Sunday, December 5

Beyond Sarnie: No Cook Packed Lunches to Beat the Back-to-Work Blues | Meal

If my office fridge, microwave and kettle are off limits thanks to Covid, which can I look towards for a tasty packed lunch? I’m already carrying a thermos of tea, so nothing I need To live in another heavy jar.
Fred, London

It’s hard enough navigating the many pitfalls of packed lunch, but do away with the ability to heat or cool it, and no one would blame Fred for rushing to your nearest Pret. Meat and fish, for example, are not good for sitting in a sweaty sandwich bag for hours on end, so it is wise to keep things vegetarian.

For this culinary challenge, use your noodles. Chef Tim Anderson, whose new book, Your home Izakaya, is published in October, take soba or udon as the base of your bento. “Cook the noodles, then put them in cold water and dress them with a little neutral oil.” The key is to keep the dressing (for Anderson, that means equal parts soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar, with onion and ginger mixed in to thicken) on the side.

Anna Tobias, from Coffee deco in London, put “cucumber, carrot, boiled peas or whatever veggie you want in a bowl with the cold noodles, then just before eating, pour over the dressing and pour.” Anderson says other good additions include crushed spinach and sesame, green beans with ponzu, pickles, or a rolled omelette.

Speaking of eggs, omelettes are another of Tobias’s favorites. “I’m a purist, so I usually go for onion, potato, and egg, but you could add any number of other things, from bell peppers to peas.” Eat as is, with a salad or sandwich. And if sarnies is it so plus your purse, it’s worth thinking outside the box. “At this time of year, I like tomato sandwiches, sometimes with ricotta,” says Missy Flynn, co-founder with Gabriel Pryce of Rita’s Winery in London. “Remember, a sandwich doesn’t have to start out as a sandwich.” Put fresh chopped tomatoes, fresh herbs, olive oil and salt in a bowl and grab a fresh muffin on the way to work. “At lunch, the tomatoes will be soft and seasoned, so cut the roll in half, pile them up, and use the tomato oil and tomato water as a dipping sauce.”

Leftovers are another of life’s great pleasures and, happily, Tobías says, “filo tarts are very cold,” so keep slices of spanakopita in your bag. If leftover curry is up for grabs, Anderson makes curry pan – a tasty donut. Yes, it’s a bit of a fake (hello, Sunday baking project), but it’s delicious eaten at room temperature, so it negates the refrigerator / microwave problem. “Make a basic donut dough, roll into baseball-sized balls, mash, then spoon a good scoop of Japanese curry in the middle.” Fold over the dough, seal and chill, spread with beaten egg, roll in panko and taste until almost double in size, then fry or bake.

Perhaps the simplest solution, however, is to look for vegetable dishes that are traditionally eaten at room temperature (think ratatouille or Italian roasted vegetables), although they won’t cut it all the way down in the fall, so Fred will have to bite the bullet and invest in a second jar (sorry). As Guardian columnist Ravinder Bhogal puts it: “They’re great for keeping leftover soups, dals, pasta, curries and stews warm, and for providing a warm, comforting hug when the sadness of coming back to the office hits.”

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