A can of chickpeas, an avocado, whole wheat couscous, a tube of harissa paste — these probably weren't your mother's pantry staples, but they have become the new basics in many home kitchens. They are also the foundation for quick, flavorful and healthy lunches that keep well, and today chef and author Aida Mollenkamp tells us how to turn a handful of these modern pantry staples into appealing and affordable lunches that come together in about ten minutes.
If you only had 10 minutes in the morning to pack a lunch, what would you make?
I have two possible lunches. First is a fall slaw: Slice apples and fennel paper-thin then toss with really good olive oil or pistachio oil and lemon. Bring a ripe avocado, some pistachios or pepitas and some hot-smoked salmon and toss it altogether just before eating.
Or I'd make a harissa chickpea salad. Make some whole wheat couscous and while it's cooking, smash some chickpeas with your potato masher then mix in a squeeze of harissa paste, some olive oil, lemon, some chopped parsley or cilantro. Fold the chickpeas together with the couscous along with crumbled feta and some chopped jarred roasted red peppers or chopped olives. Bring some baby greens (think kale or spinach) and toss the chickpeas with greens just before serving. Bring some pita and dry salami, like Spanish chorizo, to eat with it.
What makes these good lunches on the go?
They are healthy (in the sense that they have good fats), pretty filling, affordable, and they aren't really smelly, so you won't offend your cubemates or coworkers.
What is your best tip for packing a satisfying lunch?
My tip is to keep it fun. Meaning that just because it's a packed lunch doesn't mean it should be sad. Add in store bought elements like good Marcona almonds, artisanal soda, or high-end chocolate so lunch feels special without too much extra effort.
(Image: Warm Chickpea Salad with Cumin & Garlic / Faith Durand; Bonnie Tsang for Aida Mollenkamp)