Lunch Staples.

lunch-colorMichael Ruhlman offers his: A frankly problematic looking peanut butter and raw cabbage sandwich. Turns out the secret to gorgeous writing is cruciferous in nature. But that’s not going to work for me. So I turn to you, IFAers. I need a lunch staple. I sort of hate to admit the following, but I’ll tell you. I know you’ll understand, or at least try to: I buy my lunch. $10 for a sandwich I don’t enjoy and could easily outdo at home. Worse, I try not to eat meat during the day, so I’m stuck with the absurd mark-up on poor vegetarian options in DC’s downtown.Why yes, Cosi, I’d love another T.B.M. (Hot tip! Stay away from Cosi’s T.B.M. Au Bon Pain’s Caprese is a far superior sandwich.)

I need change. I’m looking for hope. Leftovers are great when I have them, but since I often don’t, I need some lunchbox ideas. Meatless. The best I’ve come up with so far came from a comment at Ruhlman’s place. Good, whole grain bread. A half avocado. Pickled red onions. Olive oil. Maybe some feta. Maybe some arugula. I’m going to try that. But I need a repertoire. I need options. And I know you, the people of the IFA, will provide. I know you can bring change to my midday meal. I trust you. And with good reason. In the unlikely story that is the IFA, there has never been anything false about hope.


23 responses to “Lunch Staples.

  1. I have a cold salad I sometimes make and eat on all week.

    One can each of quartered artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, and garbanzo beans – drained (rinse the beans if you’re so inclined).

    Feta cheese

    A handful of kalamata olives coarsely chopped

    Salt & pepper

    Lots of a simple red wine vinaigrette

    I usually add in a can of tuna as well, but you wouldn’t have to if you wanted to keep it vegetarian. I also sometimes add in chopped pickled vegetables if I have any on hand.

    The nice thing is this salad gets better over the course of the week as everything sort of marinates together!

  2. How wedded are you to the idea of a sandwich? Because if you’re open to other options, and especially if you have access to a microwave, I strongly recommend beans and rice with tortillas and the appropriate toppings, quinoa (either in salad form or warm with cheese and veggies), chili and soups, frittatas, vegetable and tofu curry or stir fry with rice, pasta salad with cheese and veggies (I like to make pesto in the summer and freeze it in ice cube trays so it’s easy to use in the winter), and basically anything else that’s delicious for dinner. I make a great Midwesternized version of enchiladas with bean and cheese and/or vegetable filling that heats up amazingly the next few days for lunch. I usually cook up a big batch of a couple options and rotate through them for my lunches.

    If you’re really into the idea of a sandwich though, I’m less helpful. Although I really enjoy hummus, veggies, and a nice cheese in a pita (sometimes it’s easier to pack the parts and then construct the sandwich right before eating if you find that the pita gets soggy). Or, there are wraps — put whatever you want on a tortilla or flatbread, roll it up, wrap it up in parchment paper and enjoy later.

    I’ll try to think of more things, but these are some of my favorites after years of vegetarian packed lunches and dinners at campus and the archives. Also, a search for “bento” might turn up some interesting options.

  3. Right now I am very into Crispin apples from the farmer’s market, crackers, and aged cheddar (try to find the “Special Buy” 3-year aged at Trader Joe’s). You can buy a bunch of apples at once and leave them in the fridge at work, and it’s really good!

  4. 1. Peanut butter and a good jam or preserves on hearty bread. Seriously. It’s delicious.

    2. Why aren’t you making enough to have leftovers more often?

    3. Just crusty bread + cheese can also be great.

  5. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am very intrigued by the recipe that Deb posted recently for a smashed chickpea salad sandwich:

    If you have access to a microwave or boiling water at work, I also like the Thai noodle soups that they sell at Trader Joe’s. They are $.99/each and make a great lunch on a cold day–my favorite flavor is the spring onion. I usually try to have a few stashed in my desk for those days that I’m too rushed or lazy to make something from scratch.

  6. Some Persian suggestions that are simple and can vary with season. Start with almost any toasted bread of choice (I usually go with pita) and feta cheese (I prefer Bulgarian). Add one of the following depending on availability/season/mood:
    tomatoes and cucumbers; chopped walnuts and/or pistachios; grapes (on the side); chopped herbs (basil, green onions, chives, tarragon); cantaloupe and watermelon fruit salad.

