cosmopolitan: solo food

Company is a great excuse to cook. But there’s one discerning diner who still deserves a good meal even when there is nobody else around: you. Kate Gibbs writes.

Eating is arguably one of the most social things we do. We find ways to get together over lunch or dinner, and breakfast with friends is the celebratory weekend welcome. So it’s no wonder that when we find ourselves alone for dinner, we end up curled in front of the television, a box of Thai noodles and a glass of wine our reassuring companion.

And so it is that one of the most creative, potentially healthy, hopefully relaxing and rewarding things we do as humans - cooking and eating - is replaced with a passive and distracted meal done in silence.

Eating alone can be fraught with apathy. We multi-task in front of the computer, scanning emails while we twirl takeaway pasta on a lonely fork. We plough through a meal like the Cookie Monster on a biscuit bender, mindless and reflexive. But we should be paying attention to what we eat, even when alone. Why don’t we think food is important when it’s had alone? It’s a spin on the philosophical question, perhaps. If a person eats dinner by themselves at the table and there’s nobody around to see it, does it really happen?

I’m here to say eating-by-self can be just as blissful, aromatic and fabulous as when it’s had with other people. There’s a different relationship you need to be working on after all – the one you have with food.

A call to the local Thai restaurant is arguably easier than prepping all the ingredients, sautéing onions, and then dealing with the inevitable scrubbing of pots and pans. But solo time in the kitchen is a great way to unwind; a little chopping and stirring is arguably therapeutic and definitely rewarding.

If you’re regularly faced with the eating-solo situation, get into the habit of stocking your refrigerator with ingredients that keep well. Vegetables like carrots, red peppers, celery and cabbage will stay viable for at least a week in the fridge if they’re not wrapped in plastic. Eggs also have a long life in the fridge.

Keep grains like quinoa, canned and dried beans and lentils in the pantry, so you have ready carbs and proteins to turn to (instead of picking up the phone to dial in for pizza). A chopped onion, sliced red pepper and garlic clove can be sautéed in olive oil, a small can of kidney beans (rinsed), a half can of tomatoes and a chopped chilli thrown in and reduced, then simply add an egg on top, let it simmer with a lid on for 5 minutes, and you have some brilliant huevos rancheros for one.

It could scarcely be simpler to make chicken soup for one. If you plan ahead a little, this could be something quite extraordinarily gourmet. A good (homemade) stock from the freezer, a piece of chicken breast thinly sliced, a tablespoon each of sake (if you have it) and soy sauce, and lots of finely chopped fresh ginger, coriander and sugar snap peas. Add vermicelli noodles, pre-soaked in hot water, if you fancy.

Instead of shunning recipes that feed four or six, find ones that freeze well, or that you can easily halve to make less. Then there are leftovers too, which is frankly genius.

Solo eating is the perfect opportunity to indulge, to bother, to follow your heart. You’re not catering to others’ tastes and phobias, but are free to cook and experiment, to play with your food. Cooking for yourself presents unparalleled possibilities of pleasure and experimentation and opens your world to new flavours, ingredients and cultures. And, if it all goes to hell and your soufflé deflates or your steak is too charred, it can be your little secret with you.

This article was first published in Cosmopolitan online.