Friday, August 29, 2008

Single Girl Salad

Ok, so I'm not really a single girl, and even if I were, I'm not so sure I'd be hanging around by myself at night making salads. Or would I?

In any case, Jonathan is still in California, which means I'm here in Boston by myself. Cooking for one is an interesting subject; in fact I've started reading a collection of essays entirely devoted to the topic. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, contains essays from foodies, chefs, and others about the intriguing art of dining and cooking alone.

I don't want to get philosophical about the subject, but suffice it to say that cooking for one is an art that takes some practice. For some reason, when I'm alone, I'm content to make meals out of scrappy bits of food that I find in the refrigerator - some yogurt, a few grapes, too many crackers, and frozen peas, for example - which is something I try to avoid when cooking a "meal" for two.

This salad, though, is the perfect meal for one. It requires minimal dish- and cookware (and thus minimal cleanup), is packed with vegetables and more filling proteins, and is pretty enough to look like a real meal, which is never something to be overlooked.

I threw this salad together last night for dinner, mostly because I had a few odds and ends in the refrigerator that needed to be consumed. Not expecting anything wildly exciting, I was amazed at how heavenly this simple combination tasted, and was reminded of the incredible deliciousness and versatility of a simple poached egg. Poached just until the white is set, the egg spreads its runny yolk over the whole salad, making for a wonderfully rich, but not heavy, dressing. Eating a poached egg this way is so good it almost makes me feel guilty, like I'm drinking melted ice cream or licking butter...but it's just a single egg. A true culinary miracle if ever there was one.

I'm not sure I'll ever be the type to prepare a five-course meal with all the bells and whistles if I'm the sole diner. I am, however, a staunch supporter of meals like this, which are delicious and fresh and require just the right amount of effort to make it worthwhile to prepare in single servings. Guess what I'm having for lunch today?

A couple quick notes: I added broccoli to this recipe, because that's what I had on hand and it worked well with the egg. Any green vegetable - zucchini, green beans, peas - would probably work, too. Whatever substitutions you do make though, be sure not to miss out on the egg. It turns this salad into a meal, and is wildly delectable, to boot. Speaking of the egg, here is how I cook it (and the rest of the components): I use one small frying pan, first cook the corn, and then cook the broccoli. Meanwhile, I boil some water in a tea kettle. By the time I'm ready to cook the egg, I pour some hot water into the small frying pan, add some salt, and then add the raw egg. It takes only a couple of minutes to poach, so watch it carefully, and make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. You can plop the egg right into your salad bowl, and break the yolk so that it dresses your vegetables. Yum!

Single Girl Salad (serves 1)

a few big handfuls of baby lettuces
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
1 tomato, roughly chopped (I used 2 small heirlooms)
1 scallion, chopped
a few pieces of broccoli (or other green vegetable)
handful of canned chickpeas or other cooked legumes (optional)
2-3 splashes balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg


First, chop and salt tomato. Set aside. Start heating water in a tea kettle (for poaching the egg later). Remove kernels from the ear of corn, and saute for about 5 minutes in a small frying pan with some salt and pepper. Meanwhile, chop broccoli into small pieces and slice the scallion. When corn is softened and just beginning to caramelize, add a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pan and cook for a minute more. Arrange greens in a bowl, and then add the cooked corn to the greens. Now add the broccoli to the pan with a bit of water, cover, and steam with some salt and pepper until crisp-tender. Add broccoli, scallions, and chickpeas (if using) to the salad, and then add the tomatoes with another splash of vinegar. Now poach the egg: add the (now hot) water to the small frying pan, add some salt, and bring to a gentle boil. Crack the egg into a small cup, and then very carefully transfer the egg to the water. You can tilt the pan slightly so that the egg stays near the edge and doesn't stick to the bottom. Spoon water over the egg and poach just until the white is set, about 2 minutes. Carefully remove the egg and place on top of the salad, breaking the yolk to dress the vegetables.

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