Friday, September 30, 2011

Excellent Lunch at Home: Put an Egg on Top

Since I became vegetarian, I've stumbled upon a little-known secret of cooking: nearly everything is better with a fried egg on top. Even non-vegetarian foods are better with an egg. Consider: potatoes, rice (bi bim bap), hamburgers (this is big in Australia), sauteed greens of all kinds, salads, roasted veggies. If you allow the egg to be cooked by any appropriate method, instead of just fried, the list expands further to include stir-fries, desserts (hello custard), tacos, and even more. I am a great advocate of putting eggs on top of other things.

In honor of eggs, and because I went on a business trip in the first half of this week and I've got the day off, I'm posting a lunch with an egg on top today. I made garlic-lemon quinoa with spinach and a fried egg.

The quinoa was languishing in my pantry, since F. nearly always defaults to basmati rice. The spinach had been bought last weekend in anticipation of making a lot of salad, but then I wasn't here to eat any salads. It needed to be used up. As far as eggs and garlic... if I didn't have eggs and garlic in my kitchen it would be because I didn't have a kitchen.

  1. Throw some quinoa in the rice cooker.  Remember salt.
  2. Sautee some spinach in butter or olive oil with chopped garlic.  
  3. Mix the spinach and cooked quinoa together, spoon some into a bowl, and squeeze a slice of lemon on top.
  4. Fry an egg in the spinach-garlic pan and put that on top of the whole thing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Excellent Mother in Law

I haven't posted as many lunches this month because F's mom and dad came to visit us a few weeks ago. It's F's mom's hobby to fill up our freezer with her cooking. We've got frozen samosas, several kinds of shaak (the general category of Gujarati cooked vegetables), pav bhaji, a lot of snacks, and a lot of raw ingredients. All in the freezer. Today was the first time this month that we visited the grocery store. So most of my lunches have been like this:

To be fair, I don't get to bring a lovely steel thali like that to the office. If only.

Excellent Blurry Lunch

F. has the wild idea to throw a party at which everyone can fry anything their heart desires: avocados, chocolate bars, hot peppers, buffalo tofu wings... anything.  That is Fry Fest, and it has not happened yet.  But we did get together with a few people to fry some things for dinner, and I did go to the grocery store that evening and buy everything that seemed like a good idea, even if it wasn't.

I had a few bell peppers and tomatillos lying around on Wednesday after a little bit too much exuberance at the grocery store in preparation for "Fry Fest: the Prequel."  I don't even really enjoy bell peppers most of the time, so I was at a loss regarding what should be done with them.  That's how they lasted until Wednesday.  But then I thought, "OK.  I don't like bell peppers, except when they are roasted until burnt and/or spiced with lots of cumin and garlic.  Let's go with that."  I broiled the peppers and tomatillos until their skins were substantially blackened, chopped half an onion and some garlic, and went to the basement to get my secret stash of cumin in the Big Jar so I could refill my common-knowledge stash of cumin in the Small Jar. 

I ate this roasted pepper soup with cheese & crackers, spinach salad with mustard vinaigrette, dried cherries & almonds, and my favorite weird green Naked Juice smoothie.  

Here's how it's done.

3-4 bell peppers
about 6 tomatillos
half a large onion
4 cloves of garlic
a teaspoon of cumin seeds
4ish cups veggie broth

  1. Halve the peppers and tomatillos, lay them cut sides down on a baking sheet or broiling pan, and broil them until their skins are blackened enough for you.  I went for about 15 minutes. 
  2. Chop the onion and garlic.
  3. Melt the butter in a big soup pan, and throw the cumin seeds in there.  You could add a chopped jalapeno here too if you like.  Or a chipotle!  That would be great.
  4. When the cumin seeds are sizzling, add the onion and garlic.  Cook them until they're cooked.  You know how long to cook onions and garlic.
  5. Add all the stuff from the broiler.  Maybe give it a few chops with a knife first, because you're going to use an immersion blender on it and that'll make it go faster.
  6. Add the veggie broth.  You could just add enough to allow blending and keep the rest aside, if you would like to control the thickness of the soup.
  7. Will it blend?  Blend it.
  8. Stir in some yogurt until the soup is creamy enough for you.  Check for salt.  It might be good to add ground chile powder here, especially if you have ground dried chipotles or something smoky like that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Principles of Lunch: Reduced Fat Foods are a Waste of Time

I have already discussed why I can't stand packing sandwiches in my lunch.  My rationale was mostly a matter of taste; sandwiches suffer from refrigerator storage more than most other lunch-appropriate foods.  Now I have to confess my other dark secret: I also despise "low fat" and "low sugar" foods, including yogurt cups.  Blasphemy!  Yogurt cups, that other lunchtime staple, accused of treason!

I'm not saying I don't like how yogurt tastes.  Yogurt is delicious, and even most low-fat and low-sugar yogurts taste pretty good.  I just think they're treacherous.  They're not filling.  Worse, they taste like something that is filling, which makes it even more disappointing not to be full after eating them.  Then you eat more of them, or of something else, and the whole intent of having your snack is thwarted.

I am also suspicious that tricking your body like this isn't healthy in the long run.  It probably trains you to eat fewer fruits and vegetables, for one.  Expecting calories when there are none to be had probably just makes your body hungrier, too.  Why not just have a little bit of the real thing, and actually be satisfied? 

So I scour the supermarket for full-fat yogurt cups and "whole milk" plain yogurt.  (Trader Joe's has some tasty greek yogurt cups, FYI.)  I drink whole milk too, and I cook with butter.  I don't drink soda often, but when I do it's the sugary kind.  When I eat dessert, I choose the richest and most satisfying one (I've got a soft spot for custards).  I look at it as the culinary equivalent of "quality over quantity."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Excellent Lunch Away From Home

My job sent me on a trip last week.  I was doing some testing out in the middle of nowhere, and it would have been a half-hour drive to get to anyplace that would sell me food.  I'm not kidding!  It was empty out there.  So I packed a lunch, and I thought this would be a good chance to talk about how to pack a lunch when you don't have a kitchen.

My method isn't terribly complicated.  I just buy whatever is at the grocery store that doesn't require any cooking or slicing.  

  • Baby carrots and hummus
  • Crackers and cheese
  • I make an exception to the slicing rule for apples and peanut butter
  • Yogurt cups -- I've got a grudge against low-fat yogurt, though, so I always have to hunt for the non-diet kind.  Trader Joe's Greek yogurt cups are often better for that.
  • Bananas and other fruit
  • Nuts! Or trail mix.
  • If I weren't vegetarian I'd list cured meat here too, like beef jerky and Slim Jims.
 When I got back, my in-laws were visiting and I helped my mother-in-law fill the freezer with a giant stockpile of Gujarati food.  I expect that for the next few weeks I'll be packing samosas, pav bhaji, and rotli-shaak.  I do want to have a tamale-making party some afternoon, though.