THIS 30-minute menu is typically American because it borrows a little from several of the cultures that have influenced our cooking. That's what makes cooking so interesting in this country. Even though these recipes were inspired by such disparate cultures as Chinese, Italian and Middle European, they work well together.
In addition to the speed in which this dinner can be put together -- 30 minutes from the time you set out the first ingredient until you are ready to serve it -- it offers advantages for the calorie counter.You can remove the skin from the chicken breasts before cooking. While they will not be as brown, the cheese in the recipe will cover up their paler color.
The dressing for the salad is also low in calories -- only 1 tablespoon of oil for two people.
If you worry about salt, you may find the new, lower-in-sodium soy sauce to your liking. It still has plenty, but much less than the original.
The list of staples for this meal may include foods you do not necessarily consider staples. But you ought to buy them when you have the time, since in some cases you may have to go to a Chinese market for them. The ginger can be frozen and slices hacked off as needed. The rice vinegar has almost indefinite shelf life.
If you like the chicken with dried basil (all that is available in winter unless you were wise enough to freeze some when it was plentiful during the summer and fall), you will love the dish with fresh basil next summer. MENU FOR TWO: Chicken with basil and parmesan Bulgur Chinese spinach salad Papaya or pears STAPLES: Olive and/or vegetable oil, onion, garlic, chicken or vegetable stock, soy sauce, rice vinegar, dried or fresh (or frozen) basil, fresh or frozen ginger. SHOPPING LIST: 4 small chicken breast halves, about 1/2 ounce fresh parmesan cheese, 10 mushrooms, 1/2 cup bulgur, 1/4 pound fresh spinach, papaya or pears. Game plan: Prepare onion and garlic; cook in oil; add chicken. Combine water with bulgur and boil. Prepare spinach and mushrooms. Reduce heat under bulgur; cover and simmer. Turn chicken breasts. Make salad dressing. Gather basil (if fresh) and chop. Add stock to chicken with basil; cover and simmer. Grate cheese. Pour dressing over salad. Melt cheese on top of chicken. CHICKEN WITH BASIL AND PARMESAN (2 servings) 1 small to medium onion 1 medium clove garlic 2 tablespoons olive or salad oil or a mixture of both 4 small chicken breast halves 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or 1 tablespoon dried basil 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock or broth Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/3 cup tightly packed coarsely grated fresh parmesan cheese
Chop onion and press garlic through garlic press. Heat oil in skillet large enough to hold chicken. Saute onion and garlic for about 2 minutes. Add chicken breasts, skin side down, and brown. Turn and brown on second side. Chop fresh or frozen basil. Stir stock and basil into skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cover; reduce heat and simmer about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, coarsely grate cheese. Sprinkle cheese over breasts and either cover to allow cheese to melt or run under broiler for about 4 minutes until cheese melts and begins to brown. BULGUR (2 servings) 1/2 cup bulgur 3/4 cup water Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine bulgur with water, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until water evaporates and bulgur is tender. CHINESE SPINACH SALAD (2 servings) 1/4 pound spinach 10 medium mushrooms, thinly sliced Dressing: 2 tablespoons soy sauce (regular or low sodium) 1 tablespoon salad oil 2 tablespoons water 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
Wash spinach; break off tough stems. Drain well. Place on two salad plates. Wash mushrooms; cut off bottom of stems and slice mushrooms thinly onto spinach.
To prepare dressing, combine soy sauce, vinegar, oil and water and whisk. Mince ginger and add to dressing. Use some of dressing for salad and pour some on bulgur, if desired.