Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils

 photo DSC01007.jpgAs you can imagine, when I find myself in a food rut, I turn to the blogger community for a little boost. I’ve found some lovely meals this way. This find, however, deserves a little more than a “lovely” title. Batter Licker’s Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils were a culinary revelation, and not just because it’s another lentil dish although that may be part of it. ;-)

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working on planning my meals a little more carefully. Big Sis has a great system and is really good about making meal plans and following them. My intentions are good, but in all honestly I usually don’t make it to the finish line on this particular goal. As a result I spend more at the store than I should and I waste a lot of time late in the day coming up with a last minute fix (although some of these have turned out quite well).  In planning, I also provide myself with the opportunity to try to incorporate some new meals using ingredients I already have or know how to work with rather than scrambling at the last minute to follow someone else’s instructions. A few weeks ago Asian Cabbage Rolls made it onto my plan and BOY am I glad they did.

These rolls are warm and satisfying without leaving you feeling loaded up and weighed down. The lentils work beautifully with the Asian flavors. I can’t say enough about how much Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed this dish. At first glance the dish looked complicated, but really, the only tricky part is making the rolls themselves. The rest of the procedure is pretty similar to making any simple bean dish. The only changes I made to this recipe were ditching the egg (something the original author said she’d do next time), switching out the sugar for maple syrup in the sauce, and decreasing the chile in the sauce in favor of adding it at table for the sake of the little people.

This lovely meal goes something like this. There is admittedly a bit of chopping. And if you don’t have leftover rice and cooked lentils, that needs to be done as well. May I suggest you start the rice first, then the lentils, then the chopping and gathering of other ingredients and preheating the oven. Mark Bittman has rightly criticized the overly organized French method of mise en place, and I suddenly realized, upon finding out what his book was about, that I should have written that a while ago… another missed opportunity. ;-) I digress. The point is, start the longest bits first, then prep the rest. It’s efficient, and still yummy.

 photo DSC00996.jpg  photo DSC00999.jpg  photo DSC01000.jpg

After the chopping and cooking, there is some combining and then the fiddly part, the daggone cabbage wrap bit. I have tried making various cabbage rolls before and had all manner of trouble getting them to roll and stay rolled. I now have a trick, which I will share with you so you don’t curse and stomp in your kitchen. When you choose a cabbage leaf, get a big one that is not torn. Then chop a couple of inches off the bottom where it connects to the head. What you’re trying to do is to get rid of the thickest, toughest part of the cabbage leaf, you know the part that won’t roll. Get rid of it and you know what? They roll. IMagine that. The next part of the trick is to use a kitchen utensil to hold those rolls in place as you create them and place them in your dish.

 photo DSC00997.jpg  photo DSC01001.jpg  photo DSC01002.jpg

There you go. Awesome tricks so you can now make cabbage rolls – Asian ones, Polish ones, Italian ones, whatever you want. Cut the inflexible bit and hold everything in place. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I’ll find it after I eat more of these. Delish!

 photo DSC01003.jpg  photo DSC01007.jpg  photo DSC01012.jpg

Lentil, Mushroom, and Sweet Potato Soup (GF,V)

You know how we feel about lentils around here…  OR, if you’re new and you don’t, I’d like to send you here first before you then do a search on lentils and see how ridiculously fond we are of this little protein and fiber packed cheap meal makin’ legume.  Lately our weather has been driving my food cravings and after our recent spate of unseasonably warm weather (leading to Cold Sesame Noodle perfection), we’ve had a predictably unpredictable Mid-Atlantic weather shift to slightly cooler than average with rain – lots and lots of rain.  Not much better remedy for wet and damp days than soup.

