I am always looking for the perfect lunchbox solution. As someone who is both greedy and stingy, I hate spending a fiver a day on something tasteless and stodgy from the canteen, or overpriced and unhealthy from a shop. Add to that the fact that I work in an area bereft of good lunchtime food options (a tourist hot dog stand doesn't count), and that means that I end up bringing a lunchbox several days a week.
Now leftover dinners are the classic, unimprovable lunch, especially during winter. But the other downside of being greedy is that we often eat all our dinners in the evening and there's nothing left for lunch. That's when I have to get creative, and that's when I start making something specifically designed to ease lunchtime tummy-rumblings and power me through the afternoon.
My criteria are simple but, as it turns out, surprisingly restrictive. I've found that anything too carbilicious in the middle of the day (pasta, jacket potato, baguette) may be delicious but leads inexorably to massive 2.30pm yawning sessions and such killer mid-afternoon blood sugar dips that I have to go to the loo and slap my own face in an effort to wake up. So, carbs are out.
I like to have something healthy because, let's face it, it's more fun to have something greedy in the evening than in the middle of the workday while you're running errands or worse, eating al desko. I also tend to get hungry quickly so protein is essential in getting me through the afternoon without emergency trips to the canteen. And, of course, I want something that tastes good enough that the prospect will get me through a dull morning, and the memory will help through the dead hours of an afternoon.
The smoked mackerel pate is a frequent choice, or maybe a cold omelette, a salad made with left-over roasted squash and some blue cheese, or a makeshift nicoise with tuna, sundried tomatoes, capers and a boiled egg. In an effort to expand my repertoire, though, I found this recipe on the beautiful Smitten Kitchen site and as it ticks most of my list (healthy! protein! No carb!), I thought I'd give it a whirl.
I was not wrong. This is really tasty, fresh and zingy and satisfyingly solid-tasting from the chick peas, while the flavours are strong enough that you forget you're just eating a salad. At work I used it to augment a cup of soup from the canteen, while at home I did the classic protein-no-carb-bonanza and stuck an egg on top. This would also make a great part of a casual weekend lunch alongside some crusty bread, a quiche and a green salad. Ah the weekend - when afternoon naps are not just allowed, they're positively encouraged.
Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Salad
From Smitten Kitchen
Makes 2 big lunches, or serves 4 as a side dish
- 2 red peppers (mine were quite small and I think 3 would have been better)
- 1 tin of cooked chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoonful of capers (she says to rinse them, I didn't bother)
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed (I felt this was a bit much - add half the clove, taste and see if you want more)
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tablespoonful of red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoonful of olive oil
- handful of chopped mint
- handful of chopped parsley
Roast your red peppers by putting them whole in the oven for about an hour, turning every twenty minutes, until blackened all over. Set aside in a bowl and cover it with clingfilm (the condensation will make it easier to peel them). Once the peppers have cooled, peel and de-seed them then cut into strips.
Mix together the vinegar, oil, garlic and salt and pepper in a bowl, then add everything else and toss together. This lasts for a few days and, if anything, gets better as the flavours merge together. If you're taking it to work in a lunchbox, just pop in a toothbrush so you don't garlic your colleagues to death during the afternoon.