Weeknight Cooking

A Dish for When You Want to Feel Better

This week, our Table for One columnist makes a Little Gem salad that stirs old memories.

by:
September 20, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio.

Table for One is a weekly column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


It's Friday and you slept through your alarm. You had one too many cosmopolitans on your date last night. Who goes on a Thursday-night date? you think, stumbling into the kitchen to feed your dog and refresh her water bowl.

Water.

You fill up a glass from the tap because the gross bacteria-infested Brita filter in your fridge is empty. It's been empty since July.

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“I love how well you describe the gut punching feeling of interacting with your ex (and now I need some little gem lettuce)”
— Polina H.
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You wonder why you feel so terrible. The cosmopolitans, maybe, but more likely because you forgot to eat dinner before the date.

You remember what your doctor once prescribed to you on such a morning: "Protein and fructose." You look in your fridge: no orange juice, no fruit. Just a giant turkey carcass and a bottle of Grey Goose. You forgot to go grocery shopping. But there are three or four shriveled-up breakfast radishes in the crisper drawer, a single head of Little Gem lettuce, and eggs.

Protein—check. Fructose—hm.

You google "Is radish a fruit?" No. Then: "Is lettuce a fruit?" No.

But your heart swells with pride as you realize how many vegetables you have in your ordinarily empty crisper drawer: two.

Vegetables. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio.

You're not a breakfast person, so you make a salad for yourself. As you tear apart the leaves of the Little Gem with your hands, you think, Is there a cuter lettuce than Little Gem? One head is the perfect single portion. You slice up the radishes and throw them in, as well. There's some fresh mint in the deepest depths of your fridge. This is green, you say, adding it to your salad bowl with the pomp and circumstance of Green Goddess herself.

Okay, protein. You fry a couple of the eggs sunny-side up and throw them onto your salad. You dress the lot with fish sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil from your pantry. As you eat your breakfast salad standing over the sink, you realize this is the first vegetable you've had all week.

You feel better.

Your date wakes up. No, you would not like to grab a bite before work. You hand him his fedora and show him the door.


You take a quick shower and stumble into the office. You pour yourself a cup of coffee and become human again.

Later in the day, you boil an egg and have that as a snack. Protein. A chicken pot pie comes out of the test kitchen and you're asked to taste that. Protein. You and your colleague Ella walk to Sullivan Street Bakery for a "light snack," and you inhale a slice of their prosciutto and Buffalo mozzarella pizza and three or four raspberry doughnuts. Protein, protein, protein ... fructose.

The rest of your day is a blur because you just ate four raspberry doughnuts and you're falling into a food coma (but at least you're not hungover anymore).

You leave work that night to grab a drink with your ex at your favorite bar, where you laugh about how alone you both are. But after just one cosmopolitan, as you're about to order another, he grabs the check and says he's meeting someone for dinner. You don't ask whom, but you can guess as much. This was bound to happen sooner or later.

At the cross street between the uptown and downtown trains, he tugs at your collar and says, "This is a cute shirt." You say thanks and hug him goodbye.

"Wish me luck," he waves.

You watch him run down the steps into the station, and instead of heading to your own, you decide to go for a walk because you're hungry and haven't had dinner yet.

You pass by a diner in the West Village, where ten years ago you went on a date with a boy named J from your dorm. You're overwhelmed by how vividly that night comes rushing back to you.


A few hours before the date, you're Skyping with your best friend K from high school.

"Whatever you do," she warns, "don't order salad. No one ever looks cute eating a salad." You nod and file that information away for later.

Later, as you're sitting across from J at the diner, you order the matzo ball soup because it's not salad. He orders the grilled chicken sandwich and a diet cola. Actually, you'll have a diet cola as well.

The food comes. To your horror, the waiter brings a side salad with your soup. Comes with the soup, she says.

This is your life now. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio.

As J tells you about his childhood growing up in West Virginia or whatever, you're sweating bullets looking at the salad in front of you. It's gargantuan. You don't want him to think you're wasteful, so after finishing your soda and slurping your soup, there's nothing left to do but pick up your fork and eat the damn salad.

You feel the lettuce creasing into the nooks and crannies of your front teeth and everything is terrible. K was right: There's nothing less cute than shoving giant leaves into your mouth on a first date.

"Whatever you do," she warns, "don't order salad. No one ever looks cute eating a salad."

Years later, you'll learn about Little Gem, aka sucrine, which is the cutest lettuce to eat. It'll be sweeter than most greens, more compact, less awkward. You'll keep your fridge stocked with it because there's nothing more satisfying than a head of lettuce that makes exactly one serving of salad. No leftovers.

But this is years later. Right now you're eating a clunky diner salad in front of a boy from your dorm.

J walks you to your floor and kisses you goodnight. It's wet. It's not bad that it's wet, but you can't help but focus on the texture, the moistness. You go to bed without waking your roommate.

The next morning, you forget about the date and the salad. You even feel fine because hey, at least you remembered to eat dinner. Anyway, it's Saturday, and everything feels better on a Saturday.

What do you cook to make yourself feel better? Let us know in the comments below.

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

11 Comments

Polina H. September 23, 2019
I love how well you describe the gut punching feeling of interacting with your ex (and now I need some little gem lettuce)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 23, 2019
Ha! Thank you, Polina.
 
luvcookbooks September 23, 2019
Look forward to your column.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 23, 2019
Thank you.
 
Shane L. September 20, 2019
Relaxing in my hotel, -which I never do, I’d rather be out exploring- reading and sipping tea, while waiting for the wind calm the F down. During a pause from my book, I decided to read this Friday’s Table for One.... Eric, you just love to make me cry, don’t you?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 21, 2019
Always good to hear from you, Shane. Whatcha reading?
 
Shane L. September 21, 2019
Just finished “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, for second time.

Now starting a Tad Williams fantasy: The Dragonbone Chair

You’re up late, did you have a fun filled Friday night?
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 21, 2019
Oh you know, the usual: Netflix and a family-size box of Cheez-Its.
 
Shane L. September 21, 2019
Wha! A whole family-size box!? My god, I hope your poor tummy is alright 😂
 
Hafsa S. September 20, 2019
I love your writing! It always transports me to wherever you are telling the story from. Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. September 21, 2019
Thank you so much.