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GOOD COOKING

Meatless Wonders

September 23, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

Grains, lentils and beans--inexpensive and readily available staples--have long been meat substitutes throughout much of the world. But here in the United States, they have, for the most part, been traditionally used as side dishes.

The following recipes, however, show how a dish can have substance without meat.

The farmer's chili is loaded with vegetables and red kidney beans. A bit of bulgur wheat--wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed--and some of the vegetables are added toward the end of cooking so that there's some crunch in the chili. It's served steaming hot with a dollop of light sour cream or low-fat yogurt, then garnished with thinly sliced green onions and minced cilantro.

Lentils are the basis for the spicy curried salad that can be either served in pita bread or on greens as a lunch dish or an appetizer.

Barley, a hardy grain that is usually associated with soups, is the surprise in a toasted barley risotto that is enriched with mushrooms. The risotto ritual, stirring the pot as hot liquid is incorporated, transforms the barley--as it does arborio rice--into a creamy mixture. The mushrooms, enhanced by fresh rosemary, add great texture and taste.

The dishes are not strictly vegetarian--beef and chicken broth are used in the chili and risotto. To make these completely vegetarian, substitute vegetable bouillon or a vegetable stock. Be sure to fine-tune the seasoning and add appropriate herbs to boost the flavor even more.

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The texture and taste of barley are great in this creamy, hearty mixture laden with mushrooms. Toasting the barley deepens its natural flavor. Unlike risotto made with arborio rice, this barley risotto reheats very well. It's OK if you do not use all of the broth when you cook the risotto or if you run out (just add extra water as needed).

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TOASTED BARLEY AND MUSHROOM RISOTTO 1/4 cup dried mushrooms, such as porcini 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable stock 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup quick pearl barley 1 large clove garlic, minced 2 large shallots, minced 2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped assorted fresh mushrooms 1 tablespoon butter Freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese 1/4 teaspoon salt Freshly ground pepper 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary 1 tablespoon snipped chives

Bring about 1/2 cup water to boil in saucepan. Soak dried mushrooms in water 15 minutes. Drain mushrooms and add strained soaking liquid to chicken broth. Heat broth until hot and keep hot until risotto is finished. Mince soaked mushrooms. Set aside.

Heat oil in 2-quart saucepan until very hot. Add barley. Cook over medium heat until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic, shallots, reserved minced porcini mushrooms and 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are heated through, about 2 minutes, stirring often.

Add 1/2 cup hot broth. Stir constantly with wooden spoon. As broth is absorbed by barley, add more hot broth in 1/2-cup portions. Never stop stirring. Barley is done when tender but firm to bite, about 20 minutes.

About 5 minutes before risotto is done, add remaining fresh mushrooms. Toward end of cooking, add hot broth cautiously so there is no excess liquid when barley is done. Risotto should be creamy, not runny. Stir in butter, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper to taste, rosemary and chives. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Risotto can be made day ahead and refrigerated (reserve herbs and add when ready to serve). Gently reheat, stirring constantly and adding hot broth or water as needed. Serve hot. Pass left-over freshly grated Parmesan cheese separately. Makes 4 servings

Each serving contains about:

293 calories; 676 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 43 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 0.85 gram fiber.

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This is a highly flavored, crunchy and substantial chili. As with most chilis, it's best made at least a day ahead so the flavors develop fully.

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FARMER'S CHILI 1 tablespoon oil 4 large cloves garlic, minced 1 large onion, minced 2 medium carrots, chopped 1 medium zucchini, chopped 1 (15 1/2-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained, rinsed, coarsely chopped 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved and coarsely chopped 1 (6-ounce) can low-salt tomato paste 1 2/3 cups beef broth or vegetable stock 1 1/2 to 2 cups water 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed 2 teaspoons ground cumin 2 tablespoons chili powder 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup bulgur wheat 1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned) Light sour cream or low-fat yogurt, optional Thinly sliced green onions, optional Thinly sliced cilantro leaves, optional

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