The "Sad Woman Eating Alone" trope in popular culture is a familiar one. Like its offshoots, "Woman Whose Shopping Basket Contains Only Cat Food" and "Woman Eating Häagen-Dazs on Couch While Crying," female solo dining implies that a heroine is recently dumped, depressed, and usually in need of a makeover montage.
Well, I'm calling bullshit. Cooking for myself is one of the most satisfying pleasures available. It means I get to take my time in the kitchen, without worrying about anyone else's schedule or level of hangry-ness. I can make my meal insanely spicy, pungently fishy, or off-the-charts garlicky. I can eat it at the table or in bed with Law & Order: SVU on my laptop. It's more than food — treating myself to a special dinner at home is a unique form of self-care.
This easy noodle bowl is one of my favorite dinners for one. I often make extra, since the leftovers are so good cold, but it's very easy to control the proportions, so you can make just enough for one person. Inspired by San Francisco cult favorite restaurant Burma Superstar's outrageously delicious Superstar Vegetarian Noodles, it's a toothsome noodle dish with a bunch of flavors that meld together in harmony, bound by an ultra-simple sauce made from only Asian chili sauce and a little bit of oil.
Though I almost always prepare it as written, this dish has endless customization possibilities. Sometimes I toss in cubed fresh mango for sweetness. If I have some around, I'll add strips of cooked chicken, beef, or salmon to adorn the top in place of (or in addition to) the tofu. Thin slivers of basil and mint also make a beautiful garnish, and a shower of chopped peanuts, almonds, or cashews can provide crunch, if that's what I'm looking for.
My fiancé, Evan, loves this noodle bowl and often requests I make it for dinner when we eat together. And though I do love to share it with him, I relish the nights when it's just a bowl of spicy homemade noodles, Sergeant Olivia Benson, and me.
SPICY NOODLES WITH POTATOES AND TOFU
4 ounces dried long noodles
*Note: I usually make it with brown-rice noodles from Tinkyada, but it's also great with regular rice noodles, shirataki noodles (just make sure to rinse them well), and any other long-strand pasta, like spaghetti).
1 baby red or fingerling potato, diced
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable, coconut or olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed (look for single-serving tofu packages from Wildwood)
Salt to taste
1/8 cup Asian chili sauce
½ cup thinly sliced green cabbage (about ¼ medium cabbage)
1 carrot, shredded
1 handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
2. In a small pot, bring salted water to a light boil. Add the diced potato, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic, and cook until very lightly golden brown and crisp (watch to ensure it doesn't burn).
4. Fish the garlic out of the hot oil, and drain it on a paper towel.
5. Add the second tablespoon of oil to the pan and heat over medium-high until hot.
6. Add the cubed tofu to the hot oil, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook until the tofu is lightly crisp and golden, tossing in the pan a few times.
7. Once the tofu has finished cooking, drain it on a paper towel, and salt lightly.
8. In a small bowl, combine the other 2 teaspoons of oil with the Asian chili sauce (add more if you want it to be super-spicy).
9. Return the cooked noodles to their cooking pot, and toss thoroughly with the chili-sauce-and-oil mixture.
10. To the noodles, add the potatoes, garlic, tofu, cabbage, and carrot. Toss gently a few times to incorporate.
11. Serve the noodles topped with the cilantro and more chili sauce, if desired.
Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook (May 2012) and Pizza Dough:100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes (November 2013). Currently, she is a producer of Young & Hungry, an ABC Family comedy (Wednesdays at 8/7 Central), now in its second season, inspired by her life and writing.