And so we turn to our humble pantry staple, the lentil. This soup is great because it doesn’t require that much in terms of super fresh food, but packs a nutritious and flavorful punch.  I found it on Dr. Weil’s site after doing some basic searching for soups.  He apparently got it somewhere else.  I’ve done a little tinkering – out of necessity rather than critique. I’d encourage you to do the same.  Soup can be very forgiving and is a great place to use up veggies that are on the verge of being unusable. Continue reading

Power Tabbouleh – and yes, it’s GF

Don’t know about you all, but here in Mid Maryland the weather is SPECTACULAR.  It feels like fall – the great part of fall when the humidity drops, the temps are still in the low 80s and the sky is bright blue and features fluffy white clouds.  Whoever loaned us their weather, I thank you and regret to inform you that we would like to keep it, thank you very much. I almost don’t care that the infant tomatoes that were emerging post deer invasion have also been eaten.  Shame on me for going out of town for 36 hours.  Apparently creating a urine barrier as deterrent is a daily requirement.

While the deer (or the squirrels, I don’t even care any more who the perp is anymore) were eating my tomatoes, we took a short trip to my hometown, Silver Spring, MD.  Mr. Little Sis had some work to tend to there over the weekend and we tagged along so we could do a little “get to know your Mom” touring. We returned thoroughly exhausted, in part from incredibly awesome park experiences, but mostly because the folks on the other side of our locked adjoining room door were reunioning with their family and a lot of bourbon until 4 in the morning.  I digress…

Our superb park experiences over the weekend inspired me to take the kids a little farther afield for some adventures today.  After swim class we played tag, restaurant (with robbers and everything, my children like exciting dining), and fed a whole mess of turtles in the quarry.  We found some bugs (and fed them to the fish – sorry bugs), watched some geese and played on some great playground equipment.  After leaving there and scoring a whole slew of deals on perennials at the hardware store, we all returned home pretty wiped out.  I decided it was time to give a summer standard from my past a go. Tired hungry kids are sometimes the most willing to try new foods.

IMG_9539Standard tabbouleh has tons of parsley (which is great for you in a variety of ways and covers a multitude of garlic breath sins), bulgur, tomatoes, garlic and some kind of acid mixed with olive oil.  Well… I hain’t got no maters, I say almost weeping.  Well, okay I have one that I plucked early before the real invasion began.  It was just coming ripe on the windowsill.  In honor of Mr. Bigg Sis and all those for whom gluten is verboten, I decided to make good use of the leftover quinoa in the fridge. Following Deborah Madison‘s lead (which is always a good idea), I combined green lentils and chickpeas to power that salad up even more.  Plenty of protein, fiber, and tons o’ flavor.  Yep, power tabbouleh.

Power Tabbouleh - adapted from Deborah Madison’s Bulgur and Green Lentil Salad with Chickpeas in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

  • 2 c chopped fresh parsleyIMG_9553
  • 2 c cooked quinoa (or whatever grain you have on hand)
  • 1 1/2 c cooked French lentils (I’m sure brown would be fine too, but I do like the green here)
  • 1 c cooked or canned garbanzo beans (drain and rinse if canned)
  • zest of two lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, made very small however you like
  • 4 scallions or spring onions, chopped small, including some green
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 6-8 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

IMG_9543Looks like a lot of ingredients, but this was so ridiculously easy – one of those times where having some leftover cooked grains in the fridge makes dinner a snap.  I cooked my lentils specifically for this meal as I didn’t have any in the fridge.  I cooked two cups of French lentils in boiling water with a bit of salt and a bay leaf.  I can’t recommend this bay leaf maneuver enough – made the beans so flavorful and delish.  I had way more than I needed for the salad, but I knew my little lentil fan (Miss Picky Pants – you go figure that out) would want some plain.

IMG_9544While the lentils cooked I did all of my chopping and combined all of the cold solid ingredients.  I drained the lentils and let them cool for about half an hour. You could absolutely make this warm, but I was going for room temp or cooler. When I was done assembling a green salad and making dressing, I added the lentils to the other ingredients, combined the lemon juice, oil and paprika and poured it on.  Tossed everything to mix.  Salted and peppered to taste.  Lovely. Then I chopped my sole tomato and added it.  The added tomato was nice, but honestly, unnecessary (blasphemy). This salad knocked my socks off and is super flexible.  What do you like in your tabbouleh? As for me, beans are where it’s at.

