For about ten years, I lived alone. I say “about” because for the last four years, I was dating my future wife and we were splitting time between our two apartments. But for the preponderance of that time, I didn’t cook.
I certainly ate. I made simple things like eggs, sandwiches and pots of rice and beans. I’m not sure why I didn’t make more complicated things. For one, most of my recipes feed at least two if not four or more. It also seemed like a lot of work to just feed myself. There was no one to keep me company in the kitchen or pitch in with the cleanup. When I met my wife, I was needless to say very excited to have someone to cook for and started making us meals on a regular basis.
But I might have cooked more if I had chef Anita Lo’s new and clever cookbook Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One. “I put the ‘Lo’ in ‘solo.’ The A Lo in ‘alone.’ I’ve been dumped almost as many times as I’ve been in relationships—and I can count those on less than two hands,” she admits in the book’s intro. “Spread over my fifty-year life-span, that’s a lot of solo meals. So if you consider that—coupled with my many years working as a professional chef—it seems that I’m particularly well suited to write this book.”
Clearly, Lo enjoyed working on this project and many of her recipes are accompanied by short notes and stories, which make you feel like you’re cooking with her. Her pork and chive dumpling recipe even starts with a short affirmation exercise that you can do while you’re cooking. “For each dumpling, think of all the good things you want for yourself in the future. If you’re not too bitter, think of all the qualities of a perfect mate. When you run out of ideas, think of all your best aspects you really don’t need a partner to complete you.”
The dumplings can be made ahead of time, frozen and then just steamed later when you’re hungry. If you’re not cooking for one, then the recipe can be easily multiplied. And as Lo reminds the reader, “after all, they say the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. So far, it has worked for me.”
For the Dumplings:
- 3/4 pound Green cabbage
- 1/2 pound Ground pork
- 1/4 pound Peeled, deveined shrimp, chopped
- 1/2 bunch Scallions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Garlic chives, chopped (optional)
- 1 large Clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp Grated ginger
- 3 Tbsp Soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp Sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 package Dumpling wrappers
For the Dipping Sauce:
- 3 Tbsp Rice wine vinegar
- 4 Tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tsp Thinly sliced scallion white
- 1 pinch Toasted sesame seeds
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp Soybean oil or other non-flavored oil such as canola, for pan-frying
- Roughly chop the cabbage and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not pureed. Remove and squeeze in a clean kitchen towel to remove juices and place dried cabbage in a large bowl for mixing. Add the pork, shrimp, scallions, chives, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and salt and pepper and mix. Test for flavor by poaching or frying a small amount, and adjust seasonings.
- To wrap the dumplings, place a tablespoon of filling into the center of each wrapper. Wet the edges, and fold in half, to form a taco-like shape. Make a pleat on the side facing you, about 20 degrees from the apex of the half circle formed by the dumpling skin, toward the top, and seal with your fingers to the back side of the skin. Repeat on the other quarter, in mirror fashion, and seal the dumpling completely, trying to eliminate any air pockets. Place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, pleated side up, with dumplings spaced so as not to touch one another. Cover both the wrappers and the folded dumplings with a clean damp cloth to prevent drying while wrapping.
- Repeat until you’ve used up all the filling. Freeze unused dumplings by placing the entire sheet pan uncovered in the freezer. When frozen, transfer dumplings to a Ziploc freezer bag.
- To make the dipping sauce, mix together the rice vinegar with the soy sauce, scallion, sesame seeds, and black pepper.
- Steam the dumplings for about 5 minutes or until cooked through if just made, and 6 minutes if frozen, and serve with the dipping sauce.
- To pan-fry, heat a nonstick sauté pan over high heat. Add oil to pan and swirl, then add the dumplings in one layer so they don’t touch. Add enough water to cover the dumplings halfway, then cover the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until all water is evaporated and the bottoms are browned and crispy.
Excerpted from Solo by Anita Lo. Copyright © 2018 by Anita Lo. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.