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LOW-FAT COOKING

Lecso Is More

September 12, 1996|DONNA DEANE | TIMES TEST KITCHEN DIRECTOR

Lecso (pronounced LETCH-o) is a delicious stew or sauce of tomatoes and Hungarian peppers. Traditionally, it's flavored with smoked bacon. This low-fat vegetarian version, however, gets its smokiness from mesquite cooking spray.

For lecso to be really great, garden-fresh tomatoes are essential. The reason is that juices from the simmering tomatoes and peppers form a rich, red, gravy-like sauce. If the tomatoes aren't ripe, they won't be juicy enough to make the sauce, and you may need to add water or chicken broth. If you don't grow your own tomatoes, it's worth stopping by a farmers market or taking the time to pick the best of the season at the supermarket for this dish.

It will take about 30 minutes for the vegetables to cook down. Cover the stew while it is cooking over low heat, but stir it occasionally to prevent burning. An old Hungarian friend once told me that lecso is done when you hold up a pepper strip in a wooden spoon and its ends droop down.

Traditionally, this dish is served with Hungarian sausages. If you're a meat eater but watching the fat, grilled turkey Italian sausage is a good substitute. The stew is also terrific on its own or spooned over tomato-flavored rice.

Serve lecso and Tomato Rice with a good crusty bread and a glass of the Hungarian red wine Egri Bikaver (Bull's Blood of Eger) and you'll have a fulfilling dinner.

VEGETARIAN HUNGARIAN LECSO

Long, pale green Hungarian peppers are often available at supermarkets, but in a pinch you could substitute bell peppers.

Nonstick mesquite cooking spray

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 large onion, diced

1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika

3 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into wedges (about 1 1/2 pounds)

6 to 7 Hungarian peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips (about 1 pound)

1 teaspoon salt

Tomato Rice

Spray bottom of Dutch oven with mesquite cooking spray. Add oil and heat until hot. Add onion and saute over medium heat until onion turns brown around edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in paprika. Reduce heat to low.

Stir in tomato wedges, pepper strips and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until tomatoes cook down to gravy and peppers are limp, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Correct seasoning, if necessary. Serve with Tomato Rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving, without Tomato Rice, contains about:

102 calories; 605 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 1.83 gram fiber.

TOMATO RICE

1 cup rice

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Nonstick cooking spray

1 small onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tomato, diced

Combine rice, water and salt in saucepan. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes.

Spray skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Add onion, garlic and tomato and saute until tender. Stir into cooked rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

183 calories; 595 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 41 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.45 gram fiber.

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