IMG_9539 IMG_9544 IMG_9547

Souped Up – We Double Dare You

So I’m talking to Big Sis on the phone (yes, that could have been just about any day and we like it that way – so glad these babies are cordless) and inevitably the “Whatcha havin’ for dinner?” part of the conversation arose.  I told her I was making bread and chopping veg for soup, a Deborah Madison soup incidentally.  And in another mystery of nature vs. nurture, it turned out Big Sis was also in the process of making soup from her beloved Deborah Madison cookbook.  “Sounds like it’s time for a soup post.”  I’m not sure which one of us said it, but I’m pretty sure it hardly matters.  And so you are the unwitting beneficiaries of our non-coincidentally parallel lives.  There’s a sign post up ahead… Insert Twilight Zone music here ;-)  (Bigg Sis here – no italics)  Oh and Little Sis gave me the big fat Deborah Madison book as an impromptu gift.  Made me feel as warm as soup!

My most recent Deborah Madison experiment was a blatant attempt to capitalize on my picky daughter’s relative willingness to eat lentil dishes.  I wanted soup; she likes lentils; the answer was self-evident.  I whipped up some bread to insure my dinnertime victory (carbs are the answer to my daughter’s every question) and checked out the pantry to see what kind of lentil soup would make the most sense.  After a fruitful pantry dive, I consulted my favorite chef and settled on Lentil Minestrone.  Heck, I knew it would make ME happy.

Lentil Minestrone - Adapted from Deborah Madison in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1.5 c chopped onion
  • 2 T tomato paste (I freeze mine in a big blob on wax paper after I open a can and cut off what I need from the frozen blob)
  • 2 T chopped parsley
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots cut small
  • 1 c celery cut small
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 c lentils (I used green)
  • 2 bay leaves, several branches parsley and a few thyme sprigs,  (or dried herbs to taste)
  • 9 c water or vegetable stock (I went halfsies)
  • Bragg’s or soy sauce to taste
  • 1 bunch greens, chopped (I used chard from the garden)
  • 2 cups cooked pasta (we used leftover homemade green pasta)

Warm olive oil in a large pot.  Saute onion for about 10 minutes until soft and starting to brown.  Add tomato paste through the celery and the salt.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Add the lentils, the herbs, and water/broth.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about a half an hour. Taste and add salt and or pepper.  If the soup tastes flat, add soy for richness.  Cook the pasta in a separate pot and drain.  When the soup is ready, spoon pasta and raw greens into bowl and ladle soup on top.  Add parm if that works for you.  We just dipped sunflower cheese bread instead. Delish.

That sounds really good.  I think we’ll be swapping soups here over the next couple of days.

My Deborah Madison recipe took advantage of the fact that my son will eat chickpeas – and many other things he objects to – if in soup.  For your slurping from a big spoon pleasure – I give you:

Potato and Chickpea Stew.  from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, p. 252

Ingredients:
1 pound Yellow Finn, fingerling, or red potatoes (I used Yukon Gold)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced (I diced, but not so finely as is my sloppy way)
2 generous pinches of saffron
2 Large red bell peppers, finely diced… (again – I’m a chunky dicer, not a fine dicer)
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into strips  (now you’re talking!)
2 large garlic cloves, minced (I’m a masher, not a mincer)
1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika (I used regular paprika – is there a difference?)
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup medium dry sherry
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, plus their juices (I used diced)
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 15 oz. cans rinsed
3 cups chickpea-cooking broth or water – I used vegetable broth here – bean cooking water is pretty gas-forming
salt and freshly milled pepper
Picada on top:
1/2 cup peeled (can you guess?  I didn’t peel), toasted almonds (350 degrees for 8-10 minutes)
2 slices white country bread (I used the whole grain I had) fried up to crisp in 2 Tbsp olive oil – both sides
2 – 4 cloves garlic.
Deborah Madison tosses these 3 ingredients in a food processor.  I added the garlic (mashed) to the saute pan with the bread, chopped the almonds in a chopper, broke the bread into bits and was done.  My food processor was dirty and I prefer sauteed garlic.

Luckily I gave birth to a little free help in the kitchen 11 years ago. Ain’t he somethin’?

