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Finding time to spend in the kitchen is never easy. Between work, school, children and taxes, cooking can quickly become the last thing you want to worry about as your tired self. I think one of the most challenging things to plan for is lunch to take to work or school. But bringing lunch instead of buying it is much more economical, will most likely be healthier and, dare I say, even tastier.
What I like to do is prepare a few separate components over the weekend, which can quickly be assembled into a big, tasty salad on the weekdays. Beans, legumes or grains are an important base – they will keep you nourished and full. A variety of roasted or steamed vegetables will add flavour and juice. Olives and maybe even a nice, soft cheese like Bulgarian feta will contribute a bit of depth and salt. Sliced avocado is always great for its natural fats. Garnish with herbs, seeds or nuts, lay it all on a bed of greens, and after a squeeze of lemon and maybe a drizzle of olive oil, you will have yourself a lunch. No dressing necessary. The valuable thing about this kind of recipe is that all the components can be prepared ahead of time, and you can always keep switching them up when you assemble, so as not to get tired of eating the same thing. I find that having your own home cooking for lunch at work is quite comforting, and it always tastes extra delicious.
Weekday Salad Components
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and score diagonally. Sprinkle with salt, optionally brush with olive oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until soft, depending on the size. Keep refrigerated in an air tight container. If you’re not into eggplants, grilled zucchini will work great too.
2. Roasted Bell Peppers
Cut peppers in quarters, remove seeds. Place on a large baking tray with minimal overlapping and bake for 20 minutes at 400F (200C). Alternatively, turn on the broiler and place whole peppers on a foil-covered tray under the broiler. Check and turn peppers frequently until all the skin is burnt. Remove and cover to let sweat, until cool. Peel the skin away. Slice and remove the stem and seeds, keep refrigerated.
3. Beans and Legumes
Pre-soak and cook any kind of beans and or lentils until soft, drain, and let cool. Or rinse canned beans. I like a variety of beans such as chickpeas, kidney, black, white, puy or black lentils, etc. – any will do. To keep things even lighter and healthier, you can sprout your beans/lentils instead of cooking them. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste to your cooked or sprouted beans, add a small amount of minced garlic and plenty of fresh herbs, such as dil, parsley, cilantro, mint, basil – whatever you prefer. I’m partial to dill and parsley here. Squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Mix to combine thoroughly. The salad will become more flavorful after marinating in the refrigerator for some time. Alternatively, make your favourite grains.
4. Good Olives
I love Cerignola and Castelvetrano, which can usually be found at the salad bars of health food stores and Italian markets.
5. Other add-ons:
This Shredded Beet Salad
Fresh salad greens
Goat’s and/or sheep’s milk feta cheese
Assemble any way you like! I like to arrange salad greens on a plate or in salad bowl. Top with a small amount of chopped grilled eggplant and sliced roasted peppers. Add a tablespoon or two of beans, olives, avocado and cheese and squeeze more lemon juice over, together with olive oil (even though it’s optional here). Grind more of black pepper on top, if desired.
Optionally, add a scoop of beet salad, if using. Add sauerkraut, cucumbers and tomatoes instead of or together with other ingredients. Enjoy!