10 Things to Cook for One

A bowl of cereal is not dinner

By Roxanne Webber

It can be easy to fall into a rut when you’re eating solo, distracted by the temptations of the takeout place or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But cooking for one can be a relaxing time to be in the kitchen. We share the sentiment of Chowhound Sophia., who says, “I kind of love cooking for just myself, because I can experiment and if it goes poorly, I don’t have to hear about it from anyone else.” Here are some ideas to get you started, including some more pieces of wisdom from the Chowhound boards.

1. Thai Curry. Chowhound Jujubee utilizes jars of Thai curry paste for quick, everyday curries. “Do it once and you realize it is basically: 1) fry curry paste, 2) add curry base [some coconut milk and fish sauce], 3) add meat and veggies, 4) simmer, 5) add herbs and lime.” You can also use the paste to make quick Thai-style soups by stirring some into broth with a little coconut milk, adding shrimp, tofu, or chicken (plus veggies if you want), simmering until everything is cooked through, and topping with a generous amount of fresh lime juice.

2. Toaster Oven–Roasted Chicken and Sweet Potatoes. Toaster ovens might not be very useful when you’re trying to feed a family, but they’re pretty great for one person. Peel and chop a sweet potato (or another root vegetable such as a regular potato, winter squash, or a turnip). Toss with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and put on a toaster oven tray. Take a piece of chicken (thigh, breast, whatever you prefer) and rub a little oil on the skin, then sprinkle on some smoked paprika and salt. Put your chicken on top of the vegetables and roast in your toaster oven at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the chicken registers the proper doneness on a meat thermometer (the USDA recommends 180 degrees Fahrenheit for thighs and 170 degrees Fahrenheit for breasts).

3. Big Salad Plus Protein. Create a riff on our Salade Lyonnaisey by tossing a few handfuls of frisée into a bowl, lightly dressing it with oil and vinegar, then throwing a poached egg and some bacon on top. Or scale down our Flank Steak Salad with Arugula by searing a single serving of steak (use your favorite cut) and tossing slices in a bowl with some arugula, red onion, bell pepper, and dressing.

4. Baked Breaded Salmon Fillet. Follow the directions for our recipe-free salmon using a single-portion fillet—it only takes a couple of ingredients and can be paired with steamed or sautéed vegetables for a quick meal. You can substitute other types of fish that you like, and mix it up by replacing the Dijon mustard with tapenade or pesto.

5. Grilled Cheese. Perhaps the quintessential meal for one, we have 10 different versions to keep you from getting bored. Serve with a side of green salad, or make up your own variation; nothing stuffed into grilled bread full of melted cheese can turn out that bad. Chowhounds have even more ideas for grilled cheese.

6. Ramen. Chowhound ccbweb likes how packs of ramen noodles are already proportioned for one and uses them without the seasoning packet to make a quick noodle stir-fry: “Put them on to boil and then slice a chicken breast or thigh or a boneless pork chop or small steak, sauté it on high and season it however you like.” Often ccbweb adds some hoisin and chile sauce, or a black bean sauce “that isn’t loaded with nasty stuff,” then tosses in some snap peas, spinach, or asparagus, before adding the noodles and warming it all through.

7. Make Breakfast for Dinner. Eggs are the ultimate single-serving food. You can scramble them with whatever vegetables you have on hand and wrap it all up in a tortilla with salsa, cheese, and chopped cilantro. Chowhound chowser likes eggs on top of ketchup fried rice. They can also be scrambled with leftover takeout rice and vegetables for a quick fried rice. And of course there’s nothing wrong with a classic fried egg sandwich.

8. Mussels and Frites. This might sound like a lot of work, but it’s easy to pull off. Cut a potato into wedges (if you’re short on time you can microwave the whole potato for a few minutes to soften it up first), then toss with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, plus any herbs and spices you like. Pop the wedges into the toaster oven and roast them until they’re brown and start to crisp. Meanwhile, throw a couple of fistfuls of mussels and/or clams into a pan with garlic, butter, and some white wine or beer (enough to cover the bottom of the pan but not submerge the shellfish). Cover and bring to a simmer until the mussels or clams open. If you don’t like shellfish, you can also serve the oven fries alongside a big bacon cheeseburger.

9. Quick Indian-Style Curry. If you’ve got some spices on hand, here’s how to turn a bland can of garbanzo beans into a pretty decent chana masala–style dish. Sauté a handful of chopped onion and garlic in oil. Add some cumin, cayenne pepper, and turmeric and cook for a few seconds until fragrant. Throw in a chopped tomato and cook it down for a few minutes. Toss in the drained beans, a little garam masala, and a good pinch of salt. Simmer for about 10 minutes, adding a little liquid if necessary. Throw in some chopped fresh chiles, fresh ginger if you have it (use ground if not), and a squeeze of lime juice. Eat with some naan or other type of flatbread, or rice or any other cooked grain.

10. Pasta. Pasta may outrank grilled cheese as the favorite go-to dish for singles: It’s easy to cook only the amount you need for one person, and there are endless variations. Want an Alfredo sauce? Sauté a little garlic in butter, throw in cooked pasta with some cream, white wine, salt, and pepper, simmer until it reduces into a nice thick sauce, and top with Parmesan. Or make a quick tomato pan sauce by sautéing some chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil, adding a couple of handfuls of chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, and simmering to reduce. Season with salt and pepper (you might want to add a pinch of sugar if the balance of flavor seems off), and toss with pasta, lots of chopped fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese.

More ideas from Chowhounds:
What do you cook when you are cooking for one?
Cooking for One
toaster oven cuisine…any fave recipes?
your favorite salad recipe?
your favorite everyday recipes
Looking for an easy Thai style stir fry….
Favourite Quick and Delicious Pasta Recipes?

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Roxanne Webber is an associate
editor at CHOW.

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