The summer after high school graduation, I worked as a cashier in a produce market. (It was Robin’s, for any of you New Paltz-area folks). There, I memorized numeric codes for at least 200 kinds of produce, including about 10 varieties each of apples, onions, and potatoes. Although the precise number that went with the purple potatoes has faded from memory, I distinctly remember one customer. He came in one day when I was bagging and a delightfully truculent co-cashier was ringing people up. This shopper unpacked his basket, revealing a series of goods bought in small quantities.
The co-cashier (let’s call her Lucinda) sized up the package of cherry tomatoes, one lemon, small bag of trail mix, and two pears and said, “Single guy, huh? I could see you a mile away!” She proceeded to tease him good-naturedly and boast about her powers of deduction.
Being the kind of 17-year-old who was only going to comment on an order if the jicama had an enormous worm wriggling out of it, I was embarrassed. But I soon realized Lucinda was very astute. The guy chuckled nervously and nodded. I thanked my lucky stars that I had my family to return to that evening, even if we didn’t always sit down together for a meal.
For the next several years, I cooked and ate with my family, in a student dining co-op, or in a group house. Now I’m cooking just for myself, and I can really feel for that guy.
I’m saddened at my good friend Bestway, where you have to buy at least a pound of jalapenos at once. I like to imagine the families that Bestway and The Store Next to 7-Eleven are made for. There’s got to be a parent or grandparent or oldest sibling cooking up a storm nightly.
I know many are in the same boat as me, though, because Whole Foods is making a fortune on individually-wrapped egg rolls and Safeway offers celery by the stick. Some of us want–need–to buy small.
Here’s the other problem people face in this town: there’s no time to cook, whether it’s for a family, housemates, or yourself. If you’re not blessed enough to have a significant other who whips up delicacies nightly or live in a group house where members take turns cooking dinner, you probably want quick solutions to the daily dinner need. It’s not worth the pomp of prepping and following complex recipes just for yourself. This is why Whole Foods also makes a fortune on pre-sliced vegetables. At the end of a long day, a whole green pepper has become too much to tackle.
So for anyone who furtively buys those pre-trimmed, pre-washed, individual celery sticks or even if you buy a single frozen burrito with pride, I have recipes for home-cooked meals for just yourself or a small crew. They’re made from scratch, starting with (deep breath!) whole vegetables.
I think the key is making food ahead. You can cook multi-purpose ingredients like baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, sauces, beans, and grains in bulk. Then you can reheat or incorporate them into a new dish in minutes.
Here are a few recipes for you to try. These should all make enough for 4 meals. Use them to serve 4 all at once, or serve 1 person 4 times (yes, or 2 people twice! ) If you cook just for yourself, prep the ingredients in one majestic swoop and then cook them as needed (e.g. chop and slice all of the antipasto ingredients below, refrigerate, and then slice the bread and assemble your mini sandwiches when you’re ready to eat).
Choose 3 or 4 of the following:
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers
2 medium tomatoes
1 can whole or quartered artichoke hearts
8 oz. fresh mozzarella
1 bunch fresh basil
1½ cup olives (Kalamata, Spanish olives, etc. are all good!)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Slice the baguette on the bias (diagonally) to create large slices, or cut in 4 pieces and slice each piece open like a sandwich
. Slice everything else small enough to fit on the baguette slices
. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle on salt and pepper
Pile everything onto bread slices and enjoy!
One key to a good meal-sized salad, IMHO, is lots of veggies aside from the leafy base, including filling ingredients like olives. The other key is protein. I recommend marinated tofu, fried or baked tempeh, or fried or baked seitan. If youâ€™re not veggie, use whatever it is you omnivores eat for protein. If you donâ€™t have marinade on hand, you can go with plain tofu or use chopped hard boiled eggs for protein, or just pile on a lot of nuts.
1 lb extra firm tofu, in Â½â€ cubes
Â¾ cup marinade OR
Â½ cup soy sauce/tamari/Braggâ€™s liquid aminos and 3 tbs sesame oil
5 or 6 cups mixed baby greens OR
Romaine lettuce, sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces OR
Arugula, coarsely chopped, OR a mix of all of the above
Sliced seasonal veggies, olives, pickles, canned mandarin oranges, pomegranate seeds, leftover steamed veggies, etc.
Walnuts, almonds, or pecans, chopped OR
sunflower seeds (toast any of these for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven for extra tastiness and a nice crunch)
Feta or goat cheese, crumbled
Salad dressing of choice (check for recipes in an upcoming post!)
Toss tofu cubes with marinade or soy sauce-sesame oil mixture. Set aside as you assemble the rest of the salad, or let sit overnight.
