I recently reread The Wind in the Willows, which you may have seen if you follow me on Twitter because I’ve talked about it a lot. In addition to being just about the most charming, perfectly lovely book I’ve ever read (even better now that I’m an adult), it has several passages of really appealing descriptions of food.
One in particular, near the beginning when we are just starting to get a feel for the friendly, quirky animals that live in this pastoral world, started me ruminating on the topic of lunch:
“…after a short interval [he] reappeared staggering under a fat, wicker luncheon-basket… ‘What’s inside it?’ asked the Mole, wiggling with curiosity.
‘There’s cold chicken inside it,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water–‘
‘Oh stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstasies: ‘This is too much!’
‘Do you really think so?’ inquired the Rat seriously ‘it’s only what I always take on these little excursions'”
Yes, I know I don’t even eat many of the things in Rat’s basket, but for some reason this scene just tickles me. And more to the point, it made me realize that I’ve managed, over the last couple years of grad school-induced austerity, to get into a pretty good habit of making my lunch and bringing it with me (to school, or now, work) as opposed to buying it every day like I did for so long. I am quite proud of this habit – and how often can you say that about a habit? – so it seemed like something worth sharing.
The recipe in my lunch repertoire that I’m most excited to talk about is for a lunch salad. Womp womp. Yes, I know, I know, but hear me out. The problem with lunch salads in my experience is that they are either too virtuous – vegetable-only affairs that leave you hungry, or too heavy – sure it has fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and ranch dressing in it, but it’s a salad! And neither of those are what I want for lunch. This salad is different though: it’s healthy yet filling, but not too heavy, and it has lots of different textures and flavors – veggies, protein, salty olives, crunchy pumpkin seeds, creamy avocado. In short, it’s the perfect lunch salad.
Oh sure, I’ll bring other things for lunch as well. I tend to bring leftovers from dinners during the week, mixed and matched together to create something new. Recently I tried this twist on a tuna salad sandwich and really liked it. While working on this post, I found that one of my favorite food websites put together a list of lunch recipes that take 5 minutes to pack, which I will definitely try out. But where my luncheon basket is concerned, I keep coming back to this salad. It hits all the right spots, and leaves me feeling both satisfied and healthy.
An Ideal Lunch Salad
Adapted from 101cookbooks
Makes 4 lunch-sized salads
The key to getting this salad (or any salad, really) to work with me is prepping it ahead of time. So, on weeks that I want to have this salad for lunch, I spend 10-15 minutes on Sunday evening to get it ready. Assuming you may want to do the same, my instructions below are for this scenario. If you are making this salad for lunch on a weekend, or perhaps a leisurely picnic, then you could obviously prep and mix it all up at once – just make sure to wait on the dressing until right before serving, as with most salads.
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 14 oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
15 kalamata or niçoise olives, chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 small ripe avocado, sliced
1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons (depending on how loose you like your dressing) water or any type of unsweetened milk
a pinch of salt (or more, to taste)
2-3 handfuls of whatever greens you prefer (I’ve tried it with spinach, romaine, arugula, mixes – you can’t go wrong)
Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes – until it is fork tender, but not mushy.
In a large container, combine all the mix-ins and store in the fridge until ready to assemble your salad.
Toast the pumpkin seeds and store in a separate container on the counter.
Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust the consistency to your liking by adding as much of the milk/water as desired. Taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Store the dressing in a glass container in the fridge.
In a med-large container (I use one that holds 1 quart), first lay down a bed of greens. On top of the greens, scoop about 2/3 cup of the mix-ins. Top with 1/4-1/2 of an avocado. (I store the other half of the avocado – pit still in it! – in a container in the fridge and it keeps just fine for a day or two).
Bring the toasted nuts and the dressing with you to work. When you are ready to eat lunch, top the salad with about a tablespoon of toasted seeds and as much dressing as you like. Put the top back on your container and then shake it up – I find this is the best way to distribute the dressing throughout the salad. Enjoy!