Endive, Avocado, and Grapefruit Sald Appetizer

An intimate dinner can ignite the flames, but forget about all the cliches and inspire the evening with a cornucopia of spice, taste, and texture. The food should be light and bright-as fascinating as the person you share it with. Let each different morsel bring delight after delight, teasing all the senses like a shower of kisses.

Interesting, invigorating, and nourishing, this collection of spicy treats keeps the mood exciting. Instead of following a dull, linear, 1-2-3 plan, these dishes let you improvise from nibble to nibble. Try your own combinations-a little raita drizzled on the Jerked Yams, Simple Green Salsa and Red-Spiced White Bean Spread in a corn cup, or caramelized onions in a mushroom cap. Enjoy an evening of infinite possibilities. Best of all, most of the work can be done well ahead of time, leaving you free to arrange the other details of a special spicy evening.

Pick a Pepper

Anaheim Mild chile with a sweet taste and just a hint of heat, Substitute roasted, canned mild green chiles.

Ancho Ancho chiles are dried poblanos , with flavor ranging from mild to pungent.

Habanero Small, wrinkled golden orange chile pepper. Fiery hot; cnsidered the world’s hottest pepper.

Jalapeño Small, hot chile pepper, about 2 inches long, ranging in color from dark green to red.

Pasilla Long, narrow, dried pepper, Dark brown in color, with a rich, hot flavor. When fresh, known as chilaca .

Poblano Broad, triangular, 4 to 5-inch long chile. Dark green to almost black in color. When dried, known as anchochiles.

Serrano Small, pointed pepper, about 1-1/2 inches long. Very hot, green, red or yellow in color; found fresh, canned, or pickled.

Peanut and Jalapeño Stuffed Mushrooms

A familiar looking starter, but filled with a brazen surprise.

12 medium mushrooms
2/3 cup chopped shallots
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Remove stems from mushrooms. Reserve tops and chop stems finely. In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, sauté chopped stems and shallots in oil until shallots are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in peanuts, jalapeño, cumin, and soy sauce, and remove from heat.

2. Spoon mixture into mushroom caps and place on nonstick baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until caps darken and release juices.

Makes 12 mushrooms.

V PER MUSHROOM: 40 CAL (50% from fat), 1.4g PROT, 2g FAT, 3g CARB, 96mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 1g FIBER
Garlicky Hot Crostini

Keep your eye on these as the cooking time can vary, and they like to burn!
6 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
1 baguette or other crusty bread, thinly sliced

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a small food processor or blender, puree garlic, oil, and red pepper. (Or force garlic through a press and mix well with oil and red pepper.) Transfer mixture to a small bowl and stir in Parmesan, if using.

    2. Spread each bread slice sparingly with mixture and arrange slices, spread-side up, on nonstick baking sheet. Toast in oven for about 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove immediately from pan and let cool.

    Makes about 36 slices.

    V PER SLICE: 24 CAL (35% from fat), 0.5g PROT, 1g FAT, 3g CARB, 34mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0.1g FIBER

Red-Spiced White Bean Spread

Deep red sun-dried tomatoes are intense and sweet. They come packed in oil or dry. Skip the oil and plump the dried halves yourself.
6 sun-dried tomato halves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked white beans, drained (canned okay)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon sage
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

  1. Put the dried tomato halves in a small bowl, cover with hot water, and let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain and chop coarsely.

    2. In a food processor, combine tomatoes, garlic, beans, paprika, sage, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Process until smooth.

    Makes about 1-3/4 cup.

    V PER TABLESPOON: 21 CAL (22% from fat), 1g PROT, 0.5g FAT, 3g CARB, 40mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0.7g FIBER

Jerked Yams

Add some Caribbean flavor to your evening with a sassy combination of island spices.

1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon each, allspice, black pepper, and cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound garnet yams, peeled if desired, cut in 1/4-inch slices
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, red pepper, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, and olive oil, mixing well with your fingers. Sprinkle each yam slice evenly with sugar mixture and press to adhere. Arrange slices, coated side up, in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet. Bake until browned and tender, about 10 minutes.

Makes about 16 slices.

V PER SLICE: 59 CAL (13% from fat), 0.4g PROT, 0.8g FAT, 13g CARB, 72mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0.7g FIBER

Spicy Stuffed Tofu

These saucy pockets can also be grilled, equipment and weather permitting.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey or light molasses
2 shitake mushrooms, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons each, minced garlic and ginger root
1/4 teaspoon each, cloves and cinnamon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 pound loaf extra-firm tofu, cut into 7 equal slices
Cooking spray or oil

  1. In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, honey, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, red pepper, and scallions. Strain liquid from mixture into a shallow storage dish. (It will be used to marinate the tofu.) Transfer solids to a small bowl, add 1 slice of tofu, and mash with a fork to combine. Set aside.
  2. With a paring knife cut a pocket in each remaining peice of tofu and place in dish with marinade, turning to coat each piece well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before stuffing.

    3. Preheat oven to 425° and lightly spray or oil a 9-inch square baking dish. Gently push 1/6th of the stuffing into each tofu pouch. Lightly spray or brush pouches with oil and place in prepared dish. (Reserve marinade.) Bake about 12 minutes, or until firm and browned. Heat marinade and drizzle over hot pouches.

    Makes 6 pouches.

    V PER PIECE: 180 CAL (11% from fat), 10g PROT, 2g FAT, 29g CARB, 808mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 1g FIBER

Corn Cups with Caramelized Onion

Delectable au naturel or dressed up with a dollop of raita or salsa. Find potato flour (also called potato starch) in the baking supply section of most supermarkets.
3 large onions, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 10-1/4 ounce package soft silken tofu
1/2 cup potato flour
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. In a large bowl, toss onions with olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and browned.

    2. In a medium bowl, mix together corn meal, tofu, potato flour, chili powder, and salt. Knead briefly on a work surface dusted with potato flour. Divide dough into 12 pieces and press into nonstick muffin tins, forming cups.

    3. Bake cups for 10 minutes, or until slightly puffed and browned. Fill with onions and top with sauce, if desired.

    Makes 12 corn cups.

    V PER CORN CUP: 123 CAL (15% from fat), 4.6g PROT, 2g FAT, 21g CARB, 184mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 2g FIBER.

Raita with Pear

Enjoy the hot and cool sensations of this fruity raita as a dip or topping.

1 cup nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon each, chopped cilantro and mint
1 jalapeño chile, seeded, and chopped
1 firm, ripe pear, peeled if desired, cored, and finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

L PER TABLESPOON: 10 CAL (3% from fat), 0.5g PROT, trace g FAT, 2g CARB, 52mg SOD, 0.2mg CHOL, 0.2g FIBER.


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