Nick Hoesl first served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the 196

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Nick Hoesl first served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the 1960s

Nick Hoesl first served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the 1960s

Peace Corps vets share exotic fare

By Joyce Rosencrans, Post home editor

A Sunday potluck brunch followed by travel slides: Sounds like yet another pedestrian entertainment in the suburbs.

But it was hardly that last Sunday when a bimonthly gathering of RVs - that's short for Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers for the Peace Corps - met at Nick and Ginny Hoesl's Westwood home.

The food, table conversation and slide talk turned out to be quite exotic because all were supplied by CARV members themselves, an internationally sophisticated group of adventure travelers, to be sure.

Brunch host Nick Hoesl is a retired pharmacist, author of ''The First Humorously Medical Dictionary'' (Vantage Press, 1997, $10.95, soon to be revised) and lifelong choral singer. Hoesl first served with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan in the 1960s.

On Sunday, he was stationed near his own front door to welcome a dozen other Peace Corps alumni of all ages, plus a few of their friends and relatives. Their international experiences range throughout the agency's 39-year history. A mix of foreign phrases and much laughter filled the room as old friends and new acquaintances compared notes on global adventures.

Guests signed in, noting their Peace Corps countries. The list included Richard House, Philippines; Teresa Phillips, Gabon; Robert J. Griffith, Tanzania; Barry Adamson, Sierra Leone; Andrea Steege, Kyrgyzstan; Doris Strilka, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone; and Jerry Witkowski, Honduras.

First on the 2 p.m. program was the carry-in brunch, with a few dishes reproduced from the RVs' former host countries in Africa and the Middle East. A brunch traditionalist would not have found any eggs, bacon or pancakes here.

Bread choices were baby-pita pockets or dark, delicious slices of Friendship Bread baked from a sweetened sourdough batter.

There were many spicy-rice mixtures, some yellow with curry and turmeric. Hoesl strewed chopped pistachio nuts over his rice dish as the final touch.

Also on the brunch table: salads of crisp, mixed greens dotted with chopped, dried fruits and tropical nuts, some with yogurt dressings. Kebabs of lamb and bell peppers represented Afghanistan. A panful of African ''groundnut'' stew was a braised mixture of mostly crushed peanuts, onion and tomatoes, inspired by Sierra Leone.

Hoesl said no RV host ever bothers to order up a specific brunch menu, leaving it all to chance. Supermarket deli dishes, contributed by busy or non-cooking CARV members, are accepted in good humor.

Once at the table, the inevitable happened. Members briefly mentioned their most awful food experiences in host countries, such as eating grubs.

Ms. Phillips said she couldn't bring herself to eat gorilla meat when it was offered in Gabon. ''It was supposed to be guy food anyway.''

The conversation also covered occasional treats, like stingray cooked with lemongrass and coconut milk. Several people knew to be wary of very sweet, naturally fermented palm wine.

After the potluck, Anita Rat- liff, now working in Cincinnati for the federal government as a Department of Labor investigator, shared slides from 1990s' village life in Zambia. She said it was a country of incredible natural beauty, including towering waterfalls. Within a few months, she learned to savor the basic foodstuff there, called ubwali or nshima. She said Peace Corps volunteers eventually become connoisseurs and find themselves comparing relative thicknesses of the pounded-starch mixture eaten with fingers, not forks.

Accompanying recipes are international by nature, but of no specific origin. Tri-State cooks can certainly enjoy making these basic, healthful dishes, but most don't have incentive to ferment maize mixtures for African kenke or to grind millet for injera (Ethiopian griddle-baked flatbread).

Mediterranean Fish Stew

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup dried-tomato halves, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1/2 pound Italian plum tomatoes, seeded, diced (or canned)

1 cup bottled clam juice

1 cup dry white wine

1 pound firm white fish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails intact

8 medium or large scallops

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon additional minced garlic, optional

Crusty bread, couscous or rice

Yield: 6 servings

Prep time: 35 minutes

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat. Add onion, bell pepper and dried-tomato bits (reconstitute tomatoes in hot water, wine or broth before mincing, if that's easier). Reduce heat to low and saute 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 2 garlic cloves, minced, during last 2 minutes. Add lemon zest, hot-pepper flakes and plum tomatoes; saute 2 minutes. Add clam juice and wine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Add fish pieces, shrimp, scallops and parsley; stir well. Cover and simmer 5 minutes or until seafood is cooked through.

In small bowl, combine mayonnaise and additional garlic; blend well.

To serve, ladle stew into serving bowls; top each with a dollop of mayonnaise. Serve with bread, couscous or rice.

Rice, Yogurt and Veggies

1 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted, cooled

1 large red onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1-1/2 cups uncooked brown rice

3 cups vegetable or meat stock

1 cup frozen green peas or lima beans

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 cup sliced or diced yellow squash

Sea salt to taste; hot sauce

Yield: 6 servings

Prep time: 1 hour

Stir together the yogurt, dill, parsley and sesame seeds. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in a large saucepan; add rice grains and saute until golden, stirring often to avoid burning garlic. Lower heat, add stock, cover and cook 30 minutes. Stir in vegetables and cook, covered, 15 minutes more or until rice is tender and all liquid is absorbed. Add a little more liquid if mixture dries out and rice grains are not yet softened and swollen. Taste for seasoning, adding sea salt and hot sauce. Stir in yogurt sauce before serving.

Grilled-Mozzarella Green Salad

14 ounces mozzarella, thickly sliced or cut in large cubes

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup garlic-and-basil vinegar (or add minced garlic and torn basil leaves to dressing)

Salt and pepper to taste

5 ounces mixed salad greens (radicchio or Belgian endive included for slight bitterness)

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes

In the oven, broil mozzarella pieces for about 2 minutes on each side, depending on how close the cheese is to the heating element. The cheese should blister and brown slightly.

Meanwhile, vigorously whisk the mustard with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss greens with dressing as desired. Portion onto salad plates and top with warm mozzarella pieces. Toasted pine nuts, optional.

Publication date: 03-18-00

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