Toss greens with your choice of salad ingredients, then add tofu and dressing
Bento Box in a Bowl (vegan)
This is my personal corruption of a delicious Japanese tradition. Learn more about making it authentic at http://www.airandangels.com/bentobox
2 cups brown rice and 41/2 cups water OR
7 cups cooked brown rice
. extra firm tofu, cut in Â½â€ cubes
1 bunch kale or collards
1 medium onion (yellow or red)
1 large carrot
Â¼ cup soy sauce (for a great sauce, add 1 Tbs. rice vinegar, 1 tsp. grated ginger, 1 minced garlic clove, and 1 tsp. sugar or honey)
Japanese pickled vegetables or vegetarian kim chi (if you donâ€™t mind adding a Korean flareâ€¦). Beware of MSG and fish products in these. Health food stores carry an awesome veggie kim chi brand called Sunjaâ€™s.
Vegetarian furikake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furikake), sesame seeds, or shredded nori for garnish
Place rice and water in a pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil
. When it boils, lower heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes
Meanwhile, prepare the veggies and tofu like so: wash the kale or collards, tear off the leaf stems, and chop or shred
. In a large sauce pan or medium pot, add water to a depth of about 1â€ and put in a steamer basket (if you have one)
. Bring to a boil and add the tofu cubes and greens
. Now slice up the onion in wedges and the carrot in thin slices on the bias
. Throw those in, too
Allow everything to steam for another 8-10 minutes and poke at each vegetable to check for doneness
. Each one should be tender-crisp
. Steam longer if necessary
When ready, spoon rice into bowl(s) and top with tofu, veggies, and sauce
. Eat with pickles or kim chi on the side
Try sweet mochi for dessert.
Quick Curry (vegan)
6 cups sliced vegetables (green or red bell peppers, carrots, bean sprouts, mushrooms, scallions, cabbage, onions, potatoes, eggplant, etc
1 baked potato, chilled and cubed
Â½-1 small can vegetarian curry paste (watch out for fish products in this if you donâ€™t do fish) OR
Â¼ cup (4 Tbs) curry powder and 2 tsp salt (or to taste) mixed with 3 Tbs
. cooking oilâ€¦ but curry paste is best!
1 can coconut milk (for a reduced fat version, use half a can coconut milk and an equal amount of water)
6 or 7 cups rice or rice noodles
Stir fry vegetables, starting with harder vegetables that will take longer to cook first (onions, carrots, peppers) and adding medium and quick-cooking ones later (mushrooms, cubed cooked potato, and bean sprouts should go in last)
. When vegetables are still somewhat crisp, add curry paste or curry powder/oil mix
. SautÃ© together for 15 seconds with the seasoning, then add the coconut milk
Serve over rice or noodles
Huevos vegetarianos (can be vegan)
This is almost too simple to require a recipe, especially if youâ€™re using pre-made salsa
. Really, itâ€™s more a concept than a recipe, but Iâ€™ll include it here
1-2 eggs per person OR
Â½ cup leftover scrambled tofu per person
2 tortillas per person (either thin or handmade ones)
. canola or olive oil
Canned diced tomatoes, with some liquid reserved OR
Pico de gallo
Salt to taste
Black beans from Black Beans and Rice recipe below (optional)
Shredded cheddar or
Monterey jack cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Stack tortillas, wrap in foil, and toast in the oven, or toast for 10 seconds each in a hot, dry skillet as you prepare the eggs
Heat oil in a skillet and sautÃ© onions until translucent
. Add partially-drained tomatoes and salt to taste
. Simmer for 5 minutes to create a tomato sauce
. Cook scrambled tofu or eggs as desired (sunny side up is the traditional way), adding cheese in the last minute or two, if desired
. (Covering the skillet helps the cheese melt.)
To serve, top tortillas with eggs, tomato sauce, optional beans and cheese. Serve sour cream and extra tortillas on the side.
For dessert, try easy Almost Churros. Spread tortillas with butter or margarine, dust with turbinado sugar and cinnamon, and toast at 400 degrees until sugar melts.
Black Beans and Rice or Barley (vegan)
2 Tbs. canola or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Oregano or Italian seasoning
1 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1 tsp. salt or Adobo seasoning, or to taste
Â½ or 1 whole dried or canned chipotle, minced (optional)
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar or 3Tbs. red wine
2 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 cans black beans, with liquid
5-7 cups cooked white or brown rice or barley
Note, if you donâ€™t have cooked rice on hand, steam rice first. Follow the quantities and method in curry recipe above. If youâ€™re cooking barley, use 1 part uncooked barley to 4 parts water. Cook with the same method as the rice, allowing about 45 minutes for it to absorb all of the water and fully cook.
For the beans: heat oil in large skillet and sautÃ© onions for a few minutes. When theyâ€™re translucent, add the garlic and sautÃ© for another 2 minutes or so. Add the next three ingredients and cook another 30 seconds, until the seasonings become fragrant but not burned. Add the vinegar or wine (optional: if using wine, you can simmer at this point for about 2 minutes, allowing the alcohol to burn off and the flavors to infuse). Add the sugar and black beans, with their liquid. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Serve beans over rice, garnished with chopped cilantro, pico de gallo, avocado, etc. if the spirit moves you.