What do Paelo-eaters have for lunch?
Back in the day, my packed lunch would be a brown bread sarnie with tuna or leftover roast chicken in mayo. Maybe cheese and marmite or pickle. If I was feeling creative, a pasta salad or leftover roast veg with couscous – seeing a theme here?
Now that the baguette is banned and the couscous cancelled, what’s left? I can’t take a plate of stew and sautéed veg to work in my lunchbox; we don’t have microwaves to heat stuff up – long story, let’s just say people did bad things and now everyone has to suffer.
Got to think outside the box (or inside the box – lunchbox).
There’s only so many times you can have tuna and salad (and I use that term to describe the rather sad, English-salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato) before you lose the will and march to the nearest food vendor for something hot and filling. So, there are few tips to keep it interesting:
- Keep it seasonal – not just the ingredients, but a light chicken salad is only going to make you feel so-so if it’s grey and cold outside (in the UK that can mean any day, not just outside ‘Summer’ season). Even if you have to have a cold lunch, adding some roast meat leftovers and colourful veg with a punchy horseradish or mustard dressing can make the day a little better.
- Toppings are your friend. Pumpkin seeds are good with roast veg and feta cheese. Pecan nuts with coleslaw. Gherkins with beef. Some of these are not cheap (like capers) but a little goes a long way, and they keep in the fridge for weeks. Look out for supermarket ‘Economy’ versions of things like olives; no, they’re not the sort of olives you’d serve on an antipasti plate, but they make a tuna nicoise look bistro-good. Don’t forget the seasoning and dressing – think of the American-style chef’s chopped salad or the beautiful creations at Ottolenghi. These are not English-salad 🙂
- Lots of vegetables – more variety means more colour and ticking off more vitamins. Frozen veg work well for this, as you can grab a handful and thaw under cold running water, or just add them to your salad if you’re preparing the night before. The humble frozen pea, just thawed, is surprisingly sweet. Dress with chopped mint, or some pesto mixed with yogurt and you’ve got a bit of wow-factor. Try different lettuces too; doesn’t have to be the expensive bags of pre-washed baby leaves – just switching to a crunchy romaine or bitter-leaf frisee can make things more interesting in appearance as well as taste.
- Take inspiration from other dishes and deconstruct – e.g. breakfast = bacon or gammon, hard-boiled egg, tomato. Fajitas = chicken, peppers, roast onions, cheese, salsa, guac, chipotle sauce. Moroccan tagine = roast lamb, butternut squash, apricots, cinnamon, cumin.
Now, I’m keeping this to cold lunches due to my own work environment but if you do have means to heat your lunch there’s no reason not to have leftover dinner for lunch. I appreciate some people might think yuck, leftovers but given the economics you can’t knock it. Plus, if you’re buying the best quality meat you can afford, and spending time cooking it, makes sense to stretch it as far as possible.
Soups are also a winner, but pre-made versions tend to include beans, rice or pasta to bulk them up or are with thickened with corn-starch. If you get a veggie box delivered, and I cannot recommend this enough, then you’ll always have a variety of bits on hand to whizz up into a tasty soup. If nothing else to use them up before they go from looking a bit sad to turning into mulch and going to the compost bin. (Only downside I’ve found with organic veg – they just don’t last as long as supermarket stuff. Fortunately the flavour more than makes up for it.)
Once a week, normally a Friday as that’s when the next veg delivery arrives, I have cold frittata for lunch. Thursday nights I raid the fridge for any remaining bits of veg (I save off-cuts after making things like zoodles, but you’ll see more about that later) roast or panfry as necessary then combine with eggs and a dash of cream to make a large frittata. If there’s enough of something to make a proper dinner dish then it won’t go in, but anything that’s not-quite-enough is ideal. Small amounts of leftover bacon or ham work well, as does a little feta or goat’s cheese just dotted on top. Baby leaf salad like rocket or spinach that isn’t otherwise going to get used can be stirred thru the mix before cooking. Cool and cut into wedges, then pack with a pot of chutney or salad.