Cooking for One: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

savory pancake2

DISH: Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks; Savory Cornmeal and Grain Pancake with Herbed Tofu; Baked Eggs with Tofu Croutons
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Lentils, Tofu, Grain Pilaf
TYPE: Creating and Using Leftovers

Recently, my co-workers and I got to talking about food. We were eating lunch (of all things) in the conference room on a Friday, some of us from our own brown bags, some from always-delicious Midtown takeout joints. In the adult equivalent of the Twinkie swap, we were exchanging ideas of dishes to cook, eat, bring to potlucks, etc., when Frederica coined the term “Humpty-Dumpty Food.”

“You know,” she said, “it’s like what you cook for yourself when no one’s watching.” Her shining example: ground beef sauteed with tomatoes on top. That’s it. Probably delicious, but, we all agreed, also probably a bit of a let-down if you served it to a crowd.

Anyway, during the weekend that followed, I did a lot of Humpty-Dumpty cooking, in part to make sure I had rations for the upcoming week (busy), in part to guarantee my yield from the Saturday farmers’ market didn’t go to waste, and in part to wean myself off the sugar-y kick I’ve been on for months and months (remember those oatmeal cookies and that baklava?) with delicious but savory foods. By Monday, I had a refrigerator full of sealed containers: among other concoctions, a hearty grain pilaf, some garlicky herbed tofu, a sweet pea puree, and firm black lentils.

And then it struck me that with all this stuff to work from, I could combine textures and flavors into a couple of dishes that looked gorgeous on the plate, tasted great, and were as far from Humpty Dumpty as the infamous King’s Men.

More to the point, the leftovers, in particular the lentil salad, looked appealing enough in a lunch-time container that I’d definitely eat it in front of co-workers at our favorite conference room haunt.
From my kitchen, where eating at the cool kids’ table obviously matters, to yours,

If you’re starting this all from scratch, it’ll look intimidating. However, if you make it in parts, it’s really not so bad. Keep in mind, of course, that each recipe makes its own satisfying, if slightly humble, Humpty-Dumpty-ish, dish (there’s nothing wrong with eating plain lentils straight from the pot!).

Fried Lentil Salad with Leeks
Serves 2

This salad is inspired by a post on 101 Cookbooks about frying chickpeas before tossing them with dressing and seasonings. I figured if this method gave beans that extra textural something, it would also tranform lentils from a plain staple to an attractive main course. And it did.I found a little sauteeing lends lentils a whole bunch of crispiness. You can also dress this with olive oil and lemon.

1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 cup cooked lentils (see below; drain and dry them very well)
1 leek, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
2 cups mixed greens

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the lentils and cook, stirring constantly, until they’re slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt, and cook until the leeks have wilted. Off the heat, stir in the grated carrots.

Put the mixed greens in a bowl or a plate for serving. Top with the slightly warm lentils and serve with yogurt dressing on the side.

For the yogurt dressing:
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced basil
2 teaspoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients with about 3 tablespoons of yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding water as necesary to thin. Chill until ready to use.

For the lentils:
1 cup of black lentils (or green—red, however, will melt into goo)
1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring the lentils and 3 cups of water to the boil over medium heat. Cut the garlic into 4 chunks and add it and the olive oil to the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are soft but hold their shape. About halfway through the cooking, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Drain well. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until later use.

Savory Grain Pancake with Tofu, Greens, and Sweet Pea Puree
Serves 2

You can make the tofu, grain pilaf, and sweet pea puree far in advance, and you can also replace the grain pilaf with leftover rice (maybe from a takeout container) or another grain.

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cooked grains (see grain pilaf, below)
2 eggs
1/2-3/4 cups milk
1/3 cup ricotta

1/2 cup mixed greens
4 slices herbed tofu (recipe below)
Sweet pea sauce (just thin the topping for the Sweet Pea Crostini from Jordana’s Veggie Birthday Wish with a couple tablespoons of water or vegetable stock)

NOTE: I use low-fat or skim for the milk and ricotta, but use whatever fat-content you like.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Add the cooked grains, separating them out in the flour.

In another small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk and ricotta, and stir to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Set aside for 10-15 minutes, or while you make the rest of the meal.

When ready to cook, heat a small (8″) nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with oil. Pour half the batter into the pan and cook for about 8 minutes until the bottom is golden and firm. Slide on to a plate, hold it to the frying pan, flipping the pancake. Cook on the other side for 4-6 minutes. Keep warm in the oven while you make the second pancake (if you’re making one).

To serve, place a few mixed greens over the pancake and top with two slices of the tofu. Garnish with sweet pea puree and a grind of fresh pepper. Serve more pea puree on the side.

Herbed Tofu
Serves 4

1 container of tofu, cut in 8 slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
2 teaspoons sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely diced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
splash of Tabasco

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the tofu in one layer in a pan that just fits the slices. Combine all the other ingredients and pour over the tofu, making sure the garlic and parsley are evenly spread. Bake for 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and all the liquid is absorbed.

Grain Pilaf
Serves 4-6

I know the grains below might sound a little esoteric, but they’re available all around, at Whole Foods, et al. You can also use all rice, if you want, but the barley adds a pleasant kind of chewiness, and the millet serves as binder. Plus, rice to the exclusion of all else is boring, and grains are super cheap.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 leek, chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 onion diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup wild rice-brown rice blend (I used this)
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup barley

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt. Sautee until soft and nearly browned. Add the grains and toast, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Add 3 cups of water and the salt and stir to combine. Turn up the heat and bring the whole thing to a boil, then cover and reduce as low as possible. Cook for about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir to fluff.

here is true humpty-dumpty cuisine: just some grain pilaf tossed with ricotta and parsley
Baked Egg with Tofu Croutons
Serves 1
This makes a great (and easy) brunch or dinner dish. The leftover tofu and grains develop an awesome and satisfying crust as they reheat in the oven beneath the egg.
1-2 eggs
1/2 cup grain pilaf (see above)
1-2 slices herbed tofu (see above)
1 carrot, cut into thin half-moon slices
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the tofu into squares.
Heat the oil in a small, oven-proof frying pan over high heat. Add the carrots and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes, until brown. Add the grains and the tofu and toss for another minute or two.
Turn off the heat. Carefully, crack an egg (or two—however many you want to eat) over the grains and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and place in the oven. Cook 12-15 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is as set as you’d like it to be.

mmm…breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner
Posted in: Very Old Posts
  • Jessie

    ooh, that last dish looks so tasty… though if you put an egg on top of almost anything, I’d eat it.

    My favorite Humpty Dumpty food is a fried egg on a sliced avocado. Quite tasty, but I wouldn’t whip it out at parties (or anywhere but my couch).

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