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I love cooking with rice noodles because they're so darn easy: just soak them in hot water, and they're ready to go. Here, the transparent noodles are the star attraction in a slightly sweet simple stir-fry that takes less than 20 minutes to toss together — perfect for those nights when you're running from one activity to another.

For a vegetarian dish, simply omit the meat and double the amount of veggies. Be sure not to oversoak the noodles, or you'll end up with a soupy mess; they should be softened but still firm and a little undercooked in the middle (al dente).

Simple Stir-Fry

From "Mark Bittman: The Mini Minimalist: Simple Recipes for Satisfying Meals" (Clarkson Potter)

1 pound fettuccine-style rice noodles

3 tablespoons grape-seed, corn or other light oil, divided

1 pound minced or ground boneless pork or chicken

1 yellow or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 eggplant (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon minced garlic

12- to 14-ounce can (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups) unsweetened coconut milk

Nam pla (fish sauce), soy sauce or salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Minced cilantro

Soak noodles in very hot water to cover until you're ready to add them to the stir-fry.

Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon oil into a large skillet or wok, turn the heat to high and heat for 1 minute. Add meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it browns and loses its raw look, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another tablespoon oil to skillet, followed by the bell pepper and eggplant. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until pepper and eggplant are browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and combine with the meat.

Add remaining tablespoon oil, followed immediately by the garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds. Add coconut milk. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon, for about 1 minute. Drain noodles and add along with meat and vegetables. Cook until noodles absorb most of the coconut milk, about 3 minutes.

Season liberally with nam pla, soy sauce or salt to taste, then add plenty of black pepper. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 582 calories; 24 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 37 percent calories from fat); 72 g carbohydrates; 49 mg cholesterol; 514 mg sodium; 19 g protein; 3 g fiber.

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