Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Two Lunchbox Salads

Sturdy enough to withstand transit, wholesome and filling enough to help you through the afternoon, you might imagine a salad based on hearty, earthy wholegrains, would make perfect sense in your lunchbox. Ideal. Invincible, even. Sadly, to use a much-abused cliché, not all are created equal. Freshly cooked and quickly dressed? Delicious. Plump grains, bearing even the faintest trace of warmth, tossed in grass-green oil and something sharp, something fragrant, are far more forgiving dressed now than later, stone cold. But that very same salad fridge-cold two days later? Awful. Or so I thought.

Lunch, or more to the point, the question of what to pack for lunch, has always puzzled me. Bringing your own is clearly the clever person’s cash and time-saving solution, but exactly what to bring becomes less obvious once you move beyond soggy sandwiches and leftovers. But leftovers, however obvious they seem, are a very good place to begin.

Toss leftover rice, pilaf or otherwise, with generous spoonfuls of thick plain yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon, salt, crushed garlic and lots of dill. Halve a cucumber lengthways, scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon and slice it thinly crossways. Toss these quarter moons in next. In a separate container, pack some sturdy lettuce leaves, washed and carefully dried, to wrap around spoonfuls of creamy, herby rice. This, I find, stops you eating in front of the computer screen – while not impossible, it is rather difficult to check emails when both hands are actively, pleasurably, engaged.

I now happily roast extra vegetables just so they can be doused in this unbelievably good dressing. Tumbled with handfuls of roughly chopped parsley and/or coriander it’s easy and very, very do-able before you head out. Whip up a double batch over a morning coffee, pour into a clean jar and take it with you for the week. Carrot and celery sticks, those dreaded dieting staples, are lovely dipped or drizzled this way. Tinned dolmades (drained and splashed with both olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and pre-made falafels are good to have on hand. Serve with a tub of hummus or the roughly forked flesh of a ripe avocado. Tinned staples in fact make great salads: Sophie has a wealth of ideas and Stephanie’s own take on one of my earlier suggestions is grand – peruse the comments section while you’re there for a bunch of possibilities well worth exploring.

And then there are these two beautiful wholegrain salads. They’ll need to be made ahead, a quiet Sunday afternoon immediately springs to this mind, but both travel well and last beyond the single lunch. Not wanting to sound like a bore, I think it worth a reminder here to remove your lunch from the fridge about thirty minutes before you plan to eat – fridge-cold anything does neither the digestive system nor tastebuds any particular favours.

Karen Martini’s brown rice salad – 3-4 lunch-sized servings

Karen Martini’s fabulous, nutty salad in her latest offering Cooking at Home is so good it’s worth doubling. I’ve adapted the recipe to suit my needs, but the beautiful flavours are essentially hers. It just seems to improve with age. Frankly, we can’t stop eating it around here...

¾ cup of brown rice (stubby Japanese grains, for preference)
1½ cups of water
½ cup of currants
½ cup of red wine vinegar
½ cup of pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 onions, sliced into thin half moons
Generous pinch each of sea salt, cinnamon and allspice
1 bunch of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
½ bunch of mint leaves
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
Juice of 2 lemons

Get the rice on first. Bring the rice and water to a boil in a small, heavy-based saucepan. Lower the heat right down, clamp the lid on tightly and leave, untouched, for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat, lid still on, and rest while you get on with the recipe.

In another small saucepan, bring the currants and vinegar to a boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the fruit is plump and there is just a little liquid left at the bottom of the saucepan.

Toast the pine nuts until golden in a dry frying pan. Remove to a plate to cool, place the frying pan back on the heat and pour in the oil. Add the onions, salt and spices and cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time. You want golden threads.

Toss everything together over and over while the rice and onions are still warm. Keeps for up to three days.

Beetroot and quinoa salad – 3-4 lunch-sized servings

Ah, the Wonder Grain. High in protein and easily digestible, quinoa is also rich in minerals. While most wholegrains will take an hour, often longer, to reach tender, toothsome perfection, quinoa is a speedy twenty-minute affair. Think tabbouleh and you’re halfway to understanding both its texture and functionality. Adapted from Rebecca Wood’s Splendid Grain, this is very a pretty shade of pink.

2 cups (500ml) of stock (cube, especially Marigold, is fine)
1 small beetroot, peeled and very finely diced
1 cup of quinoa
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon
Sea salt
1 bunch of chives, snipped with scissors
1 bunch of parsley leaves, chopped
Large handful of black olives, pitted and chopped
A few anchovies (optional), chopped
Thick, plain yoghurt or sour cream
Large soft lettuce leaves, washed and carefully dried (optional)

Bring the stock to a boil, drop in the beetroot, quinoa, oil and half a teaspoon of salt, followed by the zest and juice. Bring back to the boil, lower the heat right down, clamp the lid on tightly and leave, untouched, for 15 minutes. Stand, still covered, for a further 3 minutes.

