A little over a year ago I read the book by Deborah Madison of Greens Restaurant, What We Eat When We Eat Alone. The title says it all, but essentially the book explores what different types of people from all walks of life eat when the only person they have to feed is him or herself. Everyone from the single woman buying a boneless, skinless chicken breast and a bottle of chardonnay to a restaurant cook meticulously searing a pork chop on his night off. Even the classic cereal-for-dinner meal has its variations, as a few paragraphs are allotted to describe how different people decide how much milk to pour on their frosted flakes—some people stop once they can just see the milk around the edges, while others wait until the cereal is fully submerged. There are a few recipes—a tofu curry for one, a grilled cheese, among others—but on the whole it is an interesting narrative that is a fun and fast read.
Seeing what people will decide to eat when they have no other palates to please other than their own is pretty fascinating. Cooking for one has its limitations for sure; you must scale portion sizes appropriately and are sometimes left with a large amount of an obscure ingredient, but I think seeing the result of a meal prepared to precise preferences is one of the best ways to learn about someone’s personality. Some people see solo nights as an opportunity to ramp up the spice on a dish or use an especially pungent cheese. Sometimes it is an opportunity to prepare a favorite meal from childhood that has its roots in a past generation’s home country. Others still will prepare an expensive ingredient—they may not be able to afford black truffles for a family of four, but a few slivers on a single plate of fettuccine is more budget-friendly.
For example, when the rest of my family is off at various evening activities, I often go for one of three choices:
Tofu noodle or brown rice bowls with peanut sauce, because tofu is simple to prepare and rice noodles just have to soak under boiling water for a few minutes. If I don’t have rice noodles, I tap into my stash of cooked brown rice that’s already in the freezer.
Pasta with cauliflower because pasta is simple yet delicious, and I happen to love cauliflower. I rarely bother with the breadcrumbs if it’s just me that’s eating, but with the last few ounces of a box of pasta, some cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan I can have a really great meal in just 20 minutes.
Sometimes I warm some pita bread or Afghan bolani to serve with hummus and feta cheese. As a self-proclaimed hummus lover, it’s rare that I go a few days without having some with pita, crackers, or carrot sticks, but the rest of my family is not quite as hummus-crazy as I am, so I save it for nights on my own.
My brother often goes the route of a large quantity of pasta (gnocchi in this instance) with tomato sauce or two grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes with an Izze in a frosted Batman glass. My mom, on the other hand tends to go the route of eggs and toast. One of my friends will eat oatmeal topped with lots of cinnamon, while another will prepare a steaming hot bowl of udon noodles with broth. Some meals fall squarely in the simple, comfort food camp, but I’ve found they can run the gamut from obscure (fried spam with cottage cheese, or a spaghetti frittata) to elegant (seared rib-eye steaks).
I love hearing what other people eat for their single-serving meals, so you tell me in the comments, what do you eat when you eat alone? I’d love to hear!