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Food that's good for the body from the Naked Chef

Jamie Oliver believes that the answer to America's obesity epidemic isn't some far-off miracle drug -- it's as close as our kitchens. Learn to cook even a few healthy, tasty dishes and you will be better off, the British chef insists.

Lots of celebrity chef types give lip service to healthy eating, but Oliver, perhaps best known in the United States for the "The Naked Chef" Food Network show, has demonstrated a deeper commitment. Oliver has spent years, and part of his personal fortune, campaigning for better British eating habits, at school and at home.

In "Jamie's Food Revolution," the tousled chef with the baby face presses readers to pledge to learn a recipe from each chapter, and then teach those recipes to friends or family. Despite advocating chain-letter tactics, the book itself effectively straddles the gap between preachiness and inspiration, with a collection of attractive, tasty home cooking that starts out simply, and hardly ever passes medium on the difficulty scale.

Salads, soups, pastas and stir-fries make up the first quarter of the book, described in recipes that leave plenty of room for flexibility and improvisation. Quick Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Yogurt could be easily transformed by another type of fish, and practically any green vegetable could be swapped for the broccoli in Broccoli and Pesto Tagliatelle.

The recipe instructions are clumped into large paragraphs instead of numbered steps, which makes cooking from the book under speed a bit trying, as you squint to locate the next step. The photography is profuse and effective, giving beginners plenty of visual cues to judge if they're on the right track.

The main dishes are a blend, reflecting the modern culinary state of his homeland. There's traditional English, dressed up in Oliver's rustic touches, like Beef Wellington stuffed with ground beef, peas and carrots instead of tenderloin and pate.

An entire section is devoted to curries, British-Indian staples like Chicken Korma and Vegetable Jalfrezi. Then there are the Thai coconut milk versions, like the Green Curry that has cooks grinding up their own lemongrass stalks and lime leaves for homemade curry paste.

In fact there's a page of "easy" homemade curry pastes, for vindaloo, tikka masala, rogan josh and jalfrezi dishes. If there's anything in "Jamie's Food Revolution" that's guilty of redefining the word "easy," it's the curry paste page.

For the most part, however, the recipes seem accessible and interesting enough to motivate sluggard would-be cooks.

If the images and recipes for Perfect Roast Lamb, Consistently Good Gravy and Yorkshire Puddings aren't enough to make you consider entering the kitchen to commit dinner, maybe it's time to call for help.

Not that pizza place again. Call that friend who cooks. Between the two of you, with a little help from Oliver, maybe "cooking dinner" can make a comeback.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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Jamie's Food Revolution

By Jamie Oliver

Hyperion

360 pages, $35

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