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Originally published Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 4:30 PM

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Vegetarian recipes, Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tzatziki) and more

Small plate vegetarian presentation for summer entertaining includes these recipes: Mexican Crudite, Seared Tofu With Arugula, Parmesan and Olives, Naan Bread Pizza and Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tzatziki).

Sun Sentinel

I've started keeping a journal of my dinners as the basis for a new cookbook. I'm also making illustrations of my plate presentations.

When I look back at my notes, it's really hard to believe that more people don't cook quick, simple meals.

To get you started, I want to share my simple summer cooking ideas. These are items that I make regularly so that I can eat well and limit my time spent in the kitchen. Keep in mind that these dishes reflect the trend of people eating small plates or a collection of little dishes opposed to the traditional meal of a single protein, vegetable and some kind of starchy side dish.

Another reason I am able to create simple dishes is because in the past two years, so many wonderful convenience items have come onto the market. Spices like smoked paprika, spice blends in disposable mills and incredibly good cooking and simmering sauces are now readily available.

Fresh produce including exotics and seasonal items are much better than they were in prior years and much more affordable. Fresh herbs abound, and there's a wide variety of items available including mini Persian cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes and multicolored fingerling potatoes. In the dairy case, amazing cheeses are available as well.

Add some unusual filled pastas and even vegetarian protein-based frozen items such as veggie meatballs and falafel, and you are set. Enjoy these summer recipes as I do. They are very easy to make because you are enhancing store-bought ingredients with simple directions for assembling delicious meals.

Falafel Balls With Homemade Tzatziki: Buy frozen falafel balls. They can be found in many natural food markets, club stores and even fresh in Middle Eastern and Israeli markets. Heat the falafel according to directions and serve with my Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tzatziki), for which I provide the recipe.

Mexican Crudite: This is so refreshing on a warm night. It's also loaded with flavor, tart and sweet highlights and incredible textures. Jicama, a sweet tuber, tastes like a cross between an apple and a potato. I use one about 4-inches in diameter.

Peel and slice the jicama into rounds; scatter them on a plate. Add a peeled and chopped avocado, 2 chopped scallions, about 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, a thin-sliced jalapeño and a sprinkling of shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese over the top. Squeeze a lime over all and add salt, to taste. Eat with a fork. Makes 2 servings.

Seared Tofu With Arugula, Parmesan and Olives: Slice 1-pound firm or extra-firm tofu into 1-inch-thick steaks. Rub with your favorite spice mixture. I use Cajun, Italian or sometimes sesame seeds or even a Thai curry paste, which can be found in Asian stores. I spray a nonstick skillet with oil and set over high heat, then brown the tofu steaks about 2 minutes a side.

I make a pile of arugula on a plate. I chop the tofu and scatter it over the arugula with shaved Parmesan and chopped really good black and green olives. Just make sure they are of good quality, not canned. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a favorite vinegar. I also add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, if I have them. Makes 2 servings.

Naan Bread Pizza: Naan breads or flat breads can be found frozen or fresh. Top them with a favorite shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, minced fresh basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil before placing on a baking pan and baking in a 375-degree oven about 10 minutes.


Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tzatziki)

Makes 6 servings

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and grated

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons minced red onions

1 clove minced garlic

2 cups 2-percent Greek-style yogurt

1. Place cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to drain 10 minutes. Rinse under cold running water to remove the salt. Press all the liquid out of the cucumbers.

2. Place cucumbers in a nonreactive bowl with the remaining ingredients. Toss to combine.

Per serving: 60 calories, 24 percent calories from fat, 2 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, .5 gram total fiber, 4 grams total sugars, 4 grams net carbs, 7 grams protein, 220 milligrams sodium.

(Steve Petusevsky is a freelance writer in Coral Springs, Fla.) (c) 2009, Sun Sentinel.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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