While it's no one's idea of a fun time, there are just days when eating lunch at one's desk is inevitable. For those moments, there are pita pockets. Easy to transport, easy to eat one-handed, easy to stuff with just about anything.
These particular pockets took form on just such a busy weekday. There was some leftover chicken in the fridge from the night before, as well as some leftover salad with beets, crunchy romaine lettuce, and a tangy mustard vinaigrette. I grabbed a pita pocket, stuffed it all in, and was back at my desk in minutes.
Of course, you don't have to eat this pita pocket at your desk! It's a good option for just about any lunch you need to make ahead and eat without silverware. If you don't eat meat, baked tofu or sliced hard-boiled eggs would make a mighty fine alternative. A sprinkle of walnuts in each pocket would also add even more crunch and a little extra nutritional content.
A small warning: If you're making the salad filling ahead — as you should — the red beets will gradually turn the entire salad a deep, somewhat shocking, pink. The romaine will also wilt a bit over the course of several days, but surprisingly, it will retain a good amount of crunch (which is why I love romaine!).
Basically, I'm saying that this won't be the most beautiful salad by the time you make your last pita pockets on Friday, but it will still deliver in the taste department. If this sounds less than appetizing to you, try using golden beets instead of red beets, and add the cheese to each pocket as you make it rather than mixing it into the whole salad (I find the salad stays crunchier without the cheese).
Makes 8 pockets filled with 1/2 cup salad and 1/4 cup shredded chicken
2 large beets, leaves removed
2 chicken breasts (3/4 to 1 pound total)
1 bay leaf
2 clove garlic, smashed
1 (4-ounce) heart of romaine
1/2 cup finely shredded manchego cheese
4 whole pita rounds, sliced in half
For the mustard vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oven to 400°F. Scrub the beets clean and pat them dry. Wrap them loosely in foil and roast in the oven until tender all the way through when speared with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, poach the chicken. Place the chicken in a medium-sized pot and cover with 1 inch of water. Add the bay leaf, the smashed garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt to the pot. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the chicken simmer. Cook until the chicken is opaque through the middle and an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F, 8 to 12 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken. Remove the chicken from the water and let it cool on a clean plate. (See more: How to Poach Chicken Breasts)
To make the salad filling, chop the romaine into thin shreds and transfer to a mixing bowl. Rub the peels off the beets with a paper towel. Slice the beets into cubes, then transfer them to the bowl with the lettuce. Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients and pour over the romaine and beets. Toss to combine. Add the shredded manchego and toss to combine. Taste a bite of salad and add salt and pepper if you'd like. At this point, the salad mix can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. (Note: the romaine will wilt a bit over time, but will still retain some crunch.)
When the chicken has cooled, pull it into shreds with your fingers or using two forks. Store the chicken separately from the salad filling; the chicken can be kept refrigerated for up to 5 days.
To assemble the pita pockets, carefully open each pita half and fill with 1/2 cup of salad filling and 1/4 cup of shredded chicken. If it will be longer than 4 hours before you eat your pita pockets, wrap them well and store them in the refrigerator.
In place of manchego cheese, try parmesan, pecorino, or any other hard cheese.