I was walking through the grocery store a couple of days ago when I came across a woman, roughly the same age as myself, pushing a cart filled with microwave meals, Ben&Jerry ice-cream, Twinings Earl Grey Tea and a box of Tampax. Nothing else. She might as well have worn a neon flashlight around her neck that flashed “Single. Single .Single”. Our eyes met and I could clearly see the desperation in her eyes. Obviously her singlehood has led to some morbid self-pity and gloomy depression. I can only assume what she might have been thinking at that exact moment -pushing her cart past all those large chickens lying on display- staring at a large poster hanging on the wall beside those frighteningly big chickens. The poster showed a happy couple with a glass of wine in their hands, sitting at a beautifully decorated table with a gigantic roast chicken ready to be carved. To all the single ladies out there, let me ask you something: Have you ever tried making a single serving of a roast chicken? It is downright depressing. Not to mention impossible, if you really want to create that comforting sensation of unctuous and soft chicken flesh, carved straight off the bone. At that particular moment, the single lady pushing the cart must have been thinking something like this:
“Look at me. So pathetic. Living alone in a small flat. Probably going to die alone as well. With my decomposing body lying there for months until my landlord finally realized- or smells- something is not entirely right.”
And then there I was. The single lady pushing the cart could have easily been me. Except that it wasn’t, because I like being single and living alone. Sure, cooking for one may sound really depressing and boring but it is actually quite the opposite!
During the week, when I’m at university, I cook for me and only me. I find that to be an exhilarating experience. When I cook for my family at the weekends, there is always the possibility that my cooking is not entirely appreciated. Especially when I’m cooking vegetarian. Especially when my brother is staying for dinner. (He’s still this ultra-conservative nitwit when it comes to food. He keeps asking for meat, I’m starting to feel sorry for his environmental retardedness. No offence, bro!)
However, when you cook for yourself, you can cook whatever the hell you want. (In my case: cook as much vegetarian experimental food as I like) No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is making dietary commands. It’s just you and ,for once, you don’t have to make compromises.
There is only one person you have to take into account: you, the most special person on the planet.
So forget the microwave meals, beans on toast or – horror!- eating cereal for supper. Dinner for one is full of possibilities! The following recipes couldn’t be more different from one another. The first one is really quite fancy, it looks good on a plate and it takes quite some stages to prepare. (It’s an excellent dish for when you have absolutely nothing on your hands and want to feel the satisfaction of being culinary creative)The second dish is easy, quick and looks –quite frankly- a mess. But it is the most comforting, packed full of flavour, plate of stickiness you’ll ever eat. It’s wonderful. The only thing these two very different recipes have in common, is that they are vegetarian, they are rather experimental in flavour (I mean, not to me, but my brother would say otherwise. “You’re totally bonkers, big sis’” Well, yeah, deal with it) and they are one hundred percent for me and only me.
If you want to look inside my culinary brain and want to give these dinner-for-one dishes a go, here are the recipes:
Moroccan Aubergine pie with grilled aubergine slices and cottage cheese.
This pie is what I like to call “the spice bomb”. Not because it’s super hot, but because it is bursting with aromatic spices. Look at it as the edible and exotic version of Disney Land: colourful, with so many things going on you don’t know where to look first, but still so harmoniously balanced. Something that just makes you exuberantly happy.
By the way, I used no salt in this dish. Weird, huh? I used dried seaweed instead, which gives a salty flavour but adds a distinct aroma as well. (Though you have to be careful not to overdo it)
For the pie
• Filo pastry
• ½ aubergine, finely chopped
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 tbsp honey
• ½ tsp turmeric
• ¼ tsp mustard seeds
• ¼ tsp nigella seeds
• ½ tsp cumin seeds
• ¼ tsp cinnamon
• ½ tsp coriander seeds
• ¼ tsp fenugreek
• ¼ tsp chilli flakes
• ¼ tsp rose water
For the little extras (because-let’s face it- the pie is really the star of the dish)
• ½ aubergine, cut into ½ cm slices
• 1 tsp dried seaweed
• 1 tsp sumac
• 1 tsp honey
• Cottage cheese
• Dried seaweed and sumac to decorate, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Use a large coffee cup as a pie mould and grease it. Layer the filo pastry in the cup so that the sheets overlap slightly and there’s pastry left hanging over the edges.
2. Make the filling. Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan and sauté the onion and aubergine together with all the spices until soft. Add the rose water.
3. Spoon the mixture into the filo pastry cup and lift up the edges of the pastry and fold over to cover the filling. Brush with a melted butter and flip the pie upside down onto a baking tray.
4. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile mix the seaweed, sumac and honey together with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and spread it onto your aubergine slices. Fry them on medium heat till soft.
6. Serve your aubergine slices and pie with a generous amount of cottage cheese (to balance all that spiciness) and sprinkle on some dried seaweed and sumac for extra flavour.
Sticky soy and honey glazed Brussels sprouts and smoked tempeh
This is one of my ultimate go-to dishes when I’m starving to death and am looking for something that warms me up, literally and figuratively. The combination of Brussels sprouts with soy sauce, honey and peanut butter may sound incredibly disgusting, but I can guarantee that it most certainly is not. It’s probably the best Belgian-Asian fusion dish I have ever conjured up, so you can imagine that I’m presenting this dish to you with a huge amount of pride. Do it justice, people. Do it justice!(Serve it with some sticky rice or a bowl of noodles)
• 200gr of Brussels sprouts
• 100gr smoked tempeh, cut into chunks
• 1 tbsp honey
• 2 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 tbsp peanut butter
• Pinch of chilli powder
• Splash of water
1. Blanch the sprouts for 2 minutes in boiling water. Cut them in half.
2. Fry the tempeh golden brown in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the halved Brussels sprouts and stir in the peanut butter, honey, chilli and soy sauce. Stir-fry until everything is coated in a lovely glaze of brown stickiness. Add a splash of water if the mixture gets to dry.