Fast food with an Asian flair


October 15, 2003|By Adrienne Saunders | Adrienne Saunders,SUN STAFF

Quick and simple food doesn't have to mean McDonald's or Papa John's. Susie Quick gives the time-crunched cook a healthful and flavorful alternative in Quick Simple Food (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2003, $32.50).

Nutrition meets modern life in this compilation of creative dishes. Many of the recipes have an Asian bent, such as the miso soup with udon, shiitakes and bok choy, or are a souped-up version of an American staple, such as mac and cheese with sage crumbs. Brisk fall air will tempt you to try each of the inviting soups and stews, such as the butternut-squash-and-apple soup seasoned with cider and mace.

This slim, elegantly styled book holds not only delicious, and deliciously simple, recipes, but the introduction also includes truly helpful pantry and shopping suggestions.

While the pantry may be a little advanced for the novice cook (it calls for stocking quinoa and Gruyere cheese as staples), the recipes are not. The beautiful photography that accompanies many of the recipes are true-to-life, and re-creating dishes that look as good as they do in the pictures is easy with Quick's lead.

The book is a valuable tool for on-the-go types with an appetite. Almost all of the dishes can be put together within an hour, and most in far less time. Some ingredients you may need to buy last-minute are the variety of fresh herbs and some ethnic ingredients you may not regularly stock, but they are easy to find in local stores.

One recipe, lentils with chorizo and queso fresco, became a fast favorite, especially after eating the leftovers. The flavors deepened overnight and the dish was tasty served hot or cold.

When I prepared it, I found the second stage of cooking took longer than indicated and required more liquid to finish the lentils and potatoes. This smoky, earthy combination with a kick of cayenne was so easy that, rather than do the prep work first, I chopped as I went along, and it was ready in less than 30 minutes.

The dish is great for a blustery weekend; serve it alone as a light meal or with simple grilled chicken for a more substantial menu.

Stewed Lentils With Chorizo and Queso Fresco

Serves 4

4 large garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil (divided use)

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

1 bay leaf

2 cups green or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over

8 small red- or yellow-skinned potatoes, quartered

1/2 pound chorizo, kielbasa or other spicy cured sausage, diced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

1 small bunch arugula, tough stems removed

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled

In a deep saucepan, saute the garlic, coriander and cayenne in 2 teaspoons of oil for 30 seconds. Add the stock, bay leaf and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, cover and cook until the potatoes and lentils are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a nonstick skillet. When the stew is cooked, toss with the remaining tablespoon of oil, the lemon juice, arugula, and salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Transfer to bowls and top each serving with sausage and cheese.

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