What's in Your Lunch box?
Seema Chandra , Food Editor, NDTV | Updated: May 09, 2016 12:55 IST
Imagine this. Your office is in an industrial area. There are no restaurants or take-aways around you. You need an hour and a half of lead time to order food. The only quick option you have is to eat from a dhaba that makes eggs and parantha. Believe me, in such a scenario you'll start thinking of ideas for your lunch box.
We'll come to that later, but no matter how good the idea is, a lot depends on what happens to the food that you put in your tiffin and what comes out once you open it. If your lunch isn't up to the mark, chances are your face will wrinkle up in displeasure. Let's begin with what we definitely do not want to see in our lunch box.
1) A runny dal - It can get awfully messy to eat and God help you if it's a working lunch.
2) A limp, oily, soggy roll, stuffed with no matter what.
3) A dry sandwich that looks parched and needs a lot of liquid to help you swallow it.
4) You do want to avoid fish and prawns, as the texture is ruined by the time you end up eating your food.
5) Chicken or lamb tikkas or kebabs have a tendency to get tough and after a few hours of storage, may require an extra set of canines to chew on.
Ok, so that's some of what we don't want. The next obvious question is - what are our options? Here I would like to move away from the mundane Indian vegetable, roti and raita trio and cross boundaries between different kinds of cuisines, with the help of recipes of course.
A few food ideas that could work
Curry, rice and all things nice
You can pack a heavy bodied meat curry, rajma, kadhi, anything that has a gravy as well as something to bite on. Remember to add extra while packing, as the rice absorbs the curry, and it can dry up if the food is re-heated. If you're health conscious, you can opt for brown rice.
Other not-so-obvious options could be a palak dalor a vegetable stew, which has body as well as bite.
Alternately you can make sambar chawal and add a pineapple pachadi. Surprisingly, appamsreheat well, and remain soft if they've been wrapped in foil.
Other typical tiffin box lunches with rice could be lemon rice, curd rice, tomato rice and coconut rice, they all work well. So would kathal biryani or a sabudana khichdi with loads of curry leaves and a chutney on the side. Don't forget to add some crunchy papad.
Deep south spiced rice
For variety, if you wish to carry a sandwich, today there are many options of breads as well as fillings that are available.
But sandwiches have a tendency to dry out when stored, so a good tip is to have a damp cloth that covers the sandwich that will keep it moist for some hours. Also, it's better to avoid foods that will leak moisture into the bread, like tomatoes, cucumber, etc. On the other hand, grilled vegetables work very well. Here's what I would do.
Sprinkle some sea salt and herbs (oregano, mixed herbs) on your sliced zucchini, eggplant or peppers.
Place them in an oven tray and grill them. Sprinkle black pepper. On two slices of bread, slather some mustard, pile up the vegetables, add any cheese you might have, feta works really well, and wrap the beauty in a damp napkin. Whenever you want a change of flavor, throw in some olives and jalapenos. Even sun dried tomatoes are magical with vegetables.
If you have fresh basil leaves, add them to the pile. I often add a touch of balsamic vinegar.
Any leftover chicken works wonders in a sandwich.
If it's Indian style, you can add some crumbled cheese and green chutney instead of mustard and give the sandwich a brand new avatar. It's wise to resist adding lettuce as it falls limp.
Egg bread BLT
Chicken pesto toasts
Panini with leftover chicken
Rotis need not be flat
If you wish to carry regular Indian fare to work, playing around with the roti or paratha is an instant pick-me-up for your lunch.
Add ajwain, carom seeds or black kalonji seeds to the dough or you can add red chillies and cumin seeds. Alternately, make a kulcha with a stuffing of anardana, pomegranates and chopped coriander leaves. Add leftover keema or a matar paneer and stuff it into the parantha.
Achaar ka parantha
Onion seed parantha
Even if you're a raw fan, avoid carrying salad leaves in your tiffin. One, there is the hygiene issue, and two, they become totally lifeless if you add the dressing from before.
Instead you can opt for a sprout salad.
My pick would be too add minutely diced carrots, paneer crumbles and cucumber to the sprouts, throw in some cherry tomatoes, and it's a whopper of a nutritious salad.
BBQ potato salad
Watermelon, olive and feta salad
Roast beet, feta and cucumber salad
The good 'ol dahi
I don't mean eating plain yoghurt, but adding it to your vegetables. It's an easy way to avoid eating dry veggies and it tastes great. My top picks are: baingan in yoghurt and bhindi in yoghurt. Add a tadka of spluttering mustard seeds and curry leaves.
Bhindi in yogurt curry
Mixed vegetables in yogurt
In India we tend to cook fresh by and large but if you do have leftovers, there are ways to rejig them. The trick is to create new dishes out of the old ones so you don't feel you're eating the same thing. Use leftover idlis to make a south Indian stir fry.
How to use leftovers -
Pasta can be reused, remember to add some fresh red sauce, and sprinkle fresh cheese in the morning. I often add olives, and sun dried tomatoes and the pasta gets a totally different flavor.
Use dips creatively - A baba ghanoush or hummus with ready made lavash chips or crudites.
Burnt eggplant dip
Pepper dip with crudites
Bell pepper and bean dip
Finger foods will work, sometimes you want to play it safe. Making tarts at home is not such a big deal. You can make the tart shells in advance and play around with the fillings or roll out a tortilla, add cheese and green chillies, and enjoy it with a salsa.
Savory corn tarts
Sesame paneer fingers
As far as vegetables go, in this weather, corn works very well. Experiment with different textures of corn, by boiling, roasting or frying it, and then bung it in a paneer bhurji. Alternatively cook it till soft, add a dollop of butter and some red and yellow peppers chopped finely, add some chaat masala, and you get a corn salad.
Handi corn sabzi
Spicy corn pakodas
Sweet corn chaat with peanuts
Play around with methi or fenugreek. Chop it roughly and add to dough for a parantha, add it to paneer, aloo, or add it to a quinoa salad.
That's as far as ideas go.
Now a bit about the process of re-heating your food.
Re-heating office lunch boxes - How can you prevent food poisoning bacteria from multiplying?
1) Cool the food as quickly as possible after it's made.
2) Never ever get the lunch heated in the box that you carry from home. Chance are that most local boxes are not meant for heating in microwaves.
3) Also, when you do pick up lunch boxes, make sure that they are BPA free. Read the label.
4) Lastly, the food bacteria will stop multiplying when the food reaches 60 degrees Celsius. So try and ensure that the food is heated through and through, especially if you've cooked it the night before.
Now that's enough of gyaan...tell us, what's in your lunch box?
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