Warm oil in a large pot and add onion, saffron, peppers, garlic and potatoes, over medium-low, stirring occasionally until potatoes are softening but firm – about 25 minutes.

Beautiful fragrant saffron

Add paprika, parsley and pepper flakes and cook 3-4 minutes

Add the sherry and cook until juices are thick and syrup-y, about 12 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth to cover. And 1 1/2 tsp salt and plenty of pepper.  Cover and cook over low heat until potatoes are very tender.  She uses the picada as a thickener, I used it as a crunchy topper.

She also adds a Romesco sauce.  I did not do this and thought it was fabulous and it was not hard – but not easy either, so I was done and sampling said it was done as well.  Everyone liked this a lot.

So there you have it!  Little Sis and I are in the soup, all souped up, and will be boiling something tasty up tonight as well!  I hope there’s some soup in your future, it sure is fine!

This post is featured on:

Pantry Fare

Real foods are the best foods.   Well… okay I’m gonna say it.  Real foods are the only foods.  The other things are chemicals and synthetics that we’ve been convinced will satisfy us.  So there.  Even in the real food category, however, some are better than others.  While we could get into a lengthy discussion of nutrition benefits, I have to admit that the real foods that earn my highest praise are often those that are not only nutritious, but the most versatile.  Versatile real foods allow the greatest number of variations without too much skill building and are real pantry boons (especially if they are CHEAP).

And so, I return joyfully to my previous post on recalibrating our grocery bill.  Things are going pretty well in this department, and the pantry is finally thinning enough that I can see what’s in there and what’s not.  I can also feel out what we actually NEED based on how many times I look for something that is already gone.  Granted, I am no longer prepared in the event of a nuclear disaster as I was prior to attempting to ease up on the grocery mania, but we still could eat for a while out of that pantry….  Based on my experiments this week, I WILL make sure that I’m always stocked with bulgur and lentils.  I’ve continued playing with the lentil-bulgur mix and I’ve discovered a home run that is kid approved (yes, even the picky one).  It is also one of those lovely recipes that provides lots of opportunity for the less mature members of the family to participate in the cooking (I am talking about my children here, in case you were wondering if that was a jab at my wonderful and very mature husband).  I give you Mini Neatloaves. (Applause)

Mini Neatloaves - Served our family of 4 two dinners with 2 adult lunches left. Inspired by Confetti Mini-Meatloaf on Spark Recipes

  • 4c lentil-bulgur mix
  • 3c rolled oats
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2/3c mushrooms ( I used reconstituted dried)
  • 2/3 c diced tomatoes (or tomato sauce – we had leftover pasta sauce to use up)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 t mustard powder
  • 2 t marjoram
  • 1T creaminess (milk, mayo, yogurt… whatever.. I needed this because I mixed in the remainder of the leftover lentil-bulgur taco mix and it needed some mellowing)
  • 3T Braggs or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil two muffin tins – you can also use a loaf pan, but I’m just gonna tell you that’s not as fun.  If you’re making flax eggs, prepare them first so they have time to set up.  Put lentil-bulgur mix and oats in large bowl.  Put veggies in food processor and process until they are no longer distinguishable as individual bits to your pickiest eater (you may not need to be quite as thorough as I was on this front).  Add veggie slush to bowl.  Add spices and flax eggs and mix.  I added about of cup of leftover peas that were in my fridge.  (My two still love measuring so they helped a lot on this part).  Mix until well combined.

Recruit volunteers to fill muffin tins with neat loaf mix.  Bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes (Watch closely as we had little people crises and I’m not sure I got the time exactly right.)  If you make a loaf, you will need to cook it longer.  If you make one enormous meatball, you’d better make a lot of spaghetti.

I served ours on a bed of orzo (insurance), beet salad with orange dressing, and cucumber slices.  We got 100% approval rating and all parties ate more neat loaves than orzo.  The  younger crowd enjoyed theirs with a little ketchup (don’t judge).  Most everyone enjoyed the beets as well (she just doesn’t like beets, even with orange juice in the picture).