Lift the lid and fork through half of the herbs, the olives and anchovies (if using). Cool completely, and add the rest of the herbs. Pack the yoghurt and lettuce in two separate containers. To serve, wrap spoonfuls of the quinoa in the leaves, dolloped with a little yoghurt or cream as you go. Just as good without the lettuce, but I quite like this ritual. Keeps for up to two days.

How do you ‘do’ lunch?


Carson said...

Anything that keeps for that long is a winner in my book.
Because mostly how I 'do' lunch is leftovers! :)

Laurie Constantino said...

The beet and quinoa salad sounds particularly good. What I've been lately eating for lunch is a tortilla popped in the toaster and then filled with whatever leftover vegetables happen to be around. As it happens, I am now munching on Tunisian-spiced roast vegetables rolled in a warm tortilla - heavenly. Oh sure, I know they're just gussied up leftovers, but they sure taste fine.

Johanna said...

Ideally I take in tubs of soup from the freezer when I get myself organised. I also went through a phase of eating pita bread with hummus accompanied by chopped tomato and cucumber tossed in lemon juice! Right now it is the shops and never satisfactory. Maybe I need to try your salads - I think I would like the rice one with a bit of roasted pumpkin.

Frankly, I think a civilised society would allow you to go home and enjoy a proper healthy lunch!

kathryn said...

A beetroot and quinoa salad - now you're talking.

Like Johanna I'm a big fan of soup from the freezer, although I warm it at home and then take in a thermos flask. On clinic days I find I need small morsels. Snippets of food to eat between clients that will keep me going, but not make me drowsy. A flask of soup, tub of yoghurt, fresh fruit, home-made muffin or tahini bar, vitaweats and cottage cheese - that kind of thing.

Anh said...

My lunch is normally leftover from my meal (just double the portion for dinner!). I have the microwave at work, so it's not a big prob. (I am one of those who like hot food only). But recently, I have also made sandwich and salad. Not bad I think.

Love your new salads. Perhaps I should really try!

Another Outspoken Female said...


I think the tin of dolmades at work is great emergency food when you are caught short on the fresh stuff - good idea.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Lucy, I tried quinoa for the first time last week and I loved it!
Those recipes look delish and they are so healthy.

winedeb said...

Soup, a tub of hummus with a good whole grain cracker is my choice for lunch. But...salads do creep onto my lunch plate at least once a week and I do try to have some type of grain in them. Plus in my grain salads, I do need that crunch. It is what satisfys my lunch cravings. I must try your rice salad as I find all of the ingredients quite interesting!

Suganya said...

I was eager to a catch a glimpse of the ruby-red quinoa salad.

Wendy said...

I'm highly excited by this post. It's still freezing here but in a month or two it'll start to warm up (slightly, this is Scotland after all) and soup will not longer be my ideal lunch. LOVE these ideas. My favourite... Dunno! Going to try them all!

Pete said...

Great recipe - I love brown rice salads, perfect for a healthy packed lunch! Check out this one I found - great with some chilli :) http://whatrachelatetoday.blogspot.com/2008/03/brown-rice-salad.html

Rosa said...

I have some forgotten quinoa in my cupboard, can't wait to turn it purple in this salad! I work at home so don't have to pack a lunch, but salads like these are perfect for a picnic on the beach. I like to toss grated carrots with grains and add lots of herbs and lemon. You can only eat so many pan bagnats!

Simona said...

I must try the beet and quinoa salad. My lunch is nothing to boast about. I focus my attention on dinner. I love all the photos, as usual, particularly the one of mint.

Lisa said...

Some excellent lunch ideas, but the quinoa and beet salad really got my attention! I just happen to have a beet in the fridge but it won't be there for long.

Callipygia said...

Your salads look like perfect lunchtime fare & lettuce wrapping the perfect antidote for stopping to actually eat and avoid getting quinoa stuck in the keyboard! I am big on the lentil or bean salad, marinated tofu etc for the protein fix. I think the most important thing (reiterating your attitude)is to actually stop work and focus on the nourishment. Better absorption!

Ricki said...

I do enjoy rice in all kinds of contexts, but have never been a fan of it in salads (even though I love other grain-based salads!). But you may have convinced me here.

And your quinoa/beet! Well, you "beet" me to it--I was going to include my own version for the quinoa Lucky Comestible now that I'm back, but I think I will use another quinoa recipe now. I'll link to yours, though. :)

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Lucy, you've officially rescued me from my lunch time doldrums!!! I'm going to try your brown rice salad with red rice and the anchovies won't be optional with the beet and quinoa salad. Do you think a fat dollop of labnah on top of the beet salad would be too decadent? ;-)

Sophie said...

Thanks for the links to my salad recipes Lucy. I've got a bit of an ongoing obsession for finding portable lunch recipes, though to be honest I'm a bit pre-occupied at the moment with making porridge portable.

I second your idea of pre-made falafels with a salad. My other Winter standby is just oatcakes with soup.

As you say, it makes such a big difference just to get the food out of the fridge a bit before you eat it. It's surprising how the most uninspiring leftovers suddenly become palatable!

