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Delicious Light Fare

Warmer weather has arrived, and that means you can enjoy some delicious, but lighter fare.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson became famous for his take on Swedish cuisine at the restaurant Aquavit, but he's now trying his hand at Japanese cuisine with his new restaurant Riingo in New York City.

We asked Samuelsson to create a three-course summer meal for four on our $30 budget.

Samuelsson's menu: an appetizer of Curry Chicken Salad; an entrée of Salmon with Sweet Garlic Rice; and for dessert, Chocolate Pancakes.

Sameulsson was born in Ethiopia and orphaned at the age of 3, when his parents fell victim to a tuberculosis epidemic. He and his older sister were adopted by a young Swedish couple. Sameulsson says his passion for cooking came from his grandmother, who cooked for a wealthy family in Sweden. At 16, he attended the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, attending classes by day and cooking in local restaurants at night. After graduation, he apprenticed in Switzerland and later in Austria.

In 1991, Sameulsson was asked by Aquavit owner Håkan Swahn to apprentice at his restaurant. Following his stint at Aquavit, Samuelsson returned to Europe to take a position at the world-renowned three-star Michelin restaurant Georges Blanc in Lyon, France.

In 1994, Håkan Swahn commissioned Sameulsson to return to Aquavit to work under the restaurant's new executive chef, Jan Sendel. Both found they shared much in common. But, after eight weeks working together, Sendel died unexpectedly. Sameulsson took on the challenge of becoming the chef. In 1995, Swahn formally appointed Sameulsson to the position of executive chef, and three months later, the young chef earned a coveted three-star rating from The New York Times. His cuisine continues to win national praise and he has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television programs.

Since 1994, Marcus has been the executive chef at Aquavit. He is the youngest chef in New York City to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times.

Sameulsson's new restaurant, Riingo (the name means "apple" in Japanese), opened in the fall of 2003. The food is Japanese-influenced American cuisine. In addition to Aquavit and Riingo, Samuelsson also focuses his energy on AQ Café in Manhattan¹s Scandinavia House. Spring 2002 brought the release of his first Swedish cookbook, "En Smakresa (A Taste Trip)." His first American cookbook, "Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine" was released in October 2003. Samuelsson is a committed supporter of many philanthropic organizations; he serves as a spokesperson for UNICEF and a mentor for high school students participating in Careers Through Culinary Arts Program.

Terminology

Napa Cabbage: Sameulsson uses Napa cabbage in his salad recipe. Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, has a mild sweet flavor. It has an oblong head with tightly packed pale-green-to-white crinkled leaves. Napa has crispy, fibrous leaves, which is why it is often called "celery cabbage." Napa's mild flavor tastes something like a cross between cabbage, iceberg lettuce and celery. It is a versatile cabbage that can be eaten raw or cooked and is used in stir-fry and soups.

Coconut Milk: Sameulsson uses coconut milk in the salad as well as in the salmon dish. Coconut milk is made by combining equal parts water and shredded fresh or desiccated coconut meat and simmering until foamy. The mixture is then strained through cheesecloth, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible from the coconut meat. You can find canned coconut milk in many grocery stores, often in the Asian food aisle. Canned coconut milk separates naturally. The top layer can be spooned off for recipes calling for cream, the bottom layer can be poured thin, or just shake it up to get the most commonly called-for thick coconut milk. Coconut milk is considered a key ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking.

Bittersweet Chocolate: Sameulsson uses bittersweet chocolate for his chocolate pancakes. Bittersweet chocolate is often used in pastries. Dark chocolate is another name used to describe any sweetened chocolate that does not contain milk solids, and includes extra-bittersweet, bittersweet and semi-sweet.

In general, European dark chocolate refers to bittersweet, while American dark chocolate refers to semi-sweet. The two chocolates are used interchangeably. However, flavor, texture and appearance of the finished product may change, depending on the type and quality of chocolate used.

Semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolates contain cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes lecithin (which acts as an emulsifier). The quality and blends of cocoa beans, the amount and quality of the added ingredients, and the processing determines the quality of the chocolate. Each brand has its own special formula and method of processing. Bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor in North America and 43 percent in Britain.

The best chocolates can contain 65 percent to 70 percent chocolate liquor. The higher the content of chocolate liquor, the more rich and flavorful the chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate generally has a stronger chocolate flavor. Semi-sweet chocolate generally contains more sugar than bittersweet. However, because the amount of sugar this type of chocolate contains is not regulated, what one manufacturer calls bittersweet may be called semi-sweet by another manufacturer.

Recipes:

Curry Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
1 box couscous, cooked to the directions on the box
1 tablespoon curry powder
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced thinly lengthwise
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 5.6-ounce can coconut milk
1 head Napa cabbage, shredded
juice from 2 limes

Prepare the couscous according to the directions on the box. Set aside. Using your hands, rub the curry powder on the chicken slices.

In a sauté pan, add the 2 tablespoons of peanut oil, then sauté the chicken slices with the onion and garlic on high heat for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add the coconut milk, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Fold in the cabbage. Stir well to make sure everything is well mixed.

Remove from the heat, toss in your prepared couscous. Add the lime juice and toss.

Transfer salad to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper if you wish. Serve the salad at room temperature, letting everyone serve themselves.

Salmon with Sweet Garlic Rice

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons peanut oil
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 cup white rice
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 cups water
2 cups frozen spinach, cooked according to the directions on the package
1 pound salmon filet, divided into four even filets
1 tablespoon chili powder or cayenne powder

Pour 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a saucepan on low heat; add the garlic, onion and rice.

Sauté for 5 minutes; add the coconut milk and water and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Fold in the cooked spinach; set aside.

Brush each salmon filet with chili powder. Add the remaining peanut oil to a sauté pan on medium-high heat; sauté each salmon filet for 3 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan.

Divide the rice evenly among four dishes. Place the rice in the middle of the plate. Serve a salmon filet on top of rice.

Chocolate Pancakes

Ingredients
1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until well mixed. Whisk in the chocolate and butter mixture. Sift the cake flour over the chocolate/egg mixture and fold it in.

Place a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan to grease the pan. When the pan is heated up, add a spoonful of batter. Turn the pancake as soon as it is bubbly all over and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat until the batter is used up. Serve warm, garnished with powdered sugar or cocoa powder if you wish.

Chef's Note: You may need to add another tablespoon of butter to keep the pan well-greased.

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