When I began living in a 400-square-foot studio apartment in New York City’s West Village a year ago, I lost my cooking mojo. I had about three dishes I’d cook—stir-fried beef, curried chicken, steak or chop with sautéed potatoes and spinach—and the rest of the home meals were takeout form Mrs. Green’s on Hudson Street.

But during a call with my therapist, she asked if I was cooking. I said, No, not much, though I used to cook all the time. She said, I think you might feel better if you spent more time cooking. She was right. So I have determined to cook more. And I’ve turned back to books to jumpstart my imagination. I looked first to Joe Yonan‘s Serve Yourself, a cooking-for-one book. Are these inherently unhappy books? No, but the book Vegan Cooking for One definitely is—and is the best and funniest cookbook title ever. Also, in an effort to rely less on animal protein, I’ve returned to Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo books; he writes some of the best books on bean cookery I’ve seen. Beans are a kind of superfood—inexpensive, nourishing (good carbs!), and delicious if you cook them right. He also sells the best dried beans in the country.

And I’ve begun to keep a journal to write about meals such as last night’s. It was given to me by Miss Scarlett (her adaptation from a recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook), who promised it was delicious and perfect for warm weather (still muggy here)—sesame noodles with chicken, cucumber, and asparagus. I made it more spicy and added other ingredients I like (fish sauce, lime juice!). It was as fine as Scarlett promised and as my iPhone photo makes it appear.

A new year, a new phase of life, a new start to this site.


Scarlett’s Sesame Noodles

This adaptation of an adaptation will make 2 portions, easy. Double the recipe for 4 to 6 portions. Leftovers are even better. Rich and peanutty and nutritious.

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chile flakes (or 3 or 4 depending on disposition)
  • vegetable oil as needed, 2 tablespoons or so
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 ounces peanut butter (a heaping 1/4 cup by volume)
  • 1/2 pound pasta, cooked and chilled
  • 8 ounces cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • sesame oil to taste
  • 1/2 pound asparagus, cooked and shocked
  • 1/2 cucumber seeded and cut in strips
  • 3 scallions thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  1. In a sauté pan over medium high heat, cook the garlic and chile flakes in the oil until the garlic is tender. Add the lime, sugar, soy, fish sauce, and peanut butter. Stir till it’s all combined and the peanut butter has melted and it’s uniform.
  2. Combine the pasta and chicken in a bowl and pour the peanut sauce over it, tossing till the pasta is coated. Season to taste with sesame oil and keep combining.
  3. Serve topped with asparagus, cuke, scallion, and sesame seeds.

Yield: 1 dinner and 1 lunch


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© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved.


29 Wonderful responses to “Cooking for One:
Sesame Noodles”

  • Tim Abel

    There probably isn’t one person reading here who wouldn’t like a new beginning in some area of their life.

    What an inspirational post!

    Thanks for sharing what and how you are cooking.


    (Now share how you go about cleaning up…. a common complaint from people who say they like eating, even cooking but hate cleaning up)…


  • xeno

    This looks fantastic! And I have a couple pounds of fresh green beans sitting on the counter from our local gardens, which I could easily swap in for the asparagus (asparagus this time of year is awful).

    I wonder, would crunchy peanut butter work? I think it would.

  • Mori

    Thank you for this! I love to cook, but have a partner with extremely limited tastes, and I’ve found it really hard to wrap my brain around cooking just for myself – a lot of the time it comes down to not feeling like it’s worth the effort if I’m the only one eating (and I really don’t want a week’s worth of leftovers every time I muster the effort anyway).

    Serve Yourself is going straight into my Amazon cart, and this recipe onto my ‘to make’ list!

  • witloof

    Rancho Gordo beans are fabulous, and so are the dried beans you can get now at the Union Square Greenmarket. I always lay in a supply of whatever is for sale at Berried Treasures on Wednesdays and Fridays. {The rest of her stuff is pretty wonderful too.}

  • cherie duda

    Recipe looks great…I think it sucks that you are eating alone though..hope it improves

  • Jennifer T.

    I would argue that Microwave Cooking for One is a sadder book than Vegan Cooking for One. Yes, it’s real 🙂

    Glad to have you back and looking forward to your shopping book.

  • Aang

    Really nice recipe thanks for sharing. The book “Vegan Cooking for One” you had mentioned is really good specially for bachelors like us. Once again thanks for sharing and keep up the good work. All the best!

  • Pamela DeLuca

    Thank you from a very appreciative fan. Starting over isn’t easy, but many of us have been there…

  • Allyn

    I’m a huge fan of Joe Yonan’s “Serve Yourself” too. If you haven’t already, I recommend that you take a look at his book “Eat Your Vegetables” . . . I like it even better! You’re so fortunate to live in a city that offers every type of foodstuff one could possibly want, so I foresee many fine meals in your future. Stay healthy. Good to see you back.

