There's no rule that says that brown-bag lunches, even eaten hurriedly at your desk, should be boring -- as in two slices of bread slapped together with predictable fillings like a dollop of tuna or egg salad, or a couple of slices of turkey.
Instead, envision leftovers. There's no need to push what was a tasty dish to the back of the fridge only to be resurrected weeks later and tossed out. Supper leftovers can be transformed into great packed lunches. You'll save time and energy while creating a meal packed with zesty flavors -- a sure energizer to get through the afternoon shift.
But first, a few tips to make certain that your lunch remains as fresh and tasty as when it was packed the night before.
· If you don't have access to a refrigerator, then select recipes that will keep at room temperature. A green salad will wilt, even when the dressing is packed separately. Instead, choose items like grilled vegetables, dill pickles, or sliced carrots and cucumbers.
· Choose a lunch container that holds foods snugly, without moving about, so that nothing gets crushed.
· Salad dressings should be poured into a plastic container or a small plastic bag. If you use a ziplock, just snip off the end to drizzle dressing over greens.
· Keep a set of flatware to use in lunch boxes. It's no trouble to wash and reuse them, instead of having to throw away plastic.
· Freeze a juice pouch or water bottle the night before. Pack in an insulated lunch box, and the whole meal will stay cool.
Below are four supper dishes that make enough to use for next-day lunches.
A one-pot dish that will make a delicious lunch salad. Basmati rice is long-grained with a perfumed, nutty flavor. It's aged so that the moisture content is decreased.
11/4 cups basmati rice
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 small Granny Smith apple, cored and diced
1/3 cup raisins
31/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 Tbsps. snipped coriander
Soak rice in warm water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain well.
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken, curry powder and cinnamon.
Cook, stirring often, until the meat is opaque.
Add the rice, apple, raisins and chicken stock. Cover tightly and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring several times.
Reduce heat to a simmer.
Cook 15 minutes more, or until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is chewy-tender.
Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with coriander.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 506; protein, 51 g; carbohydrates, 52 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 110 mg; sodium, 176 mg.
Next-Day Lunch -- Chicken, Rice and Black-Bean Salad: Mix leftovers with rinsed, canned black beans and enough mayonnaise to barely moisten. Place in a tight-lidded plastic container with sliced-up cucumbers.
1 lb. medium noodles
4 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large red or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 large green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup prepared pesto
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
11/2 tsps. minced garlic
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain well and place in a large bowl.
While the noodles are cooking, heat oil over medium heat.
Add the bell pepper and onions, cooking until the onions are just beginning to wilt.
Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with sugar and turn the heat to high.
Cook until the tomato skins are beginning to blister, about 2 minutes.
Add the tomato mixture, pesto, lemon juice and garlic to the cooked noodles. Toss to mix.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 482; protein, 14 g; carbohydrates, 60 g; fat, 21 g; cholesterol, 7 mg; sodium, 167 mg.
Next-Day Lunch -- A faux "Seafood Salad": 1 cup leftover Tomato-Pesto Pasta. Add 1/2 cup flaked canned or cooked salmon and 2 sardines, cut in thick slices. Toss with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of horseradish sauce. Pack into a container with a few arugula leaves around.
Sticky Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables
1 lb. flank steak, thinly sliced
1/2 cup (scant) beer (may be flat)
3 Tbsps. light teriyaki sauce
3 Tbsps. dark-brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. freshly ground pepper
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut in thick slices
1 large sweet onion, thickly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey, warmed
Place the flank steak, beer, teriyaki sauce, sugar and pepper in a ziplock bag. Press the air out and seal. Shake to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
In a separate bag, place the peppers, onion, 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar and honey. As above, press the air out and seal. Shake to combine.
In a large, deep, nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the flank-steak mixture. Stir-fry until the pinkness has almost disappeared.
Raise heat to high. Add the vegetable mixture and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Serve hot on a platter. Accompany with warm breads.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 424; protein, 32 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; fat, 25 g; cholesterol, 76 mg; sodium, 340 mg.
Next-Day Lunch -- Beef-Filled Tortillas: Place about 11/2 cups leftover beef and vegetables in the food processor. Process until coarsely ground. Spread a medium flour tortilla with hoisin sauce and then with the ground-beef mixture. Top with thinly sliced cucumbers and shredded watercress or spinach. Roll up as for a wrap.
1 package (10 oz.) frozen spinach, thawed
3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
10 frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (about half of a 10 oz. package)
1/2 cup grated pepper-jack cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
Squeeze all the liquid from spinach and set aside.
Heat oil in a large, ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.
Add the potatoes and onion, and cook until potatoes are soft. Stir in the artichokes. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs, cheese and salt. Pour over the vegetables.
Cook over medium heat, stirring often until almost set.
Place under a preheated broiler until top is dry and set, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn onto a warm platter to serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 272; protein, 14 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 18 g; cholesterol, 299 mg; sodium, 194 mg.
Next-Day Lunch -- Frittata- Stuffed Rolls: Spread ciabatta rolls with mustard, fill with leftover frittata, and top with black olives and sliced tomatoes.
Ethel G. Hofman, the author of Mackerel at Midnight, is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.