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.
Jughead sandwiches 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.
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.
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.
Salads munchers 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.
Using leftovers 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.
Finger foods 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.
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?