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Spice Up, Fat Down

March 12, 1997|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of four cookbooks, including "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

Food experts speculate that sales of spicy food may hit $1.8 billion in 2000, about double that of a decade earlier.

This may result, in part, from the low-fat diet many Americans are following. After all, boneless chicken breasts do not taste like beef tenderloin and nonstick cooking sprays don't have the flavor of butter, so people are looking for ways to put flavor back in their food. Chiles, ginger and other spices are sure-fire and fat-free ways to heat up your dinner hour.

As for convenience, the average supermarket should have everything you need--from chile paste to nam pla (Thai fish sauce) to mole. And because of the ready supply of ingredients, you can add ethnic accents to your favorite quick-cooking entrees.

One savory example is Sichuan-style hot diced chicken. Yes, it does use the ubiquitous boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but it is seasoned with nutty-tasting sesame oil, soy sauce, jalapen~o and ginger root. The ingredients are as near as your grocer's shelf, the inspiration is Chinese, and the results are delicious and healthful.

SICHUAN-STYLE HOT DICED CHICKEN

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons dry Sherry

2 small boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size pieces

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 to 2 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon minced jalapen~o

1 teaspoon minced ginger root

1 red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1x1/4-inch strips

1/4 cup diced green onion, white and green parts

Hot cooked rice, optional

Combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and Sherry in bowl. Add chicken and let marinate at room temperature 30 minutes.

Combine remaining 2 teaspoons soy sauce and cornstarch in cup and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in wok or deep skillet. Remove chicken from marinade, reserving marinade. Add chicken to wok and stir-fry until firm and white, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken. If necessary, add another 1 tablespoon oil to wok and heat.

Add jalapen~o, ginger root, bell pepper and green onion to wok and stir-fry until peppers are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir leftover marinade into cornstarch mixture and stir well. Pour marinade mixture into wok. Add chicken and simmer 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened.

Serve over hot cooked rice.

2 servings. Each serving, without rice:

307 calories; 1,431 mg sodium; 79 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams protein; 0.69 gram fiber.

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