I have a coworker who brings in turkey sandwiches and apples for lunch every day. If variety is the spice of life, she's no spice girl.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is this girl. I want my packed lunches to feel like an extension my love when my family opens their bags. There may not be sweet notes, but there's homemade ranch or peanut butter slathered on an otherwise bland chocolate chip cookie. I'm always bringing in curiosities that I recruit my coworkers to taste, and answering the question, "What is that smell?" For the record, it's never fish.
If you view eating as a joy and cooking as an art, you try to keep things interesting, time permitting. I usually pack leftovers, but they are thoughtfully put together. Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a fan of the almighty grain bowl. Every food group combined into one easy container, and a million ways to mix and match flavors? What's not to love?
A friend in need
I'm going to share a recipe that I don't just use for lunch - I used it for Sarah, the owner of Ladles and Linens. She had to undergo surgery for a tennis injury that left both of her wrists inoperable. I joined a food train, and delivered a one-bowl meal that was easy, gluten-free, and delicious.
The bottom layer: A heaping handful (or two!) of spring mix. I'll be honest - spring mix isn't my favorite, but it's what I had on hand. It's not crunchy enough to be stabbed with a fork, and gives quickly under dressing. But heck if it isn't packed with nutrients! Try using any type of lettuce at the bottom.
The middle layer: Rice noodle pasta, but not just any rice noodle pasta. It's a recipe I've been obsessed with since 1999, when I started frequenting the Whole Foods salad bar. Of course, with Whole Foods there's the anxiety of the check-out line, when they weigh your salad, which can cost anywhere from $10 to $7,000 dollars. I realized much of this weight was due to the helping of noodles. So one day I picked up a pre-packaged container of it, and read the ingredients. There may not have been measurements, but secrets were revealed!
Spicy Asian noodle recipe
Note: Not a measured recipe, just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Don't be afraid to try - you can taste as you go!
Make a big bowl of cooked and drained vermicelli rice noodles. Note, these types of noodles are very starchy, so it's okay to rinse them off with cold water after boiling. It stops them from over-cooking (rice noodles are tender) and they will still be sticky enough to take on seasoning afterward, unlike wheat noodles.
Drizzle on some sesame oil, soy sauce, and lime juice to taste. Do this first to slick up the noodles and stop them from sticking together.
Chop some cilantro and scallions, and add to the bowl. You can do this while the noodles are cooking, but rice noodles cook extremely fast, so you may want to pre-prep this part.
Shake on some sesame seeds, fried shallots, a little salt, and dried red chili flakes, and toss.
The top layer: This is the protein layer. Use what you'd like. I used roasted pork because it's Sarah's favorite, but as long as the flavors don't clash with the layer of rice noodles, you are golden. In fact, you can cook the meat with the same seasonings so it's a match.
The garnish: This is where you pretty-up the grain bowl. Presentation matters! I sprinkled on the remaining chopped scallions, dusted with more sesame seeds and did a last swirl of soy sauce for contrast.
I made four of these portable grain bowls for each member of Sarah's family, but Sarah ate all four herself! This is a huge compliment, considering she's an actual chef (who uses actual measurements when she writes about food)! And don't worry, her family didn't starve. Apparently the food train was a lucrative operation!
Enjoy this recipe, which is great for packed lunches, meal plans, and gifting to friends who are drowning in baked goods after a surgery. Not that I would mind drowning in baked goods. It's probably what heaven is like.