If I jump in the way-back machine and travel to the days when I was single and lived alone, I remember an empty fridge. Yes, like so many single people, I really didn’t see the point in cooking for myself. Of course, I cooked in a restaurant all day, and if I thought I was staying in, I could pack a sandwich to bring home. When I met my husband, he had an empty fridge, too.
Too bad I didn’t know Joe Yonan back then. You see, Joe is the award-winning food editor of the Washington Post, and author of two books about great cooking for one. The first, Serve Yourself, is a handy book for omnivores. The latest, Eat Your Vegetables:Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press ($24.99 hardcover) is a great tool for a plant-based diner who dines alone.
Yonan made something of a splash a few months ago, when after years of successfully manning the helm of the Food and Travel sections at the Post, he “came out” as a vegetarian. As he put it:
“I was surprised by the reaction. People who know me and have been out to eat with me, people who had been reading my columns, where I had been talking about less meat and more vegetables for years now, were surprised. I said, really?”
Aside from surprise, the response has been mostly supportive. “Alot of our readers want to see more vegetarian recipes in the Post. There has been a little undercurrent of hostility, and some people have questioned my qualifications to be food editor. But they seem to misunderstand what I do in my job. I’m not the restaurant critic. I have people on staff who review restaurants and they eat everything. I also edit Travel, and nobody thinks that I have to have been to Timbuktu to edit a story about it. But it’s been mostly positive.”
Hear, hear. As well as showing the world that a Food Editor can go veg without torching all the barbecue reviews, Yonan has become a reluctant representative of a trend, in which passionate eaters find themselves falling in love with vegetables and out of love with meat. “When you do something so personal it’s hard to think of it as representing a larger trend. But I do hear of more and more people just moving away from meat.”
In Eat Your Vegetables, Yonan combines a series of essays on everything from timing and cooking skills to the state of vegetarian restaurants with a collection of appealing vegetarian recipes scaled down for one. “I started with the idea of pantry items that readers can make, like a pot of beans, baked tofu, or a pan of roasted vegetables, that they can use throughout the week. But I didn’t want all the recipes to have sub-recipes, so they can also use canned beans, or packaged baked tofu. Just choose things that are high quality, like beans with no added sodium, in BPA free cans.”
He also deals with the issue of pesky leftover ingredients that plagues single cooks. “I made sure that ingredients can be used in multiple ways, so there is less waste. Once you buy that jar of kimchi you have more than one recipe in the book to put it in. I have a whole section on recipes to make if you have half an onion or a partial bunch of celery.”
Yonan sees progress, in the state of veg dining. In his essay, the Vegetarian Restaurant Grows Up, he reminisces about eating at hippie places, where the food was sincere, but plain, and raves about great dining experiences in plenty of hot restaurants around the country. All his faves share a simple approach.
“The farm-to-table movement has had many chefs rediscovering the beauty of vegetables, too, applying at least as much creativity to preparing them as they do to meat.” Yonan hopes that interest in going meatless will spur even more vegetable love.
Because you might as well really enjoy eating your vegetables.
Thai-Style Kabocha Squash and Tofu Curry
When I tried to recreate a beautiful winter squash curry dish I had at Thai Crossing in Washington’s LeDroit Park neighborhood, I just couldn’t get it quite right. It tasted too watery. And then I realized that I was using the wrong kind of squash. Once I switched to the drier kabocha, which absorbs the coconut curry rather than leaking out diluting juices, I knew I had a winner: a creamy, hearty, soul-satisfying dinner. If you can’t find kabocha, buttercup and acorn are decent substitutes.
1 medium (2-pound) kabocha squash
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallot lobes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 to 1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup Marinated and Baked Tofu (page 170)
4 large basil leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup warm cooked brown rice (page 177) or other grain
2 tablespoons bean sprouts (optional)
Peel the squash, remove the stem, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds. Cut one of the halves in half again, and use that for this dish, reserving the rest for another use.
Pour the oil into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the shallot, ginger, and curry paste and cook, stirring, for just a minute or so. Stir in the broth and coconut milk and bring to a boil, then lower the heat until the liquid is barely bubbling around the edges. Add the squash and tofu pieces, cover, and cook until the squash is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
Stir in the basil leaves, spoon the mixture over rice, top with bean sprouts, and eat.