PORTLAND, Maine — When Washington Post food and travel editor Joe Yonan took last year off to live with his sister on her North Berwick homestead, it wasn’t the “chill out” experience he imagined.
“I helped shovel out more wheelbarrows of manure than I can count. I was killing Japanese beetles by hand and harvesting seaweed in Kennebunk,” Yonan recalled.
Working an 8,000-square-foot bed of vegetables for five hours every morning turned out to be the ideal inspiration for his new book: “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook,” out this month by Ten Speed Press.
Yonan, a vegetarian for now over a year, comes to Portland on Sunday to tell people that “just because you are single, it doesn’t mean you have to get take out.”
A bachelor until recently, Yonan wrote a popular Post column, “ Cooking for One.” His recent reliance on vegetables for sustenance and his time in Maine helped shape his third cookbook.
“I was falling in love with all those vegetables and my sister and brother in-law decided to become vegan when I was there,” said Yonan, 47.
Once a week he would nip into Portland to dine at Eventide Oyster Co. the now-defunct Bresca and “always, always, without fail Standard Baking,” he said.
Some recipes from his book such as cold, spicy Ramen noodles with tofu and kimchi are inspired from a dish at Portland’s popular Pai Men Miyake.
The solo cook Yonan is targeting is not as rare as it sounds. Societal trends are on his side.
“The single person is the fastest growing demographic in the country and has been for years,” he said. “I wanted to get past that feeling that they are not worth it. It’s OK to cook alone. If you feel good about yourself, you don’t mind your own company so much.”
With dishes such as risotto with greens and zucchini and carrot and ginger soup with quick-pickled beet, this is no dormroom primer for 20-something singletons.
“People are waiting longer and longer to get married and are living alone,” he said.
Factor in high divorce rates and American’s living longer and outliving spouses, and cooking alone is no longer an anomaly.
All recipies in his cookbook, such as kimchi deviled eggs and chicken-fried cauliflower with miso onion gravy, are single servings. But that doesn’t mean couples and families need not apply.
“They are great side dishes or a collection of small plates,” said Yonan, adding that all recipes are easy to double or triple.
Unlike many trendy, meatless cookbooks on the market, this is not precious food for the effete.
“It’s is a misconception that vegetarian is all delicate and everything is raw,” he said. “You can have spinach enchiladas and spicy mango yogurt soup,” all recipes that are in his book.
How bold are Yonan’s creations?
“Just bold enough,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t shy away from big flavors.”
Joe Yonan will read and give tastings from “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook,” 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at Rosemont Produce, 5 Commercial St. in Portland.