There is a certain pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from making a nice meal for yourself. It’s an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and ﬂavor combinations, or to stick to your old favorites, without having to worry about impressing anyone. You get to make exactly what you feel like eating. Cooking for one is like meditating, writing in a journal, or exercising: it’s a form of self-care that is not completely necessary, but makes life more enjoyable.
Next time you ﬁnd yourself cooking for one and in need of some healthy inspiration, look no further than Oldways’ collection of Mediterranean recipes. Many of our recipes serve four or more, so you can spend time cooking and doing dishes upfront, then enjoy the leftovers for a few days.
What if you’re strapped for time or don’t want to eat the same thing for days in a row? Luckily, you don’t need a recipe to make a delicious Mediterranean meal for one. Just follow our simple four-step framework, based on our Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.
Four Simple Steps for Cooking for One
1. Start at the Bottom. Whole grains, vegetables, and healthy fats will be the foundation of your meal.
Whole Grains: A slice of whole grain bread is the easiest option, but bulgur, pasta, and couscous are also good quick-cooking choices.
Vegetables: By all means use canned, frozen, or pre-chopped vegetables for convenience. Try pulses — like beans, lentils, or chickpeas — too.
Tip: During the last minute of cooking your whole grains (pasta, couscous, or farro, for example), add greens like spinach or arugula. Then drain the grains and greens together and toss with olive oil. The ﬂavors will meld, and you’ll use fewer dishes.
Healthy Fats: Olive oil is the primary fat used in Mediterranean cooking, but avocados, nuts, and seeds also play a big role.
Tip: Check out our Olive Oil 101 for information on sautéing, baking, and frying with olive oil.
2. Choose Extras, such as cheese, ﬁsh, eggs, or poultry if desired.
Tip: In a time crunch? Canned ﬁsh and rotisserie chicken are great options when short on time.
3. Determine Your Star. This “starring ingredient” will help you create your meal.
Which ingredient do you want to make shine above all other ﬂavors? The fresh vegetable you just picked up at the farmers’ market? The ﬁsh from the local monger? Focus on that ingredient’s ﬂavor and texture, and give all the other ingredients a supporting role.
Tip: Trust your taste. Be sure to taste the fresh ingredients (when you can) before you cook them to get a sense of which ﬂavors you want to enhance.
4. Season with Purpose. Whether you use simple ﬂavors or creative combinations, seasoning is key.
Fresh herbs and spices can make a huge diﬀerence in your meal, as can classic ﬂavors like garlic and lemon. Pick a few that go together and let them stand out.
Tip: Fresh herbs can be used more liberally than dried because their ﬂavor is not as intense. Hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme add a strong ﬂavor and aroma at the beginning of cooking, whereas delicate herbs like basil, parsley, and mint stand out best when they are added at the end.
three examples to inspire your cooking for one
Cooking for yourself is the best possible time to experiment with new ﬂavors and get creative in the kitchen. Here are a few examples, using our framework:
• Whole grain toast topped with peppers and onions sautéed in olive oil, poached eggs, and crumbled feta. Seasoned with garlic and basil.
• Whole wheat pasta with wilted spinach, olive oil, white beans, chopped anchovies and Parmigiano Reggiano. Seasoned with parsley, red pepper ﬂakes, and lemon.
• Farro topped with roasted root vegetables, roasted chicken breast, and avocado. Seasoned with dill and oregano.
• Steel-cut oatmeal topped with milk, raisins, ﬂax seed, and sliced almonds.
Once your creation is complete, sit back and enjoy it with a glass of wine and fresh fruit for dessert. Take comfort in the words of Oldways founder K. Dun Giﬀord: “Be bold. Make no small plans. Fear not, the sun will come up tomorrow even if you screw up.”
Lara Bertoia, Oldways Mediterranean Foods Alliance program manager
This blog post was inspired by a recent Fresh Fridays, our bi-weekly Mediterranean Foods Alliance newsletter. Click here to sign up to receive our next Fresh Fridays newsletter and never miss delicious Mediterranean recipes and cooking tips again.