April 12, 2013
I’m not a fan of taking a “lunch break” when I’m at work. I much prefer to eat while I’m working and then go for a walk to clear my head, get some (somewhat) fresh air—I live in LA after all—and recharge my battery for the afternoon. Because of this, I almost always bring lunch from home. In this new “Lunchbox” series of posts, I’ll share with you all the recipes and tips I’ve compiled for creating healthful and easy lunches that hold up well and are packed with flavor.
I have very strict requirements for my work lunches that I almost always follow (rules are meant to be broken, of course!). First, the lunches can’t be messy. Try eating BBQ chicken while going through your emails: this is not conducive to productivity or cleanliness. Second, they have to be some combination of low-fat, low-carb, vegan or vegetarian. I’d rather save my indulgent meals for the weekend when I can enjoy them. Third, most of the prep work has to be done on Monday when I do my cooking for the week.
Lastly, and most importantly, my work lunches have to be full of fiber. This is a trick I’ve discovered after years of experimentation. Grain- and/or protein-centric meals do not keep me full for the day. If I eat a turkey sandwich, I’ll be hungry an hour later. So instead, I generally eat salads. That may sound counterintuitive, but the right kind of salad can fill you up without making you feel groggy or adding on extra calories.
Most people associate salad with health or diet food because it is generally marketed as such. But this assumption is counterproductive, wishful thinking. Fried chicken and blue cheese dressing, which consists mainly of mayonnaise and sour cream, do not magically lose their fat content when added to a bowl of lettuce. So next time you’re at Applebee’s, don’t order the Fried Chicken Salad that contains 1,090 calories, or more than half your recommended daily intake, and then get the Blue Ribbon Brownie (1600 calories) for dessert to reward yourself for your healthful dinner choice!
Obviously, not all salads are created equal. Most of them are healthful alternatives to their counterparts in the burger or sandwich section of a restaurant menu. And making your lunch salad at home enables you to control how much fat goes into the dressing, which is generally the biggest offender in unhealthful salads.
My favorite lunch salad—the one I frequently crave and don’t ever seem to tire of—is a vegan “Greek” salad (recipe forthcoming). I put the word “Greek” in quotations because, being vegan, it’s missing an essential ingredient of a traditional Greek salad, i.e. the feta cheese. Luckily, baked tofu is a good stand-in for the cheese. Instead of plain red wine vinaigrette, I dress the salad with a creamy tahini dressing. The combination of the silky, nutty dressing, briny olives, tangy tomatoes, smoky eggplant, and soft tofu is divine. Cucumbers contribute a necessary crunch.
This week’s salad, the vegetarian “Nicoise” salad, is my second favorite lunch. As with the Greek salad, it’s not quite a Nicoise because it does not contain tuna—I use artichokes instead. But it’s a Nicoise in spirit and possibly the most healthful dish I’ve ever eaten. None of the ingredients are baked or fried, so it’s light and vibrant, and the lemon vinaigrette is incredibly refreshing. At the risk of sounding cliché, this salad is sunshine in a bowl. Whenever I eat it I am transported to a picnic in Central Park on the first warm day of spring—although in my daydream I am holding a glass of chilled white wine, not a memo from HR.
For a slightly more traditional Nicoise salad, add tuna and/or cold or room temperature cooked potatoes (sliced or cubed). I would recommend boiling the cut potatoes and tossing them with a little of the vinaigrette while they are hot so they absorb the flavors of the dressing. The only reason I don’t add potatoes is that there’s already so many ingredients!
I hope this new “Lunchbox” series will provide useful tips and food for thought to all the other 9-5 working professionals out there.
Vegetarian "Nicoise" Salad
Arrange all ingredients on a plate and serve the dressing on the side, or toss everything except the eggs with the dressing and lay the eggs on top.
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl, or add to a jar and shake to combine.