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Image: 'The Simpler the Better'
Wiley, John & Sons
updated 8/29/2005 8:05:08 PM ET 2005-08-30T00:05:08

Tight schedules need not trump a good meal. You can make healthy, easy dinners and still have enough time to get in everything else on your list. "The Simpler The Better: Sensational One-Dish Meals" is the third cookbook in "The Simpler the Better" series, created by Leslie Revsin in an effort to help her busy daughter feed her family well. Co-author Rick Rodgers was invited on "Today" to share these spring and summer one-dish recipes.

Warm Salmon, Asparagus, and Scallion Salad
This chunky salad needs no greens, although you could serve it on top of a handful of mesclun, if you like.  It has a kind of simplicity that is reminiscent of certain Asian dishes, even though its flavors are firmly in the French realm. 
4 servings

1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound asparagus
1-1/2 pounds skinless salmon filet, cut into 2 or 3 pieces to fit the skillet
1 scallion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Preparation: Grate zest from lemon.  Squeeze juice from lemon; you should have 1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Snap woody ends from asparagus.  Cut spears into 1-1/2-inch lengths.  Thinly slice white and green parts of scallion.

Whisk lemon zest and juice with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl.  Gradually whisk in oil; set the vinaigrette aside.  

Fill large skillet half full with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Arrange asparagus in a single layer in skillet and cover.  Reduce heat to medium and cook asparagus until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer asparagus to colander.  Add salmon to water and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until salmon is just opaque when flaked with tip of a knife, about 10 minutes.  Using slotted spatula, transfer salmon to bowl with vinaigrette. 

Using a fork, break salmon into bite-sized pieces.  Add asparagus, scallion, and tarragon, and mix gently to combine.  Season with salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Serve warm. 

Variation: Instead of the asparagus, use 6 ounces sugar snap peas for the asparagus.  They will only take 2 or 3 minutes to cook to crisp-tender.  Substitute fresh dill for the tarragon. 

Simple tip: Don't forget to grate the zest from citrus (in this case, the lemon) before squeezing the juice.  Actually, with the new very fine zesters on the market, forgetting to do so isn't the disaster it used to be.  Regardless, when writing a recipe, I always put the lemon zest before the lemon juice, just as a helpful reminder. 

Dress it up: Top each serving with crisply cooked crumbled bacon.  Use a combination of 1 teaspoon each finely chopped fresh tarragon, parsley and chives instead of just tarragon.  If you would like to serve the salad on greens, they should be also dressed with lemon vinaigrette. Make a double batch of the lemon dressing; pour half of the dressing into another medium bowl.  Add 4 cups mixed greens, such as mesclun, and toss well.  Serve equal amounts of the greens in bowls, and divide the salmon salad among the bowls. 

Chicken, Basil and Peanut Stir-Fry
Thai cooking has bright flavors, but you don't really need to get authentic ingredients to create a spicy stir-fry in that cooking's tradition.  Of course, if you have access to Thai fish sauce, holy basil, and chiles, you can use them.  Otherwise, use supermarket groceries, just as I often do, and you will be perfectly happy with the results. 
4 servings

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2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breast
1 large red bell pepper
1 small chili "bird" chili, or jalapeño or Serrano chili
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
2 packed cups fresh Asian basil or Italian basil leaves
1/3 cup salted peanuts
Hot cooked rice, preferably jasmine rice, for serving

Preparation: Cut chicken breast into strips about 2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Cut out and discard membrane and seeds of red pepper; cut pepper into 1/2-inch dice.  Thinly slice shallot crosswise; you should have about 1/3 cup. 

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in large skillet over high heat.  Add chicken and cook, stirring almost constantly, until chicken is lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to skillet and heat over high heat.  Add red pepper and jalapeño and cook, stirring almost constantly, until red pepper begins to soften, about 1 minute. Add shallot and stir until it softens, about 30 seconds. 

Return chicken to skillet.  Add basil and soy sauce.  Cook, stirring almost constantly, until basil wilts, about 1 minute.  Stir in peanuts.  Serve hot, spooned over the rice. 

Variations: Add 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, to the skillet with the shallots.

Simple tip: Many markets now carry bags of washed basil leaves. If you are using basil from a bunch, pluck the basil leaves from the stems. Place them in a large bowl of cold water to loosen any grit.  Lift the leaves from the water, leaving any grit behind in the bottom of the bowl, and place them in a salad spinner.  Give the leaves a few whirls in the spinner to dry them.

Dress it up: If you live near an Asian market, or if your supermarket carries Asian groceries (as many do), make the following changes:

  • Substitute Thai fish sauce for the soy sauce.
  • Substitute Thai basil (also known as holy basil) for the regular basil.
  • Substitute a small Thai chili for the jalapeño. 

Spice-Rubbed Ribs With Roasted Corn
A few well-chosen ingredients, an oven, a pan, and…dinner!  It should always be this simple, and this delicious. 
4 servings

4 pounds pork spareribs, cut into slabs as needed to fit pan
4 teaspoons salt-free Cajun seasoning
4 ears of corn

Preparation: Husk corn and remove silk.  Break or cut each ear in half crosswise.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil large roasting pan.  Season ribs all over with the Cajun seasoning and 2 teaspoons salt.  Arrange ribs, overlapping as needed, in pan. 

Roast for 1 hour.  Turn ribs and roast for 30 minutes more. 

Remove pan from oven.  Place corn around ribs, rolling ears to coat in juices.  Roast until ribs and corn are tender, about 30 minutes more.  Transfer ribs to carving board and let stand 5 minutes.  Cut into individual ribs and serve with corn.

Variations: Substitute baby back ribs for the spareribs, adjusting the cooking time.  Roast the baby back ribs for 1 hour, then add the corn to make a total cooking time of 1 1/2 hours. 

Simple tip: Cajun seasoning should be a mix of herbs and spices without any salt.  Watch out for Creole seasoning, which is usually mostly salt with a bit of other seasonings.  If you want to make your own Cajun seasoning, mix 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon each dried basil and thyme, 1 teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon ground hot red (cayenne) pepper. 

Dress it up: Use your favorite barbecue sauce on the ribs, if you like.  During the 30 minutes of roasting, brush or slather the sauce on the ribs.  Roast the ribs for 15 minutes, then turn the slab and brush the sauce on the other side.  Roast for 15 minutes more.

Excerpted from "Simpler the Better: Sensational One-Dish Meals" by Leslie Revsin and Rick Rodgers. Copyright © 2005. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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