OF all the low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium, high-fibre, vegetarian and 'healthy' cookbooks on the market today, few compare with those by Steven Raichlen, an American chef, food writer and cooking teacher. The reason is simple: Raichlen shows that 'healthy' cooking can be just as tasty and satisfying as a diet which is rich in ingredients now thought to be bad for you. True, people on restrictive diets have to cut out some foods. But as Raichlen demonstrates in his books, what they can eat need not be a tortured attempt to recreate the tastes of what they can't. 'Smart' cooking can be gourmet cuisine of the highest standard. Raichlen's first book of this type, High Flavour, Low-Fat Cooking (Camden House Publishing), was a huge success and a great addition to any serious cook's bookshelf. The latest, High Flavour, Low-Fat Vegetarian Cooking (Viking HK$450) is another winner. They are full of original ideas; techniques for making a wide variety of dishes from a large number of countries; and just plain good food. There are some caveats. Raichlen does not write for those with heart problems, so for people whose diet is severely restricted, many of his recipes are out of bounds. Although Raichlen has travelled widely in search of food ideas, his recipes sometimes retain an American bias. So his Thai food, or his Italian dishes, for example, tend to lack authenticity. But for a good cook, it is easy to work around these problems. The beauty of Raichlen's work is, if nothing else, it provides an excellent foundation. It shows you how to prepare your favourite cuisines in a healthier fashion: you can improvise from there. Here are two of Raichlen's recipes. The first, from High-Flavour, Low-Fat Cooking, is a variation on a typical North African dish. The second, from the vegetarian book, is full of Latin American flavour. CHICKEN TAGINE Serves 6 to 8 This can be eaten as a stew, or served over couscous. If making a couscous, increase the amount of broth to 10 cups. 2 teaspoons olive oil 1 large onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons minced ginger 11/2 teaspoons cumin 11/2 teaspoons ground coriander 1 cinnamon stick 6-8 cups de-fatted chicken stock 2 tablespoons lemon juice 250 g turnips, peeled and cut into large dice 250 g carrots, peeled and cut into large dice 250 g parsnips, peeled and cut into large dice 1/2 cup raisins 1 kg skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into large chunks 1/2 cup cooked or tinned chickpeas Salt and pepper to taste Chopped coriander leaf or chopped parsley for garnish 1. In a large casserole dish, heat oil. Add onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander seed and cinnamon. Cover and cook over medium heat for about three minutes, until onion is soft but not browned. 2. Add six cups of stock, lemon juice, root vegetables, raisins, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes, or until root vegetables are almost tender. Add more stock or water if needed to keep stew from drying. 3. Just before serving, remove cinnamon stick. Add chicken and chickpeas, simmer for two or three minutes until the chicken is just cooked through. Correct seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Garnish with coriander leaf or parsley, and serve with a hot chili sauce on the side. CUBAN SHEPHERD'S PIE Serves 8 I find the local waxy, yellow potatoes have the most taste, but imported baking potatoes are acceptable for this dish. Non-fat sour cream is not available in Hong Kong, but you can substitute non-fat frommage frais (carried by speciality stores such as Oliver's or Seibu), or non-fat yoghurt which is becoming available here. 3-4 large potatoes, about 1.5 kg, peeled and cut into medium dice 1-2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup frommage frais or non-fat yoghurt 2 egg whites, lightly beaten Salt and pepper to taste 2-4 tablespoons vegetable or de-fatted chicken stock, or skimmed milk For the sofrito: 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 onions, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons minced ginger 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped 1 teaspoon ground cumin To finish the filling: 2 stalks celery, cut into small dice 3 carrots, cut into small dice 1 cup fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced; or substitute 1 cup tinned Italian tomato pulp 1 cup cooked corn kernels 1 cup cooked peas 2 tablespoons pureed tomato pulp 3/4 cup dry white wine 1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Centigrade). 2. Cook diced potatoes in two quarts salted water until very tender - about 10 minutes. Drain, return potatoes to dry pan and cook over low heat for a minute to evaporate any extra moisture. Mash potatoes. Mix in garlic, frommage frais or yoghurt, egg whites, salt and pepper. If mixture is too dry, add a bit of stock. 3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger, bell pepper and cumin, cook over medium heat for a few minutes until onion just starts to brown. Stir in celery, carrots, tomatoes, corn, peas, tomato puree and wine. Simmer until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes, adding water or stock if mixture becomes too dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. 4. Line an oven-proof baking dish with vegetable spray. Cover bottom with potatoes, top with the remaining potatoes. Smooth potatoes with a spatula and if desired, decorate the top with a fork. 5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until top starts to brown. Cool for several minutes and scoop out servings, or cut into wedges.