Southwestern cooks stay on their toes

Books on the burner

November 07, 1990|By Sujata Banerjee | Sujata Banerjee,Evening Sun Staff "Fiesta Cookbook"

SOUTHWESTERN COOKING IS food for people who love a good dance of flavors. The best chili keeps tongues dancing a rowdy two-step of chile and tomato. The most scrumptious tamale is a terrific tango of corn and cheese. Two new Southwestern-inspired paperback cookbooks on the market are sure to keep cooks on their toes.

"Fiesta Cookbook" by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan (The Olive Press, 1990, $12.95) delivers low-fat and low-salt versions of classic favorite recipes. To many of us, "the whole enchilada" has come to mean a tortilla brimming with oily ground beef, cheese, and topped with a big spoonful of sour cream. McMahon's corn enchiladas combine the vegetables with low-fat Monterey Jack cheese, low-fat sour cream and plenty of chiles. There are also plenty of wonderful, lesser-known authentic dishes that are low calorie by nature, not substitution: Pan de Maiz, a casserole of corn and chicken, and Grilled Yucatan Fish, rubbed with a canned chipotle (smoked jalapeno) paste and cilantro for a spicy, elegant barbecue. It's a good book, with plenty of tempting recipes that are straightforward at first glance. Unfortunately, a few details are left out of instructions -- whether to cover a pot or not while simmering, whether to drain water from beans after they are cooked for chili. The recipes contain complete calorie and nutrition counts.

The Well-Filled Tortilla Cookbook" by Victoria Wise and Susanna Hoffman (Workman 1990, $9.95) is based on the assumption that the "little cakes," as they are called in Spanish, are the perfect wrapper for a whole new world of meat and vegetable fillings. While there are a couple of recipes for tortillas themselves, the authors suggest buying quality tortillas and spending energy on the fillings.

Tortilla-eating is as simple as a quesadilla with melted cheese and as exotic as Turkish-style ground turkey. Tortillas make quickie dinners for tired, hungry people and are also perfect do-it-yourself meals for kids, who like to eat with their hands and need meals that can be warmed up in a flash.

Yet despite the seeming ease of tortilla cooking, this book is distressingly complicated. Unusual combinations of ingredients will send the cook to pricy specialty stores. The recipes have a strong nouvelle and international cuisine bent. Pear-Lime Salsa, Goat Steeped in Cider Vinegar and White Wine and Lobster with Avocado-Lime Cream and Sweet Banana Tacos with Toasted Almonds are a sampling of the novel ideas.

Dynamite Vegetarian Chili

1 pound anasazi or pinto beans

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

3 cups chopped onion (about 2 onions)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups chopped red bell pepper (1 large pepper)

1 cup chopped green bell pepper (1 small pepper)

4 jalapeno chiles, seeded, minced

2 cans Italian plum tomatoes (28 ounces each)

1/4 cup ground chile powder like New Mexican Dixon

1 tablespoon toasted, ground cumin seed

1 tablespoon toasted, ground oregano

10.5 ounces of tofu (Mori-Nu), frozen and thawed

1/2 cup bulgar (cracked wheat)

2 cups corn niblets, canned or frozen

Cover the beans with water, bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to steep for one to two hours. Discard this soaking water.

Then, either pressure-cook the beans with six cups fresh water, the chopped onion and garlic for 45 minutes OR simmer beans in a pot full of water for two hours.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the rest of the chile. Toast the cumin seed in a heavy skillet until there is a slight change of color, about two minutes. Add the oregano to the same skillet and toast for about a minute. Set aside. Chop the garlic, onion, red pepper, bell pepper, and jalapeno chiles. Coarsely puree the canned plum tomatoes in a blender or food processor.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic and onion, sauteeing just until softened. Next add the peppers and chiles. Saute for five more minutes. Set aside.

When the beans are cooked, stir in pureed tomatoes, the sauteed vegetables, the spices, and the chile powder. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Squeeze out the excess liquid from the thawed tofu. Crumble the tofu and stir into the pot of simmering chile. At first, it will resemble grated Parmesan cheese and then it will start to take on the red of the chile. Add the bulgar at the same time. Simmer for 35 more minutes. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Add the corn during the last 15 minutes of simmering.

Makes six servings. Each has 553 calories, 32 grams protein, 96 grams carbohydrate, 0 cholesterol, 0 fat and 504 milligrams sodium.

#-- "Fiesta Cookbook"

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