I was talking to my friend Emily the other day who was sad about her lunch. Her midday meal, brought from home, was slimming but boring and consequently the working day had lost its spark.
What she wanted was something healthy but that felt “like the kind of lunch you look forward to”. Also, preferably something that could be prepared in a large-ish batch and kept in the fridge for several days so as to do for multiple lunches.
This rules out most green salady things. Lettuce would go wilty, cucumber soggy. Even cooked runner beans or peas go a bit grey after a day or so. Here, however, are three hearty-but-healthy dishes. All would be lovely on their own but I think would be even better with a handful of green. I would recommend keeping a bag of appropriate leaves in the fridge and adding a few on top of that day’s Tupperwared portion. It’s also worth finding a tiny jar (about the size that anchovy fillets come in) for transporting dressing. Just tuck it into the corner of the box and you’re ready to go. Old camera film canisters are really good for this if you have any knocking about.
All recipes make enough for three(ish) lunches.
Carrot, Chickpea & Feta Salad
The whole meal was delicious but I was particularly besotted with something billed as “Sauteed olives and carrots with preserved lemon and thyme”. This is inspired by her recipe but, since it's a lunch rather than part of a mezze spread, I've added chickpeas and feta.
- Olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 6 carrots
- Juice of 3 oranges (or 100ml from a carton)
- 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme or a tbsp of dried
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 1 preserved lemon
- 100g olives
- 100g feta cheese
- Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan. Crush the garlic. Peel the carrots and cut them into pound-thick rounds. Add the garlic to the pan, then, almost immediately the carrots. Stir so everything is covered in olive oil, season generously and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Put in the orange juice, add the thyme and cook for 10 minutes. When it is nearly evaporated add the chickpeas and olives and continue to cook for a few minutes more.
- Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon and throw it away. Finely slice the rind and add to the pan, perhaps with a little bit of lemon juice, depending on how sharp the oranges were.
- Take the pan off the heat. When it has cooled, crumble in the feta.
Ifs And Ands
- Try it in a pitta bread with houmous and rocket.
- Use a similar method (without the orange juice) to cook courgettes.
Cauliflower Rice Salad With Black Garlic Dressing
Sweet and smoky black garlic seems to be all over the place these days. It is particularly lovely in this dressing, even if I do say so myself. I know some branches of Sainsbury’s stock it but if you can’t find it available locally it’s easily got online.
- 2 cauliflowers
- 1 tsp cumin
- 100g puy lentils
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- ½ pomegranate
- ½ bulb black garlic
- 75ml olive oil (plus a little extra)
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Divide the cauliflower into florets and put a few at a time in the food processor. Whizz until they resemble rice. Lay the grains in a thin layer on a baking tray and toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and the cumin. Roast for 10 minutes.
- Cook the lentils in the stock as per instructions on the packet. Or until they are soft. I used Merchant Gourmet ones which claimed they would be ready in 20-26 minutes but it was a dirty lie and they took nearly 40.
- When the cauliflower and lentils and cool mix them with the pomegranate seeds.
- Put the black garlic in a food processor with the oil, mustard, zest of the lemon and a squeeze of juice. Season and blend until smooth. I won’t lie to you. It’s not pretty, being all weird and black and all. But it is delicious. Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary.
- In the morning add a handful of spinach leaves and take some dressing in a separate pot.
Ifs And Ands
- If you can’t get hold of black garlic use a tbsp balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar instead.
- I’ve left this as a veggie salad but it would go very well with a smoked mackerel fillet or some grilled chicken.
- Slices of avocado or a few artichoke hearts from a jar would be good additions. Maybe even some cubes of cucumber (seeds removed) to add a bit of cooling crunch.
Sweet Potato, Black Bean & Chicken With Salsa Dressing
A vaguely "Mexican" lunch. Leave out the raw garlic if your desk is very close to your co-workers'...
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika (smoked if possible)
- 300g cherry tomatoes
- olive oil
- 1tsp chilli flakes
- 2 chicken breasts or equivalent amount of leftover roast chicken
- 1 lime
- 1 tin black beans
- ½ bunch spring onions
- 1 tbsp pickled jalapenos
- 1 clove garlic
- Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into bitesize chunk and toss them, on a baking tray with a splash of olive oil and the cinnamon, cumin and paprika. Put the cherry tomatoes in another oven-proof dish, splash over a little more oil, sprinkle on the chilli flakes and season with salt and pepper. Put everything in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Squeeze the lime into a bowl. Put the chicken breasts in a pan with some salt and the squeezed lime shells. Cover with water, bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes then remove and allow to cool. (For more information, the excellent Kitchn website has a good guide to poaching chicken.)
- Drain the beans and put them in a large bowl. Finely chop the spring onion and mix them in.
- When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove their skins - they should have split during roasting and just slip off. If not, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal. Put them and their roasting juices in the bowl with the lime juice and squish everything with your hands until it becomes a chunky sauce (or use a blender for a smoother result). Finely chop the jalapenos, crush the garlic and add those too. Season with salt and pepper. If you want it spicier add a bit of Tabasco or other hot sauce.
- Tear the chicken into shreds and add it to the big bowl, along with the sweet potato. Mix everything together and then leave the salad and the salsa in the fridge overnight.
- In the morning transfer to your lunchbox. Bring a little jar of the salsa with you and pour it on at lunchtime.
Ifs And Ands
- If you can be bothered in the morning chop an avocado and add it to the salad along with a handful of coriander leaves.
- You could add the salsa to the salad as it sits in the fridge so the flavours will mingle. It will get a little soggy but not in an unpleasant way.
- Bring a little gem lettuce with you and fill the leaves with forkfuls of salad before taking a bite.
- It would work with butternut squash or any other kind of pumpkin-like thing instead of the sweet potato.