Lucy said...

Carson, leftovers seem to make the best lunches anyway, I reckon. Though they can drag on and on as the week progresses...

Laurie - great veg mixture. Squished into a warm tortilla sounds wonderful.

Johanna, soup's a great solution. I just used to alternate between sushi rolls and rice cakes with hummus and sprouts. A siesta, Spanish-style would be good accompanied with that civilised ideal of yours!

Knew you'd like that one, Kathryn! I like the idea of lots of smaller bits - no room for boredom there either.

Anh, I still think leftovers are the real key to making the effort. I mean, who wants to cook a meal before they eat their breakfast?

AOF, we have a stash of them here for teenage boy after school snacking and they work a treat.

Patricia I'm always pleased to see another quinoa convert. Love the stuff!

Deb, I don't think that I've properly conveyed just how delicious the rice salad is - it's my fav combination of sweet and savoury with that much needed bite that the rice offers. Hummus is a top standby in my book. I never, ever tire of it!

Ah, Suganya, no luck on the photo front. The light faded, then there wasn't time the next day...you know how these things go. But the beetroot was plucked fresh from my garden. A happy enough compromise, I thought!

Wendy, how funny - our winter I imagine is much like your spring and early summer. Lunch is a meal I never really give much thought to, though I will eat it all happily enough. I must thank Stephanie for the push in that direction.

Hi Pete - that is a great little salad. Thanks for the link.

Rosa, me too nowadays (working from home), but still, I never seem to make the effort required! A beach picnic - bloody good idea, that!

Simona, I wake up thinking about dinner...the mint was lit from behind in just the right way.

And the best thing Lisa is that it only uses one. I always seem to have one lurking around in the fridge (though this one was, I'm very proud to say, home grown).

Callipygia, it's quite hard to stop yourself from just doing a little extra work when you bring your own lunch. Unless of course you can eat outside in a quiet, calm space...not always possible in the city.

Ricki, I normally hate rice salads, nearly as much as I hate pasta salads. But this is rich and lucious. Reckon you'd like it.

Mari, dollop away I say. The bigger the better! Hope you like them - the anchovies and olives cut through that beetroot-sweetness very well.

Sophie, there's little worse than cold food, I think. In summer when it's 40 degrees C outside, that's when cold starts to look good, but not lunches and the like. Portable porridge, eh? Got a thermos?

Susan said...

I never had a microwave until I married a man who owned one. I am still not fond of it for a number of reasons, but it has recently been marginally redeemed for cooking up the most perfect rice. Can't resist that brown rice salad. I know what I will be having for lunch tomorrow, and the leftovers will "commute" to the dinner table in the evening with an omelet.

Cynthia said...

Lucy, you have me drooling for some of that rice salad.

Shaun said...

Lucy ~ Frig! That 'Lunch Question' gets to me, too. It is ridiculous that I'm left in a daily quandry, for as a foodie, I should have many ideas to call on, but I don't. I just cannot be bothered thinking of the next day's midday meal when I'm preparing dinner already after a day's work. There are, however, two staples that save the day: chickpeas (made into both hummus and hummas as well as a salad) and bulgur wheat (you can never go wrong with tabouleh or medium grain bulgur expanded by hot water for 20 minutes with ground spices). I love what you 'do' for lunch - the quinoa and beetroot salad is particularly salivating in our autumnal frame of mind.

Lucy said...

Susan, those flavours sing. The brown rice and pine nuts provide a lovely balance of nuttiness to the agredolce (sp?) of the currants, vinegar and golden onions. Makes me a happy girl.

Good-o Cynthia! Drool away!

Shaun, you are so right. I love thinking about food, reading and writing about the stuff, too, but lunch is given nowhere near the amount of attention that dinner receives! Now that I work from home you might imagine that I cook up a little something each midday...but nup. Always scratching around for ideas, I'd never given the meal the proper thought it deserved until now!

Wendy said...

Tried out the beetroot and quinoa recipe for lunch today and really liked it. And I'm not a quinoa or a beetroot fan at all! Plus my colleagues were very taken by the colour. Will definitely be trying it again.
Brown rice recipe will be tried later in the week.

Lucy said...

Wendy, I am very pleased. Very. Quite something to convert a non-quinoa lover with a vegetable they don't exactly love. I hear you on the beetroot front, but it's quite pretty here. Especially with all that other colour! Yay!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Lucy, just wanted to let you know that I made a version of your brown rice salad with red rice and a combo of slivered almonds and pine nuts, because my pine nut stock was low. LOVED IT! All my colleagues were impressed, and I shared your link with two who wanted to create the recipe as well.
I've got my labnah made and plan to go home tonite to make the beet and quinoa salad for the rest of the work week!
You rock!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Made the quinoa beet salad and LOVED it too! Will post the pix over at mine tomorrow!

Lucy said...

Mari, I'm thrilled - THRILLED! - that you've made and enjoyed them. Can't wait to see your photos of the beetroot and quinoa salad - it's quite pretty. Thanks, darls!