to making the most of all the wide array of plants - from whole grains to beans to vegetables to seaweed, yes - available to us today. It feels like an instant classic, modern and interesting and definitive. (Also, the photography is jaw-droppingly beautiful.)

These days, it's tough to keep up with the onslaught of information blaring at you from every corner, and the cookbook market is no exception. The rate at which new cookbooks come down the pipeline is crazy, for lack of a better word, and the speed and haste in which they are thrown together is sometimes depressingly apparent. But in this case it's clear that Amy poured an enormous amount of work into getting the book just right. There is so much information here, so many thoughtful little tips and nice stories, not to mention the delicious recipes, that it really earns the adjective of encyclopedic. I'm so impressed.

Black rice pudding with bananas

I've cooked from the book for several months now, but I've also kept it by my bed for a soothing bedtime read and I'm happy to say that it works on both counts. For those of you who are interested in why soaking grains is so good for you, how to use seaweed to bolster the flavor of beans, for example, or how to make desserts out of things like ground toasted coconut, maple syrup and oat flour, you need this book. And if you're a vegan, this book will become your Joy of Cooking. I'm not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but the recipes are so richly conceived and so well-developed that they don't read as "special diets" food, but rather as warming, soulful, wonderful food, the kind I'd like to eat all the time. (There are a few exceptions, mostly in the dessert chapter, but I imagine that for people who are gluten-free or vegan or lactose-intolerant or all of the the above, it's manna from heaven. I mean, toasted coconut crust for pies, chocolate pots de crème, Earl Grey fruit cake, helloooo?)

My latest discovery in the book is a black rice breakfast pudding made with coconut milk and lightly sweetened with maple syrup. You soak the rice overnight first, then cook it with coconut milk, water and nut milk (those of us who aren't vegan can use regular milk, like I did, which makes the pudding creamier than nut milk will) until it's soft and creamy and the "pudding" is a deep, beautiful purple. Spooned into a bowl and topped with cool slices of banana and some crisped-up toasted pieces of coconut (regretfully missing from the photos here), it's the nicest breakfast I've had in a long while. Warming, rib-sticking, tropical. Hugo loved it too, by the way!

Black rice pudding with banana and coconut

My husband is obsessed with Amy's turmeric lemonade that I doctored with blood oranges during a recent onset of the flu, and next up on our to-try list is her silky cauliflower-celery root soup made with two whole roasted heads of garlic and roasted shiitakes. There's cherry-coconut granola and a corn-tofu frittata, a hibiscus drink made with ginger and citrus and a black bean butternut stew, among so many other things I cannot wait to try.

And! The second copy is for one of you! Yippee! Just leave me a comment and tomorrow evening I'll pick a winner.

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone. March is almost here!

UPDATE: Anne is the winner! Thanks for participating, everyone! Comments are now closed.

Amy Chaplin's Black Rice Breakfast Pudding with Coconut and Banana
Adapted from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup black rice, washed and soaked in 4 cups of water for 12-24 hours
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cups milk (cow or almond)
2 cups water
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup maple syrup or coconut nectar
Sliced banana, for serving
Toasted coconut flakes, for serving

1. Drain and rinse the rice. Place in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the coconut milk, almond or cow's milk, the water and the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat without the lid, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. (Some liquid may escape - as above.)

2. When the rice is tender and the pudding is creamy, remove from heat and stir in the sweetener. If desired, you can thin the pudding with a little extra nut or cow's milk. Serve topped with sliced banana and toasted coconut. Leftovers can be reheated the next day with a little water stirred in to loosen the pudding.


Diane Kochilas' Tomato, Oregano and Feta Risotto

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I've been feeling a bit like a wrung-out dishrag lately, creatively speaking, I mean. A reader very kindly pointed out the other day that you all would be a lot happier if I posted more often, to which I could only bleat "I'm so sorry, I know!" at the screen and sink my head in defeat. I mean, I'm the first to feel bereft when my favorite blogs go silent for more than a few days.

I guess I poured so much energy and heart into finishing the book that now that it's over, instead of feeling full of inspiration and moxie, I'm feeling a little empty when it comes to cooking and writing about it. For a few weeks after I finished work on the manuscript (and the final testing of the recipes), I could not turn on the stove to save my life. I just couldn't. I couldn't stand the sight of the measuring cups, the mixing bowls, the sink waiting to be filled with dirty dishes. I had to stop seeing it as the final frontier, the final battle zone between me and the finished manuscript before I could enter it again with hunger and a lust for cooking.

Add that to the fact that I am now single-digit weeks (eeep!) away from giving birth and you'll understand why sometimes I sit here in front of the computer trying to think of things to tell you, but coming up empty. I mean, I can spend hours thinking about organic baby mattresses, what on earth - WHAT - we should name our baby and, uh, trying to wrap my head around labor, but then dinnertime rolls around and I'm eating a handful of sliced cucumber and a peanut butter sandwich. You know?

But enough about that.

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Remember Elaine Louie's wonderful The Temporary Vegetarian column in the New York Times? The source of such delicious things as Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's Chana Punjabi, Aytekin Yar's Zucchini Pancakes and Julie Sahni's Green Beans Bihari? I loved that column so much. (It no longer exists, but you can buy the book it was turned into right here.) Slowly but surely, I'm hoping to cook my way through most of the recipes she published (Cabbage Strudel, anyone? I'm still kicking myself for having lived mere minutes away from the strudel shop on Queens Boulevard for almost three years and never having made it there.).

The recipe with which Louie retired the column was from Diane Kochilas, Greek food writer and consulting chef at Pylos: a Greek riff on the classic Italian risotto, using ouzo instead of white wine and feta cheese instead of Parmesan and butter. I made it for dinner last night and the one thing I kept thinking as I ate it was, forgive my ineloquence, woah.

The risotto looks like it will just be a sweet little tomato-ey thing, flecked with some well-meaning oregano, but it turns out to be a flavor bomb, an umami explosion, if you will, almost too intense to actually eat. The convergence of the feta and the anise liqueur and the fresh tomato and the lemon zest is sort of epic, really. I practically had to wipe my brow as I worked my way through the bowl. (And this was without adding any salt besides what was already in the broth, people.)

I left out the garlic that was in the original recipe, because I think garlic in risotto should be against the law, and I used Pernod instead of ouzo because that's what I had in the house and if I made this again, I would use water instead of broth, probably, and also a bit less feta, because I actually don't really like to feel like I'm fighting my way through dinner, even if it does taste very good. But eating it in the soft dusk light that came in from the balcony and being reminded of our trip to Greece last September was lovely, really, and just the kind of thing that makes me want to cook again and again and again.

Diane Kochilas' Tomato, Oregano and Feta Risotto
Serves 4
Note: To grate a tomato, halve crosswise and grate the cut side with a coarse grater over a lipped cutting board or bowl. Grate as close to the skin as possible, then discard the skin.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/3 cup Pernod
1 1/3 cups grated ripe tomato (about 3 or 4 large plum tomatoes)
2/3 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
Finely grated zest of a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional

1. In a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion and stir until soft, about 6 minutes. Place broth in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

2. Raise heat to medium, and add rice to skillet. Stir until well-coated with olive oil and starting to soften slightly, 2-3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the simmering broth. Keep stirring gently until the rice absorbs all the broth. Add Pernod and stir until absorbed.

3. Add grated tomato and stir gently until the mixture is dense. Add remaining broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed, until the rice is creamy but al dente, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Add feta and stir until melted and risotto is creamy and thick. Stir in oregano and lemon zest, and season to taste, if needed, with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and serve immediately.