Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Lunchbox Luxury

For the frugal, spending money on a sandwich or salad at lunchtime is just a waste. Get a lunchbox, and devote a few minutes to making your own lunch, and you can save £20-25 a week.

Now of course this could be a very bad idea indeed. One of my friends used to bring the same tuna mayo sandwich to the office every day. I would have got very bored with that very quickly. But there are lots of much nicer things you can do that don't take a cordon bleu cookery course or a degree in food engineering to rustle up.

  • bulghur wheat and couscous are useful standbys - try tabbouleh, which is bulghur with the addition of fresh mint, garlic, and spring onions, and then add some roasted vegetables or perhaps some dried fruit for interest. Get the spicing right as bulghur and couscous are rather boring on their own.
  • make your own coleslaw, using red cabbage, and add raisins, perhaps some sliced apple, maybe some nuts. You can use mayo or a vinaigrette to bind it.
  • Mixed salads are great for the office - I like a Greek-derived one with lettuce, black olives, tomatoes and feta cheese. Getting textures right is important - here, the olives add some crunchiness. And tastewise, the feta adds cream and saltiness, while the olives add a little sour note to offset the sweetness of the tomatoes.
  • If you want croutons, keep them in a separate container till lunchtime and then tip them out on the salad - they will keep crunchy then and not go soggy.
  • Pasta salads are easy to make. For something a bit different try noodles with sesame seeds and sesame oil, and add spring onions, Chinese leaf and pickled ginger or pepper.
  • Roast veg like sweet potato, red onions and pumpkin can be very tasty. Add cumin to get the right earthy flavours and put a little dressing beside the veg - I like yoghurt with a tiny amount of mango chutney stirred in.
  • It's winter. You want something hot. Your office doesn't have a microwave. Fear not - get a thermos flask. Best, get one of the wide-neck ones that lets you put chunky veg in your soup without blocking the flask. Make yourself a stew with lots of veg - carrots, parsnips, onion, potatoes, green beans - or a minestrone - lots of green veg - or my favourite, mulligatawny soup. Mulligatawny is basically a curry in soup form - start by slicing onions, and sauteing them gently with garlic and ginger, then add curry powder, then add carrots, sultanas, dried peaches or apricots, green beans, potatoes, aubergine, or whatever other veg and fruit you fancy, and when you've stirred them all round for a minute in the pan,
  • add water and coconut cream. Delicious and filling. Experiment to find your own best mixes - I did a nice one with apples, lemon juice, and extra cloves.
  • Stuff things into pitta bread. You could make your own kebab; smear the pitta with hummus for a different taste, or add your own yoghurt-garlic sauce (your colleagues may not be too pleased though). Fill a pitta with roasted veg, or salad. Stuff leftovers from your evening meal into a pitta if you're feeling lazy.
And I still haven't mentioned anything resembling a sandwich!

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