Absolutely delish.  Oh, and if you’re wondering about the dressing, it was simply an attempt to get my daughter to eat beets.  3T orange juice, 1T olive oil, small squeeze honey, pinch salt.  While it didn’t change my daughter’s mind about the beautiful beets that we grew and that she helped harvest from the garden, the rest of us enjoyed it, and found it especially yummy when it slid from our beets into our orzo and onto our cucumber slices.  Summer is fabulous. Hope yours is delish as well.

Recalibration

Whenever a friend asks me for advice about food (what are they thinking, right), my answers are pretty consistent. Read your labels, avoid processed food, less packaging is usually better, yes you have to cook, buy ingredients not meals, and for pete’s sake put down that soda. Great advice, and I follow almost all of it much of the time. This is the way with advice right? Right? Please tell me I’m not the only well-intended hypocrite out there. This week I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of the central mission that Big Sis and I adopted when we started this enterprise. Eat food, real food. Just food, not chemicals, not gimmicks, not time-savers, and not substitutes.

A few months back, I decided to cut meat and dairy from my diet most of the time (weekday vegan). For the most part I’ve been pretty successful at staying true to the eat food, real food tenants, but there has been some slippage as I’ve tried to replace food items that are near and dear to my palate and I’ve found myself sucked in by some items that definitely don’t honor the other part of our shared philosophy, which is that eating real food can be affordable. Due to my enthusiasm and sporadic attention, the grocery bill has become a bit of a monster. We haven’t talked about this much, but Big Sis and I both believe that it is possible to maintain your current budget, and in some cases even decrease your spending by replacing processed foods with real food. This belief doesn’t even begin to take into account the long term savings in health care and work lost to illness that healthier eating can provide – don’t worry, I’m not about to do any math here, although I am now tempted to Google to see if someone else has already done that math….. Stay on target. Stay on target.

beautiful, simple, inexpensive lentils

And so after paying the last month’s bills, I decided it was time for a bit of a recalibration. Time to remind my brain and my body that there are simpler ways to stay true to my dietary choices without breaking the bank. And so I whipped up an old friend, one that you should meet as well. Enter bulgur and lentils. These two humble (and CHEAP) ingredients can be manipulated into a variety of dishes on their own, but put them together and a world of possibilities opens up, particularly for those interested in replacing some meat based dishes in their recipe box. I stumbled upon this combo in The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn years ago. As a side note, if you are looking to shrink your expenditures and you come across a used, or better still a library copy of this book, you will find a wealth (hahahaha) of ideas on how to economize in just about every category of domestic life. At any rate, the recommendation here is to mix lentils and bulgur and cook them in water (2 water to 1 lentils and bulgur). This mix can then be used in essentially the same way that you would use ground meat. We used the ridiculously large amount that I made this week in veggie burgers and for a taco/burrito night. The bulgur-lentil mix performed beautifully in both of these areas. My son was particularly taken with his grainy beany tacos. I thought I’d share these simple, cheap, real food recipes with you, just in case you need to recalibrate too – or just in case you’re looking to save a little money and improve your family’s nutrition. Eat food, real food.

Lentil Bulgur Mixture - from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 4c water
  • 1c lentils (I used plain brown, super cheap, lentils)
  • 1c bulgur

Bring water to a boil, add lentils and bulgur and simmer for 45 minutes.  Do check and stir periodically as they will stick on the bottom, particularly if you over cook.  When finished, I turn off heat, leave cover on and let them steam a bit to make the bottom sticking phenomenon go away (works with rice too, by the way).  I doubled this recipe and we now have far more of this mixture than we can use in a reasonable amount of time.  I will try freezing, but remember that this is an expandy food when you make your own.  This mixture should be refrigerated once cooked.  Feel free to make the mixture ahead of time by a few days and save yourself some meal prep time.

happy little burgers waiting to go in the oven

Lentil Bulgur Burgers - adapted from The Tightwad Gazette

  • 2 c lentil-bulgur mixture
  • 2 c bread crumbs
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c chopped green pepper (opt.)
  • 4 T mixed herbs (I use bail, oregano and thyme)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 eggs (flax, soy, or chicken)
  • 2 T soy sauce or Bragg’s plus milk to make 1/2 c (I used almond)
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds (opt., but I like the texture)

