Life

Recipes for one: Why making meals just for yourself is so worth the effort

Is cooking for yourself really worth the trouble? Absolutely, food writer Janneke Vreugdenhil tells Ella Walker

Dutch food writer and critic Janneke Vreugdenhill – "So many people live solo for some time in their lives"

EATING alone? So often, it just seems easier to chuck something on a slice of toast for dinner when you're dining solo, than go to the effort of cooking a whole proper meal. For food writer Janneke Vreugdenhil, her toast topping of choice was anchovies and avocado – if she could bring herself to eat at all.

"After my husband left me three years ago, at first, I couldn't eat," she remembers. "I'm a food writer so I'm used to cooking; food is a big part of my life. I get up in the morning and I think about food; I go to bed and I think about food, and suddenly, food was the last thing on my agenda."

It was after around six months of living alone – aside from when her two sons were with her – that the Dutch cookery book author and critic finally seared herself a lone wolf of a steak.

That process of swapping dinners of crisps, supermarket soup and bowls of oatmeal, led to her rediscovering her joy of food, and to recipe ideas, and finally to Solo Food, a cookbook of dishes perfect for one.

She considers the book her "therapy" because it drove her to cook for herself daily, and enjoy it, until "it became a new normal thing to do".

"After a while, I didn't eat dinner in front of the television. I decided to sit at the table and properly eat my food with a knife and fork and have a glass of wine with it – and have a proper meal," she says with pride.

"Cooking for one is a different thing than cooking for two, or a crowd or a family," she says. "Recipes are always meant for four people, and packaging in supermarkets is aimed at families."

On a practical level, solo cooking can be a logistical nightmare. As Janneke says, "you're never going to eat a whole cauliflower all by yourself – even the natural packaging of it makes it difficult for one person".

"Meals have to be quick and practical," she advises: :You have to be clever."

In Solo Food, she shares a lemon cake in a mug, a bowl of stir-fried prawns to dunk in harissa mayo, ideas for using up stuff across multiple days without rice-fatigue setting in, and a favourite green slush of quinotto that Janneke admits is "not something I would make for someone else, it doesn't really look good, it's a bit messy, but it tastes really, really nice".

"So many people live solo for some time in their lives," says Janneke. "Whether you're alone by choice or by chance, it doesn't matter, cooking for yourself is a very precious – and fun – thing to do."

:: Solo Food by Janneke Vreugdenhil, photography by Floortje van Essen-Ingen Housz, is published in paperback by HQ, priced £16.99. Below are three recipes from the book for you to try.

Quinotto from Solo Food by Janneke Vreugdenhill

QUINOTTO WITH FENNEL, ALMONDS AND AVOCADO

(Serves 1)

Olive oil, for frying

1 shallot, sliced into half rings

1 small fennel bulb, cut in half and sliced

100g quinoa

250ml hot vegetable stock (from a cube)

A small handful of almonds, with skin on

1 small avocado

Juice of 1/2 lime

A small handful of fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to season

Heat the olive oil in a small heavy pan and add in the shallot, fennel and a small pinch of salt. Saute for a few minute, then add the quinoa and fry a bit longer, stirring well. Pour the stock into the pan, bring to the boil, turn down the heat to low, then cover the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes until done. Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan.

Remove the peel from the avocado and cut the flesh into largish chunks - sprinkle them with a little of the lime juice to keep them from turning brown. Remove the pan with the quinoa from the heat and stir in the almonds, avocado and coriander. Taste and season with black pepper, lime juice and, if necessary, a little more salt. Put everything into a bowl, grab a spoon and dig in.

Steak sandwich from Solo Food by Janneke Vreugdenhill

GOOD OLD STEAK SANDWICH

(Serves 1)

1 shallot, sliced into rings

A small splash of red wine vinegar

1 entrecote steak (around 150g)

1/4 baguette or a crusty bread roll

1-2tsp Dijon mustard

1-2tbsp mayonnaise

1 head little gem, leaves separated

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to season

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Put the shallot rings into a small bowl, add the red wine vinegar and let it sit for 10 minutes. In the meantime, place a griddle pan over a high heat until it's very hot. Rub some salt into both sides of the entrecote. Fry the meat for one to one and a half minutes on each side. Place it on a cutting board, grind over some pepper and let it rest for a bit.

Warm through the French bread or rolls in the hot oven (or slice them open and toast in the steak pan). Meanwhile, stir the mustard into the mayo in a little bowl, to taste. Slice the warmed bread in half lengthways, then spread both halves with a generous amount of the mustardy mayo and add some lettuce leaves.

Slice the entrecote on the diagonal and arrange the slices in the sandwich. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the shallot rings and sprinkle them over the meat. Top with the other half of the bread, and dinner is served.

Pisto manchego from Solo Food by Janneke Vreugdenhill

PISTO MANCHEGO

(Serves 1)

Olive oil, for frying

1 small (or 1/2 large) onion, sliced into half rings

1/2 long red pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips

4 slices of Serrano ham or chorizo, chopped

1/2 courgette or 1 baby courgette, cut in half lengthways and sliced into half moons

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 eggs

A few fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley leaves (or a pinch of dried oregano)

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to season

Bread, to serve

Heat a small splash of olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and a pinch of salt and fry for two minutes over a high heat until the onion begins to brown. Add the pepper and fry for two minutes more. Add the ham or chorizo and fry for another minute. Add the courgette and fry for two more minutes. Add the tomatoes and fry for another two minutes.

Make two depressions in the vegetable mixture and break in the eggs, then cook for two to three minutes until the eggs are set, covering the pan for the last 30 seconds. Sprinkle over a little more salt if necessary, and in any case with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, and finish with one of the herbs. Serve immediately with some kind of rustic bread, or just use whatever bread you've got on hand.

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