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Most people know rice pilaf as a side dish that comes from a box. But it can be so much more.

This simple and speedy recipe for cranberry almond rice pilaf can be on the table in about 25 minutes, only about 10 minutes of which you'll need to actually do anything. The flavor is so much better than packaged pilafs, and the recipe is totally versatile.

Don't like almonds? Use chopped cashews or pistachios. Dried currants, cherries, golden raisins or sliced dried apricots can sub in for the cranberries. And while we keep the seasonings simple with just a bit of cinnamon, cumin and black pepper, feel free to take this in any direction you like (curry powder wouldn't be a bad idea).

To make a meal of this, serve it topped with grilled herbed chicken breasts.

> Cranberry Almond Rice Pilaf

1 cup basmati rice

1/4 cup orzo pasta

2 3/4 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup dried cranberries

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Ground black pepper

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup grated carrots

Salt, to taste

2 scallions, finely chopped

In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the rice, orzo and broth. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Once the rice has cooked, quickly stir in the cranberries, then cover and set aside for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the rice and cranberries sit off the heat, prepare the rest of the pilaf. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the cinnamon, cumin and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, then cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the almonds and carrots, then cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the rice and cranberries to the skillet, toss well. Season with salt and pepper, then mix in the scallions. Serve immediately. Serves four.

Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 383 calories; 123 calories from fat (32 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 23 mg cholesterol; 58 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 4 g fiber; 715 mg sodium.