Dinner in 20 Minutes

Tuna With Artichoke and Lemon Relish

4 servings

Though this quick, made-from-scratch condiment can be served warm or at room temperature, it's most refreshing chilled.

Serve alongside rice or new potatoes.

14-ounce can or jar artichoke hearts, preferably packed in water

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional as necessary

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tuna steaks, about 6 ounces each

Lemon wedges for serving

Drain the artichokes and rinse them under cool running water. Quarter them and pat them dry.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and the garlic, shaking the skillet occasionally, just until the garlic softens, becomes fragrant and begins to turn golden at the edges, about 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and lemon zest to taste. Using the back of a fork, mash the mixture slightly to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper and mash again. Taste and, if desired, add additional seasonings, oil and/or lemon juice to taste. May serve warm, at room temperature or cold. (To chill in a hurry, transfer to a plate and place in the freezer while you cook the tuna; if you're working ahead of time, refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.)

Preheat the grill, broiler or a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with about 1 tablespoon of oil.

Pat the tuna dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, without turning, for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook to the desired degree of doneness, turning once, until cooked to the desired degree of doneness, about 1 more minute for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board; set aside to cool slightly.

Cut the tuna into thin slices and fan them on individual plates. Place relish alongside the tuna and serve with lemon wedges.

Per serving: 286 calories, 42 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 77 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 416 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

INGREDIENT/ACAI

For those put off by juiced wheatgrass and bored with low-carb bars, there is acai.

Acai (ah-sigh-EE), the purplish fruit of the palmberry plant, purportedly contains more antioxidants than red wine and has a beguiling berry-like flavor with intense chocolate overtones.

The fruit, which is indigenous to the Amazon, was formerly unavailable outside of the tropics. But it is now distributed by Sambazon, a California-based company that promotes sustainable harvesting in the Brazilian rainforest. Sambazon acai comes spiked with guarana (another Brazilian plant, this one legendary for its caffeine-like kick). Sambazon acai is packaged in handy single-serving frozen pouches. Follow tradition and either spoon the defrosted fruit straight up or top it with yogurt and cereal. Or toss the partially frozen fruit in a blender with other smoothie makings, as they do at Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats (1707 L St. NW).

Sambazon acai ($5.29 per four-pack) is available locally at Whole Foods Market. For more information or for mail-order, contact Sambazon; call 877-726-2296 or see www.sambazon.com.

EQUIPMENT | Chinese takeout containers

The humble Chinese takeout carton has a classic design that's excellent for moving saucy foods from one point to another. At cocktail parties, caterers stack them on buffets filled with single servings of cold sesame-soba noodles or tempura vegetables. Larger cartons are perfect at backyard barbecues for the essential potato salad and coleslaw.

We prefer the sleek look of the containers made from opaque plastic. Others are composed of cardboard and covered with primary colors, polka dots or plaid.

We found a large assortment of takeout cartons at the Container Store, from 39 cents to $3.99 each.

Sweet Tart, With Refills

In a refreshing but old-fashioned twist on lemonade, Amernick Bakery in Cleveland Park is plunging red-and-white-striped peppermint sticks squarely in the center of chilled lemons and instructing customers to employ the sticks as straws.

Owner Ann Amernick was introduced to lemon sticks as a little girl at the Flower Mart in Baltimore. Today, her own made-from-scratch peppermint sticks -- the slightly chalky, very porous variety -- bring forth a burst of mint-laced lemon juice. Each order comes with two extra peppermint sticks as replacements for when the first one dissolves.

Lemon sticks are available for a limited time for $1.50 at Amernick Bakery, 3313 Connecticut Ave. NW. Call 202-537-5855.

Burger (heart) Fries

Gender studies conducted during the past decades seem to have overlooked an area of surprising equality: fast food. Men's and women's top restaurant favorites, by percent:

MEN: Burgers (17)

French fries (14)

Pizza (9)

Breakfast sandwich (6)

Side-dish salad (6)

WOMEN: French fries (14)

Burgers (13)

Pizza (8)

Side-dish salad (7)

Chicken sandwich (5)

From the NPD Group's "Eating Patterns in America" report and CBS Market Watch

TODAY'S TIP

The flavors of many vegetable dishes are more intense when they're served slightly warm or at room temperature rather than piping hot. This is a great gift to the cook since there's no need for everything to arrive at the table at the same time. Mix and match warm and room-temperature dishes.

-- Adapted from "The Flavors of Southern Italy," by Erica deMane (Wiley, 2004)

and "A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen," by Jack Bishop (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

DEFINED | The "R" and oysters

The old wives' tale about eating oysters only in months with an "R" in the name (September to April) wasn't based on health considerations, but on the spawning habits of oysters and the changes that accompany that process. Oysters are not as plump when they are spawning during July and August.

TO DO

SATURDAY: Celebration of the Tomato -- various tomato varieties tasting with wine and cheese pairings at the Epicurious Cow. Free. 2-6 p.m. 13830 Lee Hwy., Washington, Va. Call 540-675-2269.

SATURDAY: Gospel crab feast and buffet sponsored by the Voices of Zion of Lomax A.M.E. Zion Church. $30 for adults in advance; $15 for children under 13. 4-8 p.m. 3330 King St., Alexandria. Call 703-971-8172.

SUNDAY: Austrian wine tasting and dinner at Lansdowne Grille. $85 excludes tax and tip. Tasting, 5-6 p.m.; dinner, 6-9 p.m. 44050 Woodridge Pkwy., Lansdowne. Call 703-729-4086.

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