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For a quick meal, try pork tenderloin

(ran NP ST TP editions)

When chilly evenings solicit warm and tender retreats, a simmering stew or slowly cooked roast often comes to mind, but, by the time those dishes are ready, it's sleepy time, not suppertime. For quick comfort, try pork tenderloin instead.

The tenderloin _ a small, lean roll weighing about a half-pound and usually sold in two-packs _ is easy to prepare, versatile enough for a weeknight supper or an elegant dinner affair and as lean as the fall nights are long.

"Tenderloins are growing in popularity because they are so convenient, so lean and so tender," said Robin Kline, spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council.

In addition, Kline notes, tenderloins are more available than ever before because more pork is going to market boneless. "When you separate the pork from the bone, you get those two nice tenderloins, which cook very fast," Kline said.

Whether braised, roasted, grilled or stir-fried, tenderloins cook in a fraction of the time of most larger meat cuts. Cooked whole and at a medium-high to high heat, most tenderloins reach the safe temperature of 160 degrees in 20 to 30 minutes.

Stick two in a marinade before leaving for work and come home and shove them in the oven. While they cook, throw together a salad and steam vegetables, and in less than an hour a hearty, hot meal is ready.

And it is a healthy one. Three ounces of trimmed pork tenderloin has about 4 grams of fat, which compares favorably to skinless chicken breast with 3 grams and is far leaner than beef tenderloin, with 9 to 14 grams of fat per 3 ounces.

The real attraction here is adaptability.

Pork tenderloins can be marinated gently in sesame and soy or brushed with maple syrup or honey before roasting, or they can be rolled in a mix of crushed spices such as dried chiles and cumin for a more robust flavor.

At Nava restaurant in Atlanta, one of the top-selling items is a pork tenderloin rubbed with a paste of toasted coriander, yellow and brown mustard seeds, fresh garlic, lime juice, New Mexican red chili powder and salad oil. "All of that puts a sear on the outside with all the juices locked in until you cut into it," said Brian Krell, Nava's executive sous-chef.

Medallions pair well with fall flavors such as apples and pumpkin pie spice, and tenderloin chunks and black-eyed peas can be transformed into gumbo.

If you crave something more exotic, try an Indonesian-influenced peanut and pineapple sauce or a Chinese kung pao stir-fry. For a splurge, try Pierre Franey's pork tenderloin rolls with prosciutto, a classic Italian treatment with Parmesan cheese, rosemary, olive oil and white wine.

Leftovers are always a bonus. Toss cooked cubes with pasta or rice, fan thin slices atop greens or tuck rounds with cooked apples into a sandwich.

"More than most other cuts of meat, pork tenderloins can absorb all the different flavors because there's little marbling," Krell said. "You can do something as simple as salt and pepper, or you can decide to go wild."

Braised Pork Medallions With Apples

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 whole pork tenderloin, sliced into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 small onion, minced

1 large apple, cored, coarsely chopped

{ cup apple cider

Mix together pepper and pumpkin pie spice and season medallions on both sides. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet; saute pork on both sides to brown, remove from pan and reserve.

Add onion and apples to skillet and saute until golden. Add apple cider to skillet; heat to a simmer. Return pork medallions to pan, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Serve with hot rice or couscous.

Preparation time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: about 15 minutes.

Makes 4 servings. Nutrition information per serving: 209 calories, 7 gm. fat, 67 mg. cholesterol, 59 mg. sodium.

Source: National Pork Producers Council.