Ask Digestivo: Lunch on Top
Recipes to get you on a new vibration when you're building your own foundation
We’re back and so is Beyonce: coincidence? We think not. We hope you didn’t miss us too much, but you know what they say – absence, chronic tardiness, and general unpredictability make the heart grow fonder. Since we’ve been gone, the summer seems to have finally eased into its full, lazy form. We hope you’re lounging, hydrating, and enjoying the occasional glass of kombucha-wine in the sunshine. Should that combination spark curiosity, send your hard-hitting questions and this-is-more-of-a-comment-than-a-question-s to askdigestivo at gmail dot com.
My much dreaded and long delayed return to office is fast approaching, and much as I love occasional midday indulgence (read: Chipotle), I’m loath to give up my pandemic-borne routine of moderately healthy, semi-homemade lunches. Do you have any ideas for packed lunches that won’t further fuel my depression? Any sandwich suggestions or not so sad salads are greatly appreciated!
—Packing No Heat
Reader, let’s start with an uncomfortable truth – much as we absolutely love sandwiches, we find the vast majority of homemade sandos are best enjoyed at home (the obvious exception being our all purpose picnic/hike/beach fave, the pan bagnat, which – famously – not only benefits from but improves with rest). Toasting a couple slices of day-old bread works for a sandwich to be enjoyed a la minute, but trying to calibrate your condiments to counteract staleness while also accounting for the time your sandwich will sit between making and eating is usually a recipe for disappointment. Another factor to consider is how the sandwich is packaged – a tight wrap with the right materials will go a long way toward prolonging your sandwich’s shelf life, but we’ve yet to find a home solution that holds a candle to well deployed deli paper.
That being said, we can recommend you invest in a proper lunch box. Before the widespread onset of novel coronavirus, I (JS) toted many a lunch to the Upper East Side in a monbento square – they come in sets of two, but even as a certified fresser I found just one to make for a rather hearty meal. Transparently, I should mention that it’s not entirely spill proof – I often wrapped mine in a kitchen towel that doubled as a napkin, but for liquid lunches, I’d suggest Glasslock; cold soup season is just around the corner. I (SB) have had a somewhat winding journey with lunch containers myself. When I was commuting to New Haven a couple of times a week, I often relied on this absolutely ridiculous tiffin box but it was not convenient – just kind of fun Indian railway cosplay. If I’m honest with you, and myself, this smaller stainless steel bento I began to steal from Willis worked a lot better. Compartments are key, though. I have also flirted with the Porter Bowl, only to come away frequently frustrated about spills. More recently, I’ve had my eye on the S’well salad bowl and these little airtight numbers from the Package Free shop.
With that hardware in mind, we’re big fans of the snacky bowl approach. A selection of banchan, both homemade and store bought, with or without rice, makes for an excellent and easy lunch – make a couple on Sunday, then fill out your lunchbox with fridge friendly kimchi, myulchi bokkeum, or some jammy soy-marinated eggs. Banchan recipes for all seasons abound, but we stan Eric Kim, Korean Bapsang, Maangchi, and Susan Kim. (Some might even make for decent onigiri, musubi, or gimbap!) You could take a similar approach with mezze, combining a dip (or two or three) with pita chips, crudites, pickles, and a hard boiled egg. Hummus is a quick fix, especially if you’re using canned chickpeas, but we also love a smoky mutabbal/melitzanosalata moment, and ajvar is a decent jarred option; if you can store your lunchbox in a fridge, cooling tzatziki and maast o musir are just the tip of the savory yogurt bowl iceberg. We hear that stinky lunches are now in, so don’t overthink it before reaching for pickle-y additions or repurposed leftovers.
A couple weeks ago we sang praises of various cold noodles (more specifically, “hot and sour, tossed in creamy sesame paste and peanut butter, or these ones loosely inspired by bang bang ji”); to that list, we’d also add this bright Vietnamese preparation with shaking beef and Shanghai-style scallion oil noodles. FWIW, we’re down for most summery pasta salads, even if they’re of the refrigerator cleaning variety. As a rule, we find it’s best to think of these as more salad than pasta, incorporating a thoughtful combination of textures and flavors; a punchy shallot vinaigrette or salsa verde tossed with ziti, shells, or penne and some combination of fresh herbs, salty cheese, toasted nuts, and a combination of pickled, raw and roasted veg is an easy and adaptable starting point. Chopped salumi, tinned fish, or marinated chickpeas are good options for extra protein. We’ve also been known to enjoy leftover pasta con le sarde straight from the fridge.
As with many subjects, work lunch is also an arena where social media driven by a strange comingling of influencers, diet culture, and Mormon moms has really produced a lot of content. I (SB) have been obsessed by this particular genre since high school when I discovered bento box tumblr, and have since fallen prey to several of these trends despite not having a husband or child (the usual recipients of video-lunch-prep bounty) in sight. Among my favorites, various collard wraps and jars of salad both come to mind (JS: Erewhon is shaking). My biggest insights, however, have been about myself: I’m a messy girl who needs something to look forward to several times a day. I’m best served by lunches that are dry (no extra soy sauce in those tea eggs!), well packaged, and varied. Something as substantial as repurposed leftovers never disappoints, but I also need a few little snackies; little bags of chips, hand-wipes, napkins, grapes, and/or carrots all make me feel like the well-cared for child of someone with a Costco membership and an easy going nature about single-use plastics. And sometimes, that’s just the treat you need.
i am in temporary housing for a few months and the kitchen amenities and supplies do not match the standard of cooking to which i am accustomed. what are some vegetarian dishes i can make with two shitty pans, a massive spatula that doesn’t fit in the pans, a surprisingly good peeler, and three knives with the approximate combined sharpness of a toilet paper roll?
love, billy shakes
First and foremost, happy Pride. We see, honor, and affirm your rejection of the capital letters, and welcome your extremely specific question with open arms. Let’s cut to the chase (pun intended): it might be worth it to buy a knife or see if you can find a knife sharpener about town. Even a relatively inexpensive knife or two is going to save you a whole lot of frustration. Sometimes it’s worth the $11.99 to be able to slice a tomato in the summertime, you know?
Given your other constraints, there are a few things that come to mind. Most of our hot weather recommendations for one hot and bothered reader a couple of weeks ago require relatively few kitchen utensils, especially the recipes that revolve around topping soft tofu. That spatula in particular calls out and begs you to make a few quesadillas (perhaps with zucchini or jamaica) and grilled cheeses (with kimchi or the aforementioned sliced tomatoes), as well.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to suggest ye olde Spanish tortilla (prepared in the style of frittata). You could even try slicing the potatoes with your surprisingly spry vegetable peeler, like a mandolin. Come to think of it, this mushroom salad and or some savory toast with sliced cucumbers or radishes might also be kind of nice.
We’re also deeply intrigued by these socca-inspired chickpea “omelets,” and would encourage you to test them for us. Good luck!
There’s a new mayor in town, and he’d love nothing more than for you to pay more rent. Who knew we’d be missing Comrade DeBlasio already!
Drake’s ambient release, alongside the debut banger from B7 has all the talking heads noting a resurgence of house in our sonic airwaves. We’re surely only a few days away from the longform exegesis of the trend, but for now, suffice it to say: it’s peak pandemic music. Dance like no one’s contagious.