    • aqua6

      Steve, Just got your newsletter today – another informative reading source, like Ruhlman’s. I shared your bean club info with friends and hope some heed my advice to sign up. My kids are happy bean-eaters, and I credit your beans with that!
      Michael – Glad to read your writing here again. Hope your new start is fruitful. My parents divorced after 25 years and it was shocking, even this many years later.

  • Katie

    this looks really, really delicious, and well worth the cleanup!

    I, too, am rebooting my life after a long time of cooking for others, so am glad to see suggestions like this.

    I well and truly empathize.

  • Susie

    After losing my husband seven years ago, I’ve had similar experiences. Cooking was always such a huge part of our lives socially, as well as professionally for me, but now my opportunities to do so properly, in the way I used to, are very few and far between. I have cases of Soylent on hand, and a sadly empty fridge. It’s a huge loss, I understand.

    • Katie

      Susie, I hope you take Michael’s therapist’s advice.

      If you can’t cook the way you used to, cook the way you can now — cook for family or friends or neighbors — take it to work — but get back to that which brings you joy.

      Maybe volunteering at a community organization (feeding the less fortunate or less able) would fill that empty space.

      I understand being a “feeder” — but not only does the act of feeding others nourish THEIR bodies and souls, but it does a pretty good job of feeding OUR souls as cooks and bakers, too.

    • david reid

      I was thinking the same thing, recently divorced New Yorker that loves to cook but struggles to cook for one…… I’d gladly buy that book to add to my cookbook collection (I’m turning into a crazy old cat lady of sorts it seems)

  • Sandra Lewis

    Cooking solo is not the same experience, but it is definitely redemptive. Unless I’m traveling, I’m in the kitchen every day. There is no better way to feed the body, soul, and spirit even when you’re alone. Good to see that you are back in the kitchen.

  • Maggie Orchard

    When my husband died and I continued to cook, um, creatively- after I stopped feeling as though leaping off my roof was the only logical way to cope with it all- if I heard “Why bother with that pork belly/gyoza/tartiflette/dakgangjeong?” once I heard it approximately 90 (that’s how many calories are in a one ounce serving of burrata, by the way) times. Well, it’s important to have something to anticipate, and a solitary life that includes fresh takoyaki (you can use that cake pop maker someone inexplicably gave you for this, y’know) is a lot more pleasant than one without. Cook on.

  • Jennifer Cox

    I don’t think eating without others has to suck. I do it a lot both at home and on the road as my travel schedule for work doesn’t always mesh with everyone else. I approach it like a mini event-celebrating my day, my health and the gift of being here. Sounds hokey but the mindset can do wonders to changing the experience. Truly. (Ps there are days when it sucks. And I eat cereal! LOL!)

  • Allen

    This looks so good,I love all the great fresh vegetables. Thank you!
    Would you turn your nose up to a little five spice powder and a bit more heat?

  • Joell Abbott

    So delighted to see this yummy post from you today.
    Thank your therapist for us please.

    Keep on cooking, reading, and writing about food. You are one of the best for doing all those things.

  • Melissa B.

    I’ve been in a bit of a rut foodwise as well, and what’s gotten me inspired again (and eating more veggies) is all the amazing produce available in summer and fall in the NYC greenmarkets–and even grocery delivery sites like fresh direct and amazon fresh. Getting a CSA box of random produce from Fresh Direct was pretty exciting.

    Plus now that it’s cooled off some, cooking is a bit less painful in a small kitchen. 🙂 Roasted veggies for daayyyyyys.

    (I love Rancho Gordo. that’s another thing I’m going to start up now, pots of beans!)

  • heidi robb

    Michael, This recipe was my go-to, and most-requested for any potluck gathering – family, friends, kid’s school, etc. The beauty being in the ease in scaling up or down proportionately (aside from the chili oil in original – only to taste or yikes!), and in the prep of all parts ahead of time. Although, saucing needs to happen at serving lest the noodles suck it dry in sitting.

  • Maggie Chaney

    To borrow a phrase…I cook for myself because “I’m Worth It”–lol! If (wishfully thinking) Michael Ruhlman were to write a book on cooking for one it would become an industry standard.

  • Melisssa

    It’s been a long time since I looked at your blog. Life, small business, two kids, puppy, old dog, house to keep up, and so on. As always, it’s quiet and thoughtful in a way that most food blogs are not, and genuine and honest in a way that very few blogs are. Thank you for telling us your story. Best wishes in this new stage of your life. For me, cooking can be a meditation and it seems that it’s this for you. Let it be a way to care for yourself. For what it’s worth, I also find the toasting and grinding of spices a meditative, healing act. Sounds a little woo woo and hokey, I know, but it has the benefit of being useful for me and shareable with friends. Anyway, you’ll find what works for you. Best wishes.


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