"Rabbit is the food of the future," said Richard Leps, as he reached for a package at the supermarket.

In the many years I have known Leps, I have learned not to question even his most outrageous statements. "Rabbits are seven times more efficient than cattle at turning roughage into meat, and they're a damn sight better for you than chicken; they're not all shot up with drugs and hormones, and they're content to live in cages," he explained.

"It's in the scheme of nature for quick, prolific multipliers to be eaten. And I'll tell you something else about rabbits: They're delicious!"

The following recipe for rabbit is Leps', and has made me a believer. Like all the recipes he's shared with me, it's fun to prepare and to serve to guests. Telling them it's not chicken, however, is your option. RUSSIAN RABBIT (4 servings)

4 strips bacon

2 1/2-to 3-pound rabbit (dressed)

Salt, pepper and flour

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 tablespoon peppercorns

8 cloves

1/4 cup chopped parsley

4 cloves crushed garlic

Pinch of mace

3 bay leaves

2 cups water

1/2 cup vodka

Fry bacon, remove and leave fat in pan. Dust the rabbit pieces with flour, then salt and pepper to taste. Brown the rabbit pieces in bacon fat, then place them in a casserole.

Saute' onion and pepper in the same skillet with butter. (If the kidneys, liver and heart are included with the rabbit, toss them in.) Add remaining ingredients and pour over rabbit. Bring to a quick boil. After 2 minutes, cover and place in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Serve with brown rice and broiled tomatoes topped with freshly grated parmesan.