Texan cuisine made upscale Tall order: Dallas chef wows 'em by cooking for others what he'd eat himself.

January 14, 1996|By Marcelle Langan DiFalco | Marcelle Langan DiFalco,EATING WELL United Feature Syndicate

Chef Stephan Pyles describes himself as one of those "upstart chefs during the early '80s who was developing -- for lack of a better term -- 'New American Cuisine.' " In 1983, at the age of 30, he opened a wildly successful restaurant in Dallas called Routh Street Cafe. Its menu heralded itself as regional cuisine, a concept whose time had come. Or maybe not.

"We said we were embracing regional American cooking," Mr. Pyles says of himself and his peers, "but we weren't."

For example, set as it was in the heart of Texas, where cattle is king, his opening-day menu listed not one beefy entree.

Routh Street went the way of power expense accounts and other '80s pretensions. Today, Mr. Pyles owns Star Canyon, his self-described "fantasy" restaurant. His restaurant (replete with longhorn lamps) and cuisine (yup, you guessed it, a "Bone-In Cowboy Ribeye") embrace Texan culture with a touch of upscale Western mythology.

Texans are as nutritionally savvy as any Californian; Mr. Pyles' beef and fish dishes run neck and neck in terms of what's most frequently ordered at the restaurant, followed by his chicken dishes and his vegetarian platter.

The rich flavors normally carried by fat are carried in Mr. Pyles' dishes by such elements as smoke, chilies, citrus, infused vinegars and herbs. "I'm cooking the way I want to eat," says Mr. Pyles.

*

Recipes have been adapted from "The New Texas Cuisine" by Stephan Pyles with John Harrisson (Doubleday, 1993).

Chicken and green chili soup with tamale dumplings

Makes about 8 cups, serves 8

SOUP:

2 poblano chilies

2 teaspoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 carrot, chopped

6 scallions, finely sliced ( 3/4 cup)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

5 cups defatted, reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 cup canned tomatoes, drained and chopped

5 tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 cup shredded cooked chicken

salt and freshly ground black pepper

DUMPLINGS:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup masa harina

1/2 teaspoon pure chili powder

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1/4 cup cooked corn kernels

To make the soup:

Directly over a gas burner, roast poblano chilies, turning often with tongs, until the skins are black. Place in a paper bag, close the bag and let "steam" for 20 minutes. Peel the chilies with your fingers or a sharp knife. Halve lengthwise, remove stems and seeds; chop the flesh. (Alternatively, halve and seed the chilies; place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Broil about 5 inches from the flame, until the skins are blackened, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper bag, When cool, peel and chop.) Set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers, carrots, scallions and garlic; cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes and tomatillos, if using, and the roasted chilies. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and add basil. Simmer for another 10 minutes. (The soup can be made 1 day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Return to a simmer before adding dumplings.)

To make the dumplings:

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine oil, salt, cumin and 1/2 cup water; bring to a boil. Sift in masa harina and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the pan and no longer clings to the spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in chili powder and remove from the heat. Beat in egg and egg white. Fold in corn. With wet hands, form the dough into 16 dumplings.

Spoon the dumplings into the gently simmering soup and cook until no longer doughy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add chicken and simmer until heated through. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

OC 185 calories per serving; 13 grams protein; 8 grams fat (1 gram

saturated fat); 16 grams carbohydrate; 217 milligrams sodium; 48 milligrams cholesterol

Beer batter bread

Makes 1 loaf (12 slices)

3 cups all-purpose white flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

12 ounces beer, preferably a medium amber ale, at room temperature

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan or coat it with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the beer all at once, mixing with a wooden spoon until just combined.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean and the top is light golden. Turn out onto a rack to cool. (The bread can be made 1 day ahead, and kept, well-wrapped, at room temperature. Or freeze it for up to 1 month. Warm before serving.)

140 calories per slice; 3 grams protein; no fat; 28 grams carbohydrate; 262 milligrams sodium; no cholesterol

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