by Betty Thompson

Let's just have appetizers and forget the dinner. Tasty little morsels with bits and pieces of favorite things are so good one can't stop eating.

This month's recipes are creations of "fusion" cooking. This term has been coined to mean combining cross cultural ingredients and cuisines to create pleasant unexpected taste sensations or, in some cases, to allow for ease in preparation.

The Spinach Pinwheels are reminiscent of Greek Spinach Pie except the filling includes bacon, sweet red pepper and pine nuts not normally found in spinach pie. In place of layered fillo dough, the filling is rolled in tortillas.

Thai Coconut Roll incorporates Thai flavors of peanuts, coconut, curry and mint with cream cheese which is not part of Thai cuisine. The log is sliced and eaten Thai style in a soft lettuce leaf with Sweetened Chili Sauce that can be found in Asian markets and some grocery stores.

Polenta is given a new spread when traditional Italian pesto ingredients of basil and pine nuts are replaced with green chilies, cilantro and pumpkin seeds to make a Latin American-style paste. This is a zesty companion. Serve with or without prawns. Use any extra pesto for a pasta dish or to flavor soup or a salad dressing.



Spinach Pinwheels

2 10-oz. package frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and chopped

1 8-oz. package low fat cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1/2 cup non-fat yogurt

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1/2 pound bacon, fried and crumbled

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 teaspoon dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste

12 half-inch strips roasted red bell pepper (Mezzetta brand)

6 eight-inch flour tortillas (gorditas)

Combine all ingredients except red peppers and tortillas. Mix well. Warm tortillas in a dry frying pan just until softened. Spread 1/6 of the filling to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Lay two red pepper strips on the closest edge. Roll tortillas and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator for at least one hour. Cut on the diagonal into 3/4-inch slices. Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 400° for 6-7 minutes. These may be frozen ahead. Thaw before slicing and baking.



Thai Coconut Roll

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons chopped peanuts

2 tablespoons chopped golden raisins

2 slices bacon, fried and crumbled

1 teaspoon minced dehydrated onion

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1 tablespoon finely shredded mint leaves

Small soft lettuce leaves such as butter lettuce

1/2 cup Thai sweetened chili sauce

Combine cheese, peanuts, raisins, bacon, onion and curry powder. Add 1 tablespoon milk if necessary. Using plastic wrap form into a 11/2 inch diameter log. Place coconut on a clean piece of wrap and roll log in coconut pressing it into the log. Chill until firm. To serve. Arrange small lettuce leaves on a platter. Slice 1/8-inch pieces from the cheese log and place on each leaf. Cut slices in half for small leaves. Sprinkle mint over the top of all. Serve with a dish of sweetened chili sauce. For a quick substitute for the chili sauce, warm 1/2 cup plum jelly, one tablespoon vinegar, one clove finely minced garlic and one teaspoon chili paste and mix well. The roll keeps well for several days refrigerated. Freezing is okay but the texture of the cream cheese is altered.



Polenta with Pesto

1/3 pound peeled, cooked prawns

Pesto: 1 7-oz. can green chilies

1 bunch (1 cup packed) cilantro

2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

Mix chilies, cilantro, garlic and seeds in a food processor or blender until well blended. Add some of the oil if necessary. When all is chopped add the oil, lime juice and Parmesan. Mixture should be thick. Add oil or Parmesan to thin or thicken. If you plan to freeze the pesto, it is best not to add the Parmesan until ready to use.



1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Mix polenta with one cup cold water. Bring three cups water to a boil, add salt and slowly add cornmeal mixture to boiling water, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture boils. Reduce heat and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick.

Turn into a lightly greased 15 X 10 X 1-inch baking sheet. Smooth with the back of a wet spoon. Chill one hour or until firm. Cut sheet into 21/2-inch squares. Cut each square in half on the diagonal. Keeps refrigerated for several days. To serve: Place 1/2 teaspoon chili pesto on each diagonal and top with a prawn.

Betty Thompson is a food writer, traveller and teaches cooking classes locally.

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