Preheat oven to 350 if you want to bake your burgers.  Mix the first six ingredients.  Add eggs and soy sauce/milk and mix well.  Stir in sunflower seeds.

amazingly yum and easy pretzel rolls

If you have time, chill for at least half and hour (I did it without the chill and it wasn’t a problem).  Form into patties.  Fry 10 minutes per side, or bake (on parchment or lightly greased cookie sheet) at 350 ten minutes per side.  The fried version has a more burger-like appearance, so if you’re looking to convince someone, that may be a better approach.  I find baking easier in process and for cleanup.  We served our burgers on these pretzel rolls from our friend Somer at Good Clean Food. Traditional burger toppings plus a little kimchi for me. Delish!

Lentil Bulgur Tacos

I must confess that I got a bit slapdash here, so I’m going to describe my procedure without measurements as I would be completely fabricating quantities any other way.   Saute chopped onion until soft.  Add minced garlic.  Add chili powder, cumin, and a little soy sauce or Bragg’s.  When fragrant, add enough lentil bulgur mixture to satisfy your crew.   Turn heat up a little if you’d like to get some browning on your taco filling.  Cook until flavors meld and all is warm.  Serve with taco shells or tortillas and fixings.

No chemicals, no gimmicks, little packaging, no “time savers” (although it really didn’t take long), and no weird factory substitutes.   Just food, real food.  Cheap and delish.

No More Number 4 Combos…

Fabulous Friday!!  What better time to continue our thrifty examination of nutritious lunch options?  To get us ready for next week, I’d like to outline some basic strategies that I’ve used to prevent fast food infractions.  Take a look and, if you are a lunch eater outer (my daughter’s nomenclature), maybe it’s time to take a baby step and choose one strategy to try next week.  If you already bring lunch, but find that your mid-day meal is a little yawnsville, maybe one of these strategies can add a little skip to your step.

Option 1: Big Sis made some awesome suggestions for Straight-Up and Mix It Up Leftovers  Remember… the remains of last night’s dinner will not stay edible; they will begin the inevitable transformation that occurs in the back corner of your refrigerator that ends with a mysterious noxious odor.  (Ever thrown a food storage container away JUST TO AVOID OPENING IT?  Yes, you have.  I have too.)  To add to the grocery list?  Slightly more for each dinner you prepare and a container to put it in if you don’t have a plastic yogurt tub you can use.  Done.

Here’s one of our favorite (super cheap) family dinners that makes plenty of leftovers, freezes beautifully, and is very flexible, so you can add other elements to it as you see fit.  We always make a double batch and lately I’ve been adding sauteed mushrooms and celery.  This recipe came from a fun old book on my shelf, The Tightwad Gazette.  If you come across a copy at a yard sale or second hand book store, grab it.  There are a lot of thrifty treasures in there.

Leftoverlicious Lentil Casserole - I always double this.

  • 3c veggie or chicken broth
  • 3/4c lentils
  • 1/2c brown rice
  • 3/4c chopped fresh onion
  • 1/2t sweet Basil
  • 1/4t oregano
  • 1/4t thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed
  • 1/2c shredded cheese (Completely Optional)

I have found the Crock Pot to be the best method for this casserole.  Place all ingredients in crock.  Cook on low for 2 hours, high for 2 hours.  If you are using cheese, spread it on the top of the casserole for the last 25 minutes of cooking.  I assume you could simply leave it on low for longer, but I usually need it to be done sooner rather than later.  So there you are, a hands-off Sunday dinner that will make lunch too!

Option 2: Burritos/Wraps/Sandwiches  Big Sis mentioned using your leftovers in many clever ways and one of the smartest disguises is plopping that stuff in a tortilla and adding whatever salsa or veggie dip floats your boat.  Or throw a bunch of veggies you don’t usually eat on a sandwich into a wrap with some kind of sauce or spread.  That takes about 30 seconds.  Wrap it up and put it in bag with a piece of fruit and a carrot, another 30.  1 minute express lunch.  To add to your grocery list?  A package of whole grain tortillas or flatbread, salsa, and wax paper to wrap.  Done.

