Raising the bar for single vegetarians

Washington PostAugust 17, 2013 

VEGGIES91

Guaca-chi. The dish is best served just after it has been made.

DEB LINDSEY — The Washington Post

“Why bother?” is the answer too many single people give when I ask what they cook for themselves for dinner. Their next remark is usually along the lines of “Why go to all that trouble if it’s just me?” Sadly, they think the only time it’s worth firing up the stove is when their cooking has an audience.

Sure, there are obstacles. Single cooks have to overcome the challenges of shopping in supermarkets selling portions designed for families or crowds. But the advantages are formidable, too. At the top of my list: freedom. You don’t have to take into account anyone’s palate but your own.

In promoting my first book, “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” (Ten Speed Press, 2011), a couple of years ago, I started noticing a disproportionately high number of the single people who wanted to talk to me about my recipes were vegetarian or vegan.

The process of my own move toward vegetarianism has been based not on one grand decision but on an evolution of my philosophy and my eating habits.

Vegetables, frankly, invigorate me. From the moment I pluck them from the farmers market display, dig them from the ground or snip them from a plant, I’m imagining how I might cook them. And I love handling them. Stripping kale leaves from their stems, then swishing them around in the sink, grabbing them by the handful and stacking them on the countertop to be sliced can put me into a Zen state like no other.

And the flavor! Vegetables can run the gamut – bitter, tart, sweet, grassy – with all sorts of complexities layered within.

But I’m not here to tell anyone else how or what to eat.

In fact, I’m reluctant even to use the word “vegetarian,” as you might have noticed from the title and subtitle of my book. Why? Well, I’ve long thought that in a focus on vegetarianism, what tends to get short shrift are the actual vegetables, perhaps because the dishes are defined by what’s not in them rather than by what is. I want to tell you to make, say, Guaca-chi – a simple combination of avocado chunks, lime and kimchi that I like to make for company – not because it doesn’t include bacon (because what does bacon have to do with anything?). I want you to make it because it’s easy and it tastes great.

I resist most zealotry, but there is one thing I’ve felt compelled to proselytize about, and that’s the importance of cooking. Particularly, it’s been my ongoing mission to get single folks – more than 31 million in the United States alone – to realize that cooking for yourself, despite the obstacles, is a worthwhile, satisfying, potentially meditative, possibly invigorating and maybe even delightful endeavor.

If you truly want to take care of yourself, if you want to know just what’s going into your body, you’ve got to learn to DIY dinner. Because vegetables can be more challenging to cook than meat – we’re less familiar with them, and they require a little more care to bring out all their best qualities – the bar is raised for single vegetarians. At the same time, even if they don’t live alone, vegetarians might be even more interested in single-serving recipes than others because they might be the only vegetarian in the house.

Edited exerpt from Joe Yonan’s new “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press)

Joe Yonan’s Guaca-chi Don’t mash the avocados the way you would when making guacamole; they’re best left in chunks. Served right away with tortilla chips or crackers. Flesh of 1 ripe avocado, cut into large chunks 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime) 1 / 2cup homemade or store-bought kimchi, preferably spicy, with its liquid Sea salt (optional)

TOSS the avocado chunks with the lime juice in a serving bowl.

CHOP the kimchi if the pieces are bigger than bite-size, then gently toss it and all of its liquid with the avocado.

TASTE, add salt if necessary.

Makes 1 3 / 4cups (4 appetizer servings)

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