Introduction

Introduction

By
Bec Dickinson
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
978-1-78488-095-8
Photographer
Bec Dickinson

Lunch is at the heart of our days. The mid-work sanctuary, where we find a well-justified moment of rest, recuperation, and most importantly, a chance to dig into little boxes of daily fuel.

There’s no underestimating the power of a delicious, impending lunch. It works as a propeller to push us through the morning yawn and cups of tea, onto our well-deserved and highly anticipated meal. Long gone are the days of the soggy cheese whitebread sandwiches that donned the squashed imprints of the insides of our bag. Lunch envy has become a true reality, and the pain of being the onlooker (smeller… and scavenger) of another’s carefully packed food is enough to send us back to the kitchen and dreaming of a better meal… as we stab the dry salad we bought at the local supermarket.

We are always told not to skip breakfast, but at some point lunch has become a fallback for which we rely on the sandwich shops or the questionable two-minute mac ’n’ cheese.

But no longer! It’s time to reclaim our lunch break. Let’s provide ourselves with something to look forward to, and brighten our days right when we need it most, with meals that are fresh and sustaining and will nourish you from the inside out.

This book has got something to suit a varying range of time contraints, budgets and tastes. It’s all about bringing back the packed lunch, but this time, in a more celebrated form. Most recipes can be adapted to suit what’s available at hand, and while some methods do require a little bit more time than a ready-made salad or soup from your local deli, your energy levels, tastebuds, and hungry work colleagues will thank you for it.

Planning ahead

One of the key components to lock in a successful week of packed lunches is preparing ahead. Whilst this may sound like a tedious task that only the heavily organised partake in, once you get into a routine, it’s easy!

Weekly menu

To save a night-before rush, use the therapeutic minutes of the weekend to flick through these pages and mark anything that jumps out at you. Write a list and note the recipes that make multiple servings so you can roll them over into a few days of lunches. Is there anything you’ve previously frozen ahead? It’s time to utilise all your freezer ammunition, and use up any sad-looking vegetables. Find a recipe to slot them into and hail this chance to get creative with your cooking.

Knowing the weather forecast for the week will not only ensure you have an umbrella at dire times, but also help you anticipate what food you’ll be in the mood for, as nothing is quite as disorientating as a hot soup on a sweltering day. Your planning can even take into account the weeks to come with frozen meals. Have some Red Lentil, Squash & Coconut Dhal for lunch one day, and freeze ahead for the next month. This planning may even soon become your favourite way to spend your Sunday afternoons… you’ve been warned.

Shopping lists

Once you’ve written out the lunch meals for the week, to save on money and waste, consult the fridge and pantry first. The majority of grains in the book can be substituted for whatever alternative you have available, and starchy vegetables and leafy greens are usually interchangeable. A list will help you stay on track in the supermarket, and avoid any impulse buys. As a bonus, you’ll also save on multiple trips to the shops, meaning more time in the kitchen! Add any ‘must-purchase’ staples that have been used up to your list, so you’re already one step closer to preparing your next meal with ease.

Making extra

Being ahead of the lunch bandwagon can be as simple as making a little extra at mealtimes to ensure ease when putting your lunch together. This can be cooking extra vegetables for your Sunday roast (perfect for the Homemade Bento Box on page 68) or quickly simmering some grains on the hob, which freeze perfectly and are ready to go after defrosting in the microwave or in the fridge overnight.

Never underestimate these small advancements; your Monday self will thank you for it when lunch is effortlessly placed into a container, ready to go. During the preparation for the week ahead, make sure you allow a little time to make your afternoon snacks. The Matcha, Almond & Raspberry Bliss Balls, are simply blitzed and can sit in the fridge awaiting a trip to work – unless you eat them all beforehand (no judgment).

The staples

Having a key set of ingredients ready to go in your kitchen and your desk drawer is the full set of ammo you will need to make you the master of successful lunches. In this book, there is a chapter dedicated to maintaining staples and using those cupboard odds and ends. While it may seem a bit of a drag to purchase something you won’t use immediately, it is the essence of investment cooking, and looking out for your future hungry self. Keep an eye on when to refill your ingredient stock and always doublecheck before shopping (being caught without lemons is a scary reality). Once you’re in the ‘staples sync’, you’ll build up a prized range of ingredients at your disposal.

While we all have a slightly different array of must-have ingredients in our own kitchens, here’s a helpful list to inspire a range of staples to suit a variety of lunches. Once stored in your kitchen, you won’t know how you cooked without them.

Cupboard

bread (pita, rye, soda, wholewheat)

dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

dried fruit (apricots, dates, sultanas)

flour (buckwheat, plain, wholewheat)

nut selection (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts)

rolled oats

seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, pine nuts)

Tinned

black beans

cannellini beans

chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

sardines

sweetcorn

tomatoes

tuna

Jarred

clear honey

miso paste

mustard

nut butter

olives

passata

peppers

pesto

sun-dried tomatoes (in oil)

tahini

tomato puree (paste)

Grains & pasta

barley

buckwheat

bulgur wheat

couscous

fresh and dried lentils (green, red)

pasta (regular, spelt, wholewheat)

quinoa

rice (basmati, brown, wild)

Dried herbs & spices

bay leaves

black peppercorns

cayenne pepper

chilli flakes

cumin seeds

dukkah

garam masala

ground cinnamon

ground nutmeg

ground turmeric

harrissa paste

medium curry powder

oregano

paprika (smoked, sweet)

rosemary

sea salt

sumac

thyme

za'tar

Fruit, vegetables & greens

apples

avocados

bananas

carrots

cauliflower

chillies

garlic

ginger

leafy greens (kale, rocket, spinach)

lemons

limes

mushrooms

onions (brown, red)

pears

peppers (bell peppers)

potatoes (normal, sweet)

tomatoes

Freezer

bacon or pancetta

mixed berries

overripe bananas (peeled and chopped)

pastry (filo, puff, shortcrust)

pre-made soups

sliced bread

stock (chicken, meat, vegetable)