Option 3: Weekend Prep.  Weekend prep may mean making a casserole or whipping up a large batch of beans and rice or something else that is sort of flexible – remember that riffing on a theme idea?  Beans and rice with cheese and salsa; beans and rice with tomatoes and lemon juice; beans and rice with soy sauce, peas and spring onions;  beans and rice with mango and cilantro; beans and rice with sour cream, chili powder and lime juice.  You get the idea.  Not a bean fan?  Quinoa is another heavy hitter in this department as it has protein built right in.  Just make a ginormous pot of quinoa and then riff on it all week, using various bits or adding small portions of leftovers that you would normally throw away because they’re “too small to keep.”  To add to your grocery list?  Beans and rice or quinoa, some bits to go with if you don’t have any of those listed above.  Container if you don’t have one.  Done.

Option 4: The Random Grab One of my all-time favorite bagged lunches included whole grain bread, an avocado, and an apple.  Grab all three, throw in bag (with knife carefully wrapped) – 40 seconds.  At work spread avocado on bread (and sprinkle with a little salt if you’re me).  Eat until almost satisfied.  Eat the apple.  Done.  Delish.  I’ve also been know to random grab handfuls of things and snack throughout the day rather than having a specific lunch.  This would look more like grabbing the bag of almonds, a piece of fruit, a cucumber (or some other hand holdable vegetable), some cheese.  Done.  Munch.  To buy at the store?  The beauty of the random grab, is that you don’t technically have to buy anything extra at the store.  I must confess that the random grab approach assumes some level of pantry proficiency.  If you are not at least scoring an average in pantry proficiency, I would suggest one of the other options. ;-)

Option 5: The Backup Plan If you are fortunate enough to have a refrigerator where you work, it may be in your best interest to keep a backup plan there.  For me this was good bread and peanut butter.  While I love both, it is not something I would choose to eat on a daily basis; however, if I was unable to get lunch together or needed a snack, or when I was pregnant with twins and it was time for third breakfast, there was my friend the bread with peanut butter.  Add a few raisins and you’ve got yourself a party.  How about trying some hummus instead?  Prepare it on Sunday and take it in to work in a container on Monday with your nice bread or whole grain crackers.  To buy at the store?  Whole grain bread, peanut butter, hummus ingredients if that’s the way you want to roll.  Container if you need one.  Done.

You never need order from the Dollar Menu again, or refer to your lunch as a Number 4 Combo.  Now start researching vacation possibilities and thinking about how nice it will be to not feel completely tired and little sicky-full for an hour and a half after lunch every day.

My Sister’s Recipe

It was a day for sisterly cooking.

First of all I prepared a quick and easy recipe my litlsis sent me.  Oddly enough, I cooked it while also scrambling eggs for breakfast so it would be waiting for us when we returned from a TaeKwonDo tournament.  The house filled with the smell of oregano and onion as we packed up our sparring equipment, packed some snacks of almonds and cashews and rehearsed our forms one last time.  The lentils and rice were slowly and surely soaking up all that wonderful smell and taste within a bath of chicken stock.while we kicked, punched and yelled, “Yes Sir!”

For lunch we slipped out of the hot and loud tournament facility to a lovely little cafe nearby which served all organic, local and field raised meat, veggie and grain dishes.  The owner of the cafe was being helped today by her sister and her sister’s children.  Despite child labor laws ; ) our order was taken by a very cheerful and handsome 10 year old boy who was very eager to help his aunt.  He carefully wrote down our order… no abbreviations allowed… and then ran into the kitchen to help prepare the meal.  His mother and his aunt were clearly aligned not only genetically but idealogically as well.  What fun to watch another loving family in action.  I expressed my appreciation to the owner for offering healthy alternatives in a retail sea of grease and sugar.  And I express my appreciation to my own sister as well as she fights the good fight for healthy food for her children and for her community.

Oh, and the lentil and rice casserole is delicious.  A little cheese on top.  Savory, filling, satisfying, and my grown up and getting to be grown up boys loved it as well!