I have a repertoire of dishes that don’t take much time to prepare and usually make them when I’m dining solo. But just because I’m dining alone doesn’t mean I don’t want to eat well. These dishes serve one (except for the cucumbers, which keep well in the fridge and are an excellent accompaniment to the bean curd), but they can easily be doubled, tripled or quadrupled if you have company.
Cold bean curd with century egg, spring onion and pork floss
I always have the ingredients on hand for this dish, which takes only a few minutes to assemble. I often make a quadruple batch of the sauce and keep it in a small jar in the pantry, so the meal is even quicker to prepare the next time. The pork floss I like is flavoured with shredded seaweed and sesame seeds, but use whatever type you prefer. Ikura – salmon roe – makes a delicious substitute for the pork floss.
One block (150-200 grams) of soft bean curd
1 century egg, peeled
1-2 spring onions, depending on size
5 grams pork floss, or more to taste
For the sauce:
5ml dark soy sauce
5ml light soy sauce
½ tsp Chinese black vinegar (don’t use sweetened black vinegar)
½ tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp chilli oil or sesame oil
Combine the ingredients for the sauce and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Blot the bean curd with a paper towel then put it on a serving dish. Cut the century egg into four pieces then place them around the bean curd. Slice the spring onions about 3mm thick and pile on top of the bean curd, then top with the pork floss. Spoon the sauce around the bean curd, then serve.
Stir-fried cucumbers and cloud ear mushrooms
I often buy tiny cucumbers – each about 4cm long – from one of the Indian provisions shops in Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui. The cucumbers make an unusual stir-fry that can be eaten hot, although I prefer it chilled. Once cooked, this dish keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
2-3 dried cloud ear mushrooms
300 grams cucumbers
About 5ml cooking oil
2-3 garlic cloves
15ml rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
Fine sea salt
Put the cloud ear mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and leave to soak until fully hydrated (about 10 minutes). Cut them into strips about 1cm wide.
Trim off and discard the tip from both ends of the cucumbers, then rinse them thoroughly under cold running water. Drain in a colander. Slice the garlic cloves.
Heat a wok or skillet over a high flame, then add the cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the cucumbers, cloud ear mushrooms and garlic, and season with about a teaspoon (or more to taste) of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the cucumbers are crisp-tender (about three to five minutes). Add the vinegar and stir the ingredients for about 30 seconds, then remove from the heat. Mix in the sesame oil and serve immediately, or cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
Spaghetti with garlic, anchovies and lemon zest
This strongly flavoured pasta is only for anchovy lovers, and it’s one you should avoid before going out on a date (there’s a lot of garlic, too). The pungent little fish are front and centre, not hidden away and subtle as they are in a Caesar salad dressing or gremolata.
Time the cooking so the pasta and sauce are ready at the same time.
100 grams spaghetti
45ml extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
1-2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
A pinch of red pepper flakes
20 grams panko
The finely grated zest of a quarter of a lemon
A small handful of parsley, chopped
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a skillet placed over a medium flame. Add the garlic and cook until it takes on a very pale golden colour. Stir in the anchovy fillets and break them into smaller pieces with the spatula. Add the panko and cook until the breadcrumbs sizzle and turn a medium golden, stirring often. If the mixture seems too dry, stir in more olive oil. Add the red pepper flakes and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Don’t cook them for too long, or they might burn. If the pasta isn’t ready, turn off the flame.
When the pasta is ready, ladle out about 50ml of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta then immediately add it to the skillet. If the heat was off, turn on the flame to medium and stir the ingredients constantly while adding in a little of the cooking liquid to create a sauce that lightly coats the pasta. Stir in the lemon zest, parsley and some black pepper, then taste for seasoning; add salt, if needed (it probably won’t need any because of the anchovy). Serve immediately.