  7. When I get the chance, I love a good hummus sandwich. Toast some good bread, spread homemade hummus (I like the Cooks Illustrated recipe), add a slice of cheese, and top with some roasted red peppers from a jar. Bring along an orange or an apple as well and it tides me over to the after-school snack.

    One batch of hummus and a jar of peppers lasts about a week for me.

  8. Suggestion 1–leftovers.

    Suggestions 2–beans on bread. I like baked beans on buttered brown bread, but my staple is curried lentils on whatever-bread-is-around.

    Curried Lentils:
    2 cups red lentils
    2 cloves garlic, smashed
    2 bay leaves
    1 thumb-sized piece ginger
    1 tsp cayenne
    1 tsp tumeric
    Cook until lentils are soft, and add:
    2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp coriander
    1/8 tsp cloves
    1/8 tsp nutmeg
    1 can cocunut cream
    Bring back to a simmer, then turn off. Just before turning it off, add:
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    handful chopped cilantro
    Salt and cayenne to taste.

    It’s good on bread, cold, with sweet pickles. It’s good on rice, hot, with yogurt. It’s good all by itself.

  9. PhillyProf (Mrs Beyond Green)

    Here are some winter options:

    Toast crusty bread. Rub with garlic clove. Spread with goat cheese. Can be made ahead. Can be topped with arugula or something like that.

    Take chick peas (canned, or freeze your pressure-cooked chix. Takes 20 min, and SOOOO much better than canned), mix with canned tuna or sardines, greens, chopped red onion, cukes. Can also use feta instead of fish.

    Good bread and good cheese. I prefer runny cheese. Top with bitter greens. Not going to save you a lot of $$, but so tasty. An apple or orange on the side, maybe a square of chocolate, or a few olives.

    If you can still get good apples (NY State honey crisps are sort of flavorless, but at least still crisp) — sliced apple, cheddar or stilton or peanut butter, a hunk of bread or crackers.

    I do leftover dal with rice or naan quite often for lunch. Even at room temp it’s good. And if you don’t have leftovers because you’re ordering in a lot, you can order an extra portion to have for lunch over two days. Lots of Indian lentil dishes are good with fresh or frozen spinach and a little lemon juice added in.

    Ask again when the spring veggies start coming in…. a whole new array of options.

  10. PhillyProf (Mrs Beyond Green)

    Mark Bittman had a great full-page spread in the NYT last summer on quick picnic foods. Lots of ideas there:

  11. Maki over at Just Bento has tons of ideas for making a packed lunch a part of your life (including plenty of vegan recipes). My partner was pretty dubious at first, since he was of the “lunch is a sandwich” school. He also really likes having time to work out over lunch, and likes rice. So if he’s got a ready made lunch, he will eat it.

    I haven’t actually done any of the exact bentos she shows… but the ideas and logic for what size box, what to pack, and how? Invaluable!

  12. PhillyProf (Mrs Beyond Green)

    I second the Just Bento tip – great blog, great ideas. The companion blog, Just Hungry, is also terrific. Many of her recipes require a fair amount of ahead-of-time prep, but Onigiri are quick, easy, and very tasty. Inarizushi are also quick, but you have to have the tofu wrappers on hand, which I don’t always (I buy them frozen rather than canned).

  13. 1) Cream cheese and olive sandwich. I guess it’s kind of heavy, but I like it and once a week with a piece of fruit and a bag of chips or carrot sticks or whatever, it’s a good lunch for those of us who like lunches to approximate what we ate in third grade.

    2) Feta cheese, raw spinach, red onion on whole grain bread. You can dress the bread with a tiny bit of oil, oil and vinegar, mayo, or whatever you like.

    3) Mixing cottage cheese and blue cheese makes a good sandwich spread. Then you can add whatever sandwich veggies you like and put it on any kind of bread.

    4) Soft tofu makes an excellent base for a non-dairy sandwich spread. Add curry powder, chives, chiles, scallions, chopped olives, or anything else you like. Add to a sandwich with arugula or something else, and it’s good and healthy.

    5) Egg salad.

  14. From

    “the #6 Banh Mi Chay, a/k/a the “Buddhist” ($3.95). As with the #5, it arrives in standard banh mi form… save one thing: nary a whiff of pork in sight. Most veggie banh mi use some form of gluten, but BMSB has developed a sandwich filled to the gills with something different: a non-meat stir fry dominated by tofu and mushrooms.

