Facebook has been credited for many things, but inspiring a book about cooking solo? Yes. Just ask Joe Yonan, author of “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” (Ten Speed, $22).
Yonan had just posted a link on Facebook to one of his “Cooking for One” columns in the Washington Post, where he is food and travel editor, when a poster commented: “At the risk of getting too personal, perhaps you might find someone to share life/meals with. This would kill your column concept, but could change your life in a positive way.”
“That really got me,” Yonan recalls. “I cook for people all the time. I love having people over and love those magical nights when the conversation is flowing. But that doesn’t mean when it’s a weeknight and I’ve had a busy day that I’m not glad to have time alone and that doesn’t mean I pour some cereal into a bowl.”
The comment made him realize how much he had been thinking about the topic of cooking for one and that cooking and eating on your own didn’t have to be sad or boring or a chore. Hence his book.
Cooking for singles has become a popular topic in recent years. There was “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” by legendary book editor Judith Jones and “What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 Recipes” by veteran cookbook author Deborah Madison, both in 2009.
And just a few weeks after Yonan’s book was published this spring came “Cooking for One: A Seasonal Guide to the Pleasures of Preparing Delicious Meals for Yourself” (Lebhar-Friedman, $24.95), by Mark and Lisa Erickson for The Culinary Institute of America.
What’s going on here?
“They [book publishers] have finally realized the households of America aren’t the nuclear family,” says Joyce Goldstein, the San Francisco-based chef and author whose book, “Solo Suppers: Simple Delicious Meals to Cook for Yourself,” was published ahead of the pack, in 2003.
“The fastest growing segment in this country is singles of all ages,” she adds, noting solo cooks face a challenge not only with most recipes, which are meant for four to six, but also in buying groceries packaged in larger portions. “It’s wonderful to see books for single cooks.”
Lisa Erickson, co-author of “Cooking for One,” says people living alone need to set up strategies for cooking, like buying seasonally and planning ahead so that one food item, an eggplant say, can reappear in different ways. In her book, there’s an Indian eggplant stew, a Mediterranean ratatouille and an Asian eggplant salad.
“You’re not eating the same thing every day so you aren’t bored,” Erickson explains.
As for Yonan, he is certainly not bored, either at the table or on his recent book tour. That Facebook correspondent reached out with a “very sweet email” to say she didn’t mean to offend. And some readers have apparently taken to heart his statement from the book that he would like to share his life with someone someday.
“There were four events in D.C. and I was sort of propositioned at each one,” he says, laughing. “They’d say, ‘If you ever want to cook for two, just let me know.'”
Fried rice with cauliflower and kimchi
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 8 minutes
Note: Joe Yonan provides his own kimchi recipe in his book, “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One,” but you may use a commercial brand. Kimchi, a spicy condiment usually made from cabbage, is available at Korean and Asian food stores. Use a large, nonstick skillet if you don’t have a wok, Yonan advises, just expect the dish to take a little longer to cook.
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 small (5-6 ounces) cauliflower, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup cold cooked white or brown rice or farro
1/2 cup kimchi, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottom wok over high heat until a drop of water vaporizes within a second or two. Swirl in the oil to coat the sides and bottom. Add the cauliflower; stir-fry until it softens and starts to brown, 3-4 minutes. Resist the urge to turn down the heat; keep everything moving.
2. Add the rice, breaking it up with your fingers as you toss it into the wok. Keep the rice moving with a heat-proof spatula, scooping, tossing and pressing the rice against the bottom and sides of the wok to sear it, 2-3 minutes. Add the kimchi and green onion; stir-fry until the kimchi heats through and the green onion softens, 30-60 seconds. Season with soy sauce; garnish with extra kimchi and green onions.
Per serving: 372 calories, 37 percent of calories from fat, 15 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 50 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 1,042 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.