Cooking for four or eight people is a breeze. But cooking for one comes with less joy and a lot more pain. Whether you are single, choose to live alone, travel a lot or are flying solo while your better half is out of town (like mine is), I think cooking for one poses inherent challenges. Typically, it leaves me feeling a bit uninspired and underwhelmed by the possibilities.
The Struggles of Cooking for One
In spite of being a “glass is half-full” girl, I see far greater downsides to cooking for one and have yet to successfully maneuver this arena.
Generally, recipes are created to serve groups of people, six to eight, and what singular diner really wants to put a dish on repeat that many times? Not me. It defeats the purpose of having so many choices of eating the dishes our beloved or friends may not adore or even like or tolerate.
The second struggle is that recipes simply are never developed for a single serving, which is deeply frustrating. This forces us to dig into our resourcefulness and make one meal at a time. (Yes, I do like batch cooking, but, again, when I am alone, I yearn for diversity in meals.)
A few other struggles include that David still hasn’t taught me to grill, so grilling is out of the question. And with the tail-end of the stifling summer heat, I have zero desire to turn on the oven.
Edible New Mexico
Thankfully, the theme of the new issue of Edible New Mexico is all about cooking for one. Lucky for me, it arrived just in time to reassure me that cooking for myself is both doable and delightful.
As I look back on the last week of what I have eaten while flying solo, I see a clear theme. It all revolves around salads using farmers market ingredients. Greek salad. Kale salad. Salad with roasted vegetables and Chardonnay Dijon vinaigrette. And, yes, salad for breakfast. But I wanted something different and new.
Thankfully, Samir Nosrat again delivered something seriously sensational when she scored the ultimate green salad recipe from Via Carota in New York City. Featured in the May 8 issue of the New York Times Magazine, this seems like the perfect time to test out this dish that still weighs heavily on my mind from a few years ago.
Via Carota was my only choice for a belated birthday lunch when we were in New York. Having read about this eclectic West Village trattoria, I was giddy with anticipation. One of three tables having a very late lunch in the middle of summer, it felt as if we were the only patrons.
The service was smooth and almost invisible as the staff magically appeared exactly when you wanted them. Being a vegetable lover, I was impressed with the choice of 15 vegetable starter dishes on the menu. These veg-centric appetizers activate your tastebuds for the traditional Italian dishes that focus on high-quality ingredients prepared simply. That’s my MO in the kitchen and perhaps why I adore this restaurant.
For my special lunch, we started with this colossal salad that was piled high in a bowl and lit up my world. A mixture of crisp and succulent lettuce leaves tangle together to make this stellar salad a meal for one serious vegetarian or vegan. Priced at $18, it’s enough to feed two or more people as a starter. Even weeks after my celebratory lunch, I was still contemplating this sublime Via Carota salad and its sheer simplicity that makes every other salad shrink in comparison.
The Ultimate Green Salad
Not expecting to ever be able to recreate this dish–or enjoy it without traveling to the Big Apple, making it at home seemed surreal and something I should savor while dining alone.
Though the recipe yields enough servings for six to eight people, I merely dressed enough greens for a solo salad adventure. And what an adventure it was, thanks to a few culinary hacks by Via Carota owners and chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi. The shallots are quieted by a quick shock of cold water. The fresh greens are magnificent on their own and are washed thoroughly several times to remove any possible grit or sand that remains.
The aged sherry vinegar is soundly muted with the addition of a tablespoon of warm water. And good extra virgin olive oil combines with Dijon, ground mustard, a dollop of honey and thyme to create a luscious and well-balanced vinaigrette that would be equally good on roasted vegetables or grilled meats.
The vinaigrette makes more than a cup and will provide you with countless opportunities to celebrate a solo meal with this ultimate green salad. WAnd whether you are dining solo or cooking for a crowd, this simple salad has enough chutzpah to steal the show.
The Ultimate Green Salad
This salad will ruin you for every salad that comes after. It's utter simplicity and massive flavor allow the greens to shine with the right amount of sherry vinegar and mustards to create a perfectly balanced vinaigrette. This vinaigrette would be equally stellar on roasted vegetables and grilled meats.
For the vinaigrette
- 1 large shallot minced
- 2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar plus 1 teaspoon
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
- 2 sprigs thyme washed and stripped
- 1 large garlic clove finely minced or grated
- 1 big pinch kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the salad
- 8-10 cups mixed greens 1 head of each: butter, Romaine heart, endive, watercress; 1/2 head frisée
To make the vinaigrette
Place the shallot in a fine-mesh strainer and quickly rinse with cold water. Allow to drain well and then place in a medium bowl.
Add sherry vinegar and warm water and allow to sit for 2 minutes.
Whisk in oil, mustards, honey, thyme, garlic and a large pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste, and adjust salt and vinegar as needed. Set vinaigrette aside.
To wash the greens
If you aren't buying your greens from the farmers market or those that are already pre-washed, wash the greens.
Fill a sink or large basin with tepid water. Remove any wilted or damaged leaves from the butter lettuce, romaine and endive. Trim each head at the root to release whole leaves. Leave butter lettuce leaves whole, but halve large leaves of romaine and endive on the bias, then drop into water. Trim and discard any roots and long stems off watercress, and drop remaining leaves and tender stems into water. Trim and discard dark green outer leaves and tops from frisée until only light green and white parts remain. Trim at the root to release leaves, and drop into water. Swirl greens around in the water, then drain. Wash twice more in cool, then cold water. Transfer to a salad spinner to dry thoroughly. Gently wrap in clean dish towels, and set aside.
To assemble the salad
To assemble the salad, gently pile a generous handful of greens into a serving bowl, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and a generous drizzle of dressing.
Continue with another handful of salad, more seasoning and dressing, repeating until you have a glorious, gravity-defying mound of salad.
Top with a final drizzle of dressing and serve immediately.
Wrap remaining greens in an airtight container or plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Cover and refrigerate remaining vinaigrette.