Fridge

butter (salted, unsalted)

cheese (Cheddar, cottage cheese, feta, Parmesan)

eggs

fresh herbs (basil, coriander/cilantro, parsley, mint)

Greek or natural yoghurt

milk

Oils, vinegar & sauces

apple cider vinegar balsamic vinegar

olive oil

rice vinegar

sesame oil

sherry vinegar

soy sauce

Tabasco sauce

wine vinegar (red, white)

Worcestershire sauce

Desk drawer essentials

Your secret weapon to achieving ultimate lunch envy from your colleagues, is to have a desk drawer ‘pantry’ filled with a few special ingredients to spruce up your lunches and transform any old meal into something that tickles all your tastebuds.

Fill a small jar with simple and versatile dressings and olive oil – to save on a potential daily spill on the way to work – perfect to top your salads, bento boxes or to pour over your pasta.

Dried herbs are instant flavour boosters. Toss oregano, dukkah, chilli flakes and thyme into your lunch, or add them to your dressings to customise them to suit your meal.

Nuts and nut butter are ideal to sprinkle over your meal, or to simply snack on when milky tea won’t do the trick. Salted peanuts, almonds, pine nuts and cashews are perfectly versatile. Smear almond or peanut butter on a banana (topped with your carefully stored mixed seeds) to make a perfect mid-morning snack.

Use plates and bowls to add to the lunch experience, instead of hunching over a small lunch box or tupperware. This will add a little class to your restful midday break.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper – never underestimate the power of seasoning.

A seed mix of lightly toasted pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds will add the perfect crunch to any salad.

Essential equipment

You won’t need any specialist equipment to make lots of lovely lunches; a few basics will have you on your way.

Here are the tools that I use the most to help save time and prepare a wide range of dishes. Lunchtime preparation will never be dull again.

Food processor

The quickest shortcut to grating and blitzing with speed. Pesto, hummus, cauliflower rice, grated carrot, all done in seconds. This appliance will never get dusty.

Hand-held electric blender

Save on washing-up and blend soup straight in the pan. Also great for whizzing up smoothies and beating eggs. Not to mention, quite fun to use.

Non-stick frying pan

With a large surface area, it’s perfect for sauteeing vegetables such as mushrooms, cooking sauces, crisping up fritters and lots more. A good-quality non-stick frying pan will last for ages and give healthier results (less oil required) – making it well worth the investment.

Microplane grater

You’ll wonder how you ever got by without this. Perfect to grate garlic, so it’s minced in seconds, quickly create fine citrus zest, and help you achieve the fluffiest grated Parmesan ever.

Vegetable peeler

Not just for potatoes. I use mine mostly for ribboning courgettes and carrots, to get a fine, delicate texture that will also cut down cooking time. Not to mention, such daintily cut vegetables make for a killer finish for your salads.

Sealed glass jars

Glass jars are the perfect storage tool for your fridge and cupboards and to keep garnishes fresh. Use to store homemade pestos, sauces and dressings. For another use, whip them out for your Lunch in a Jar.

Lunch containers

The satisfaction of making your lunch from scratch at home should never be tainted by it getting destroyed amongst the hustle and bustle on the trek to work. The special cargo needs the right containers and packaging to safely transport from a to b.

Flat-lidded airtight boxes

Never ruin a carefully crafted meal by lying it on its side. Invest in a goodquality airtight, lidded lunch box (microwave-proof if you are going to reheat your lunch) that can lie flat in the bottom of your bag, so it can sleep tight on the commute. Also keep your eye out for a multi-compartment box, which will prevent the dreaded sogginess, and leave final assembly to the work desk or kitchen.

Food flask

In the emergency situation of no available microwave, or simply a willingness to drink straight from the container, a food flask will be your best friend. A good-quality flask should keep your food hot for almost a full workday. The key is to preheat it – simply fill with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes, empty it and then add your lunch. Want a hot lunch at 3.30 p.m.? No problem!

Stacked stainless steel

For the more stylish luncher, you can compartmentalise all the different components, including your afternoon snack, and garnishes. Stainless steel is also chemical-free and won’t affect or retain any of the flavours of the meal. Perfect for al fresco lunches, too.

A note on freezing

Your lunch has just been lovingly made, now the last thing you want to do is ruin your ‘ready-made’ meal excitement by losing it in the depths of the freezer.

First things first – preparing your lunch for the freezer. This is the simple task of portioning out your meal into sealable containers or cutting your frittata into wedges (rather then coming to the sad realisation that you have to cut it once it is frozen… not easy). If you have a small freezer, swap out containers for bags and lay them flat, so they freeze in perfect portion sizes ready to go.

Next up is labelling. All you need is a permanent marker to quickly jot down the date and what meal it is you’ve made. There’s no time for any surprise frozen tomato sauce when in fact you were expecting the Smoky Paprika Baked Beans. The date is important for simply eating what has been in the freezer longest and to tell you how old the meal is.

When it comes to defrosting, to make sure your lunch is safe to eat, take your chosen meal out of the freezer and leave in the fridge overnight to defrost. Then when you arrive at lunchtime, reheat it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, stirring halfway, until piping hot. Alternatively, if you have a stove available, it is perfect for reheating certain meals such as soup.

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