One of my friends wrote to me yesterday and asked me to address the issue of cooking and eating well when you are a household of one. I live in a household of two and I usually cook for both of us, but I used to live alone and cook for myself.
What makes you happy depends on your tastes: I do not mind eating leftovers — if I make something yummy I will want to eat it again and again. Some people want to eat different things everyday. If you are a person who craves freshness and innovation, some dishes are made for you. It is easy to prepare an individual salad, a bowl of pasta, an omelet, a plate of scrambled eggs, a sandwich, or a quesadilla. You can vary the ingredients by choosing the best of what you like that is in season: right now is a good time to put corn in quesadillas, zucchini in omelets, cucumbers in sandwiches and salads and peppers and tomatoes in everything.
In Northern California it is ideal to make Greek salad while tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are in season. You’ll need at least one tomato, cuke and red bell pepper, more if you want a larger salad. Other than that, all you need is feta cheese, a jar of kalamata olives and the ingredients to make a vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper.
I make my simplest vinaigrette by drizzling some olive oil over my salad ingredients. I don’t measure it — I just drip some on and toss the greens or vegetables. Then I take a small measuring cup out. I add to it one clove of crushed garlic, a large pinch of hot mustard, ground black pepper, a dash of salt and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I stir that up and dump it on my salad. Toss again. Then I taste it by picking out a leaf of lettuce or a piece of cucumber. Can I taste every ingredient? If you go easy on the salt and vinegar in the first pass, you can always add more. I like quite vinegary dressing (My friend Valentine says salad dressing gets sharper as you move from East Coast to West Coast and I was born here in the west).
When I make vinaigrette for Greek salad, I like to add the juice of a lemon, especially a home-grown Meyer lemon from the front yard. I add it just after I toss the salad with oil. I also keep the salt to a few grains because both kalamatas and feta are salty.
Food notes: You can use any kind of cucumber in Greek salad. I like Armenian cucumbers best because you don’t need to peel them, but I have made the salad with lemon cukes, English cukes, pickling cucumbers and the standard supermarket variety. You can use bell pepper of any color, or gypsy peppers. You can use full-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, or grape tomatoes — I use what I have, but my favorites are little orange Sun Gold cherry tomatoes right off the vine. I like sheep’s milk feta better than goat’s milk feta, and I prefer French or Greek feta to others when I can get them (but a lot of my feta comes from the cheese selection at Grocery Outlet). Do use kalamata olives — canned black olives will not deliver the punch here. Leftover kalamatas keep well in the refrigerator. I like the clean taste of kosher salt, but you can use what you like.
Variations: In full summer, I sometimes add watermelon chunks to Greek salad. It’s not for everyone. If you are cautious, put a bowl of watermelon chunks on the side, transfer just one piece to your salad plate and see what you think. If it doesn’t work for you, save the watermelon for dessert. Want more spice? Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to your salad and toss well.
Greek Salad for One
Slice or chop one cucumber, one red bell pepper, and one tomato or a handful of halved cherry tomatoes into your salad bowl. Crumble in feta cheese to taste. Add some pitted kalamata olives (if you halve them, they will go further). Drizzle salad with olive oil and toss. Squeeze half of one Meyer lemon over salad. Toss again.
In the bowl of a measuring cup, make a vinaigrette of one small smashed clove of garlic, a Tbsp or two of red wine vinegar, a few grains of salt, a pinch of hot mustard. Stir together. Grind in some black pepper. Toss it into your salad. Taste and adjust.
It’s wonderful to eat this with a sourdough baguette to soak up the dressing — I “clean” my salad bowl with bread when I am done. If there are any leftovers (there shouldn’t be), they’ll be good for lunch tomorrow.
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