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Once I was an excellent cook, even a successful cookbook editor; but cooking for one is no fun—perhaps because it is the prelude to eating alone. In addition, I waste so much food. None of my old recipes work particularly well for one person. Furthermore, since I always accept last-minute invitations to dinner—“never say no” is my motto—I throw away lots of half-cooked meals and fresh produce. So I tend to “fix” lunch and dinner when I’m home alone, assembling what I have on hand to produce a meal that is halfway good, nutritious and filling. There is a limit to how much cheese and peanut butter I can eat. This salad, along with its variants, is one of my basics:

Keep on hand in the pantry:

  • Read 3-bean salad
  • marinated artichoke hearts
  • raw nuts—walnuts, pecans, almonds, or pine nuts
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • white wine or balsamic vinegar
  • Albacore tuna (optional)

Keep in the refrigerator:

  • salad olives
  • small tomatoes
  • spinach
  • cheese crumbles or freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Ahead of time:

Drain bean salad. In a plastic storage container, mix bean salad with marinated artichoke hearts and about ¼ cup drained salad olives. Stir; add additional olive oil and vinegar to marinate. Cover and refrigerate. This will keep for several weeks if you don’t add any perishable ingredients.

To prepare salad:

Slice or chop tomatoes. Add drained tuna or leftover chicken if desired. Toss with spinach and about ½ cup marinated vegetables, adding additional olive oil and vinegar if needed. Sprinkle with nuts and cheese.


You can use any leftover raw vegetables or meat that you have on hand. You can substitute canned corn and other beans for the bean salad. My favorite version is to cook a stuffed pasta such as tortellini for dinner one night, toss half with olive oil or pesto sauce and refrigerate for salad later. Since I eat spinach both cooked and raw, I find that I have less to throw away than when I buy salad greens.

What do you regularly keep in the 
refrigerator and pantry for quick meals?

Simple SaladVietri pottery pasta bowl, perfect for an entrée salad, was purchased at Cosmoleno, in Ravello, Italy, high above the Amalfi coast—the most beautiful spot on earth.