    The result is surprisingly good. The saltiness of the sauce pairs nicely with the neutral bean curd and sweet pickled daikon and carrots, while the veggie variety provides non-stop excitement: chewey tofu skin yields to fresh tofu chunks, which give way to glass noodles and shredded cabbage, multiple types of mushrooms, and (here was the kicker) whole thumb-sized quail eggs whose creamy yolks burst upon first bite.”

  15. I’m big on leftovers, but when I don’t have any I like tortillas with any sort of bean, maybe some cheese, avocado, tomatoes, onions, or any combination of the above is good. I usually put the beans in one little tupperware and the veggies in another one, then assemble at my desk.

  16. Make quinoa in the rice cooker, then add some beans, chopped onion, pepper, brocolli, whatever. Season with whatever you have – lime, sundried tomatoes in oil, or simple olive oil with salt and pepper. Make a large batch and it’ll last you until you’re sick of it.

  17. I had the best sandwich recently and I am going to share it with you. Ready?

    Sliced avocado, kale, and kimchi drizzled with hemp oil on an everything bagel. BAM! (Bagel MUST be everything – or at the very least, salt.) I like this for the nutritional punch that it so deliciously packs.

    I would also recommend just an avocado, a lime, s/p, and crusty bread. Slice avocado, dress, and scoop out of skin using bread. Facile comme gateau. Requires minimal utensilage.

    Also I would echo what a lot of other people have told you – just make a large quantity of bean or quinoa salad at the beginning of the week and tap it until you’ve exhausted the supply.

  18. 1. peanut butter and honey on rice cakes. Crunchy, sweet and protein-laden.

    2. Orzo, feta, basil and red bell pepper salad. Toss with oil and vinegar.

  19. I know it sounds nasty, but I’ve found Dhal freezes pretty well, so I make a batch about one a month and freeze lunch-sized portions. Definitely not an everyday thing, but it’s great for the days when I can’t be bothered making my lunch in the morning and don’t want to buy anything. And everyone always comments on how good it smells.

  20. Falafel’s easy.

    Diced extra firm tofu in a quick stir fry with mushrooms and onions. In pita bread.

    Half a can of refried beans rolled up in a whole grain tortilla with a big scoop of Pico de Gallo and some dice chillis. Got with cheese if’n y’want.

    Tuna. C’mon that shit rocks if you hook it up with whole grain mustard, a drizzle of cole slaw dressing, diced onions, celery, carrots, hard boiled egg and sweet pickle relish. Roll it up in that rockin whole grain tortilla and you’re good to go. You can make extra chicken and make a chicken salad out of the same crap.

    Sliced turkey and black pepper on whole grain cibatta. Yum.

    Tofu, beans, peanut butter, tuna, lots of good ideas you can just set up and fuck around with.

    It’s all good….


  21. I’m a vegetarian, and I have to pack a lunch every day. I tend to make a big pot of something (lentil stew, spicy beans, eggplant curry) on Sunday and package it in small tupperwares, ready to be thrown in the lunch sack with two pieces of fruit, a granola bar, and something crunchy (usually carrots). I miss when my housemate was also packing lunches. Then I’d make something Sunday and she’d make something on Tuesday or Wednesday to mix it up. Pro tip: don’t pack rice unless it’s a fried rice that’s mostly other stuff. It sweats in weird ways in the fridge and ends up tasting like ass. If I’m really sick of whatever I’ve been making, a really good pb&j (substantial bread, homemade jams, crunchy peanut butter) is way more awesome than you would think. The key thing for me is to have snacky bits and to make sure to eat breakfast. I’m a school teacher, so I need my energy.


    skip all the stuff that’s explicitly designed to make vegetables palatable to 3 year olds–i.e., cookie-cuttered radishes.

  23. are you attached to the idea of cooking your food? raw food is super tasty, super healthy, and once you get the hang of it, super simple.

    you can make a fantastic teriyaki pate by blending 1 C sunflower seeds (soaked for 6-8 hours and rinsed) with raw agave or honey, tamari, ginger, a tbl of miso, a pinch of cayenne and a squeeze of lime. all ingredients adjustable to taste. add water if necessary to blend.

    you can make vegan sushi rolls by rolling the pate in dried Nori with a variety of finely julienned veggies. or you can wrap it with veggies inside of a piece of cabbage, romaine, kale or chard. or you can simply eat it as a dip with crudite or even with a spoon.

    i have a whole lot of other tasty and easy suggestions, all vegan and all raw. yum!

    a whole other world of possibilities.

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