Food envy is a funny old thing. Being a greedy person I suffer badly. Eating out poses a real dilemma. I constantly look around surveying what everyone else is eating, torn between choosing the familiar or going for the wild card. Living our half life between London and the country I am constantly reminded of how very spoilt I am in town as to the abundance, choice and sheer availability of produce. Naively I assume that everything I pick up in London is available elsewhere, when actually seemingly, it is not. At least you think it is not, but scratch the surface a little and surprisingly it can be found. Take blood oranges, those delicious specimens from Sicily and Spain, stained that wicked crimson red, are now on sale by the box load at our local farm shop, Cobbs. The Lambourn Co-op no less, has some of the best croissants in the country, opposite, the butcher, the cheeky N.J.Richards, sells smoked fish from the Severn & Wye Smokery – it’s pretty impressive, so really no excuse. But, I digress, the point of this post is actually about giving people food envy, not food shopping envy, and its origins are with my wine expert sister who put a request in for interesting ‘packed lunch’ ideas, blow me down, the glamour!!
‘Packed lunches’ I hear you baulk. I know the mere word turns most people cold, but the point of this post is that there can be, and should be much more portable food, that can be put together at home, taken to work, eaten, enjoyed and possibly even have created a little food envy on the way! What’s more packed lunches in many ways are not that indifferent to the lunches I consume each day. In my case there is a need for speed, particularly when the ‘little people’ demand food. The nursery variety rarely appeals to me, hence a whistle stop creation has to be on the table fast so I can join the feeding frenzy. So, lets’ face it, no one is going to spend hours laboring over this, it is all about combinations that work and availability, old mothers cupboard and all! The end result has to ‘pack punches’, otherwise frankly why bother? Requirement number 1 is therefore preparation time, or possibly lack of it, so be practical, what can be cooked in advance, what can be used again, reincarnated, transformed. The lunch needs to be some, or possibly all, of the following; colorful, zesty, crunchy, interesting, healthy, nutritious and most importantly fresh! Soups are a winner at this time of year, and left over stews, tagines, hotpots speedily blasted in a microwave can transform the plainest of couscous. Lastly it needs to be portable; delicate, wilting salads are just not practical.
Lunch is often an opportunity to eat the things you would not otherwise eat with your dearly beloved, flat mates, parents, or children later in the day. That for me takes in orzo, lentils, quinoa, couscous, wild rice and a host of others. Woo hoo – carte blanche to create what I really want to eat as opposed to someone else. So with that in mind I started penning down some ideas for the ‘packed lunch’ brigade, as to some different and interesting new takes on what could work. I think rules need to be adhered to, a well stocked store cupboard is essential, and a fridge with a few important treats very helpful. Most of the ideas I have noted need to be put together the morning of, but certain ingredients can be prepared in advance, such as cooking lentils, orzo, rice, couscous the day before. I think confidence is key, play around and you may develop your own ‘packed lunch’ phenomenon, my favorites are listed below and can be translated either into a bowl for lunch at home or neatly tucked into a box to take to work. Always make use of left over vegetables from the night before, surprisingly the right combination can be transformed into a hearty soup or salad with a little ingenuity. Lastly a good ‘lunch box’ is key, reams of cling film around a nasty old tupperware is never going to do the trick, I use all sorts of vessels particularly kilner jars – after all, presentation speaks volumes! Play around, enjoy, become a food alchemist, sometimes the oddest combinations work!
Puy lentil, blood orange, fresh goats cheese and watercress
Orzo with chilli brocolli, anchovies and a herb salsa
Roasted root vegetables with Harissa and feta on fat couscous
Orzo with pea and mint puree with toasted pinenuts and shaved parmesan
Maple roasted butternut with bulghar wheat, pomegranate, spring onions, rocket, tahini and yoghurt
Quinoa with diced pear, toasted hazelnuts, blue cheese and spring onions and shaved fennel
A list of essentials to tart up the lunch box:
Hubbards Cupboard; Chickpeas, fregola (Sardinian couscous), orzo (baby pasta), bulghar wheat, quinoa, wild rice, giant couscous, red lentil, puy lentils, butter beans
Movers and shakers; Good olive oil, Maldon salt, black pepper, tahini, tomato and chilli jam, sweet chilli sauce, Harissa, walnuts, hazelnuts, pinenuts, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, red and white wine vinegar
Fridge fillers; natural yogurt, capers, feta, goats cheese, blue cheese, fresh parmesan, fresh anchovies, salted anchovies, pitted olives, fresh herbs, slow roasted tomatoes in oil, fresh herbs and salad leaves