Like many cooks, I have an insatiable appetite for cookbooks. Spending a weekend with a new cookbook allows me to try the signature dishes of some of this country's best chefs or to travel to home kitchens around the world. I admire and take pleasure in a recipe that knits together flawlessly, but what I value most is a great idea, a new combination of seasonings or an exciting technique. I often tailor a recipe to my taste and to the ingredients on hand, creating my own spin on the dish. The following recipes evolved from ideas I discovered in recently published and old-favorite cookbooks.
Roasted Vegetable and Feta Sandwich
This idea for a "vegetarian muffaleta" came from Bonnie Stern, Toronto cooking teacher and author of "Simply HeartSmart Cooking" (Random House of Canada, 1994).
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces feta cheese, preferably imported
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of red-pepper flakes
1 round loaf country bread (about 9 inches across)
Prepare a grill or heat the broiler. Cut eggplant crosswise into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Brush 1/2 tablespoon of the oil over both sides of the eggplant slices. Grill or broil the eggplant until lightly browned and tender, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Let cool slightly. Chop the eggplant coarsely and mix with red peppers. Season with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, mash feta with a fork. Add lemon juice, oregano, red-pepper flakes and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil; blend until smooth and spreadable. Season with pepper.
Slice loaf in half horizontally and scoop out about 1 inch of the soft interior from each half. (Reserve for another use, such as bread crumbs.) Spread the seasoned feta in the bottom half of the loaf. Spoon the chopped eggplant and peppers over the cheese and place the bread top firmly on the bottom half. Cut into wedges. Serve immediately or wrap and store in a cool place for up to 8 hours.
Per serving: 315 calories, 11 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 597 milligrams sodium, 17 milligrams
Stir-Fry of Pork With Vietnamese Flavors
"The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Routhier (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989) gave me the opportunity to explore the exquisite flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. This easy stir-fry is an adaptation of one of the book's dishes.
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and membrane and cut across the grain into 1/4 -inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons vegetable oil, preferably canola oil
2 cups finely sliced onions (2-4 onions)
1/4 cup sliced fresh cilantro leaves
In a shallow dish, combine ginger, peppers, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of the orange juice, cornstarch and black pepper. Add pork and toss to coat it with marinade. Set aside to marinate for 10 to 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix sugar, the remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce and 1 tablespoon orange juice.
Heat a wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat. Swirl in 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until limp and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Transfer the onions to a plate.
Wipe out the pan. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and increase heat to high. Slowly drop in pork and stir-fry until browned and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the reserved fish sauce-orange juice mixture and the reserved onions; toss until the pork is coated with sauce.
Sprinkle with cilantro and serve over rice.
Per serving: 240 calories, 27 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 834 milligrams sodium, 79 milligrams cholesterol