The best cookbook covers tell us something singular and important about the culinary world we are about to enter. And others are open to multiple interpretations. Last month the New York Times did an exposé on “Microwave Cooking for One,” which features the author, Marie T. Smith, alone with a selection of colorful microwave-ready platters in front of her. “Some readers may see desolation and gloom behind her smile,” wrote the Times contributor. “But others see a triumphant model of practicality and self-care.”
The Michelin-starred chef Anita Lo was mindful of these polarities when she wrote “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One,” a book celebrating the simple pleasure of cooking for yourself that is now available on Amazon. Her recipes are customized to feed one and the steps are simple and require few pots and pans. The motivating belief behind the book is that solo cooking and dining can, and should, be blissful and empowering. In Solo, she offers a guide to self-gratitude through delicious, contemporary food drawn from her experiences as an esteemed New York City chef and world traveler. It’s a cookbook that speaks directly to single Americans who desire smart and savvy small-portion recipes and tips for shopping, stocking the fridge, and storing food in a single-person household.
Solo’s cover is more ambiguous than Marie T. Smith’s, but that’s probably for the better. It’s red and nondescript, featuring the word “Solo” in large, block letters. The “O” doubles as a plate with what looks like vegetables, tortillas, and a lime on it. If she had it her way though, Ms. Lo might have designed it differently or included a pun in the title (“Lo Cal” was rejected by her publishers). “I originally told [them] the cover should be me and my cat,” said Ms. Lo. “But they thought it was too sad.” Instead, the cover is an illustration by Julia Rothman, whose drawings also feature throughout the text.
There are of course other books in the expansive genre of cooking for one. “Cooking Solo: The Fun of Cooking for Yourself” by Klancy Miller is one such publication celebrating the joy of cooking for oneself, although her recipes are more high-end than Ms. Lo’s. The editor Judith Jones also wrote a well-known book titled “The Pleasures of Cooking for One,” published in 2009. Ms. Jones takes a very particular approach that demonstrates how cooking for yourself presents unparalleled possibilities for both experimentation and pleasure. She is both our instructor and guru, teaching us both simple and complex recipes as well as providing strategic methods for building meals throughout the week and showing us how flavors can become more delicious because they’re working with such small quantities.
In a New York Times interview, Ms. Lo revealed that she enjoyed Ms. Jones’s book and learned a lot from her approach, but found her recipes to be somewhat out of style. Consider Ms. Lo’s recipe for pan-roasted cauliflower, which includes a zesty dried mango and black salt store-bought spice mix to transform the vegetable into a mouthwatering, Asian-style chaat.
“The cauliflower is broken into florets and browned in a saucepan (an impossible task when cooking a large amount), then seasoned with a sauce of cilantro, yogurt, and green chilis,” wrote Tejal Rao, the author of the Times interview. “To make the garnish, Ms. Lo warms chopped almonds in the toaster oven, which she considers a valuable and versatile tool in any small, efficient kitchen.”
In other words, Ms. Lo makes her name by thinking outside the box, rethinking the flavors and textures of her culinary heroes, and enjoying every step along the way. As she says: “the secret of making cooking for one fun and creative is not to think of a meal as self-contained, but to understand that home cooking is an ongoing process, one dish leading to another.”
Cooking for herself is Ms. Lo’s favorite ritual—and it can be yours too. “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One,” was published by Knopf this October and is available for purchase on Amazon or at your local bookstore.