Do you remember the early days of social media, back when people could be heard snarking “I don’t want to know what you had for lunch!” I just never understood that. I don’t have cats, so I thought lunch intel was, like, the whole purpose of social media. I very much want to know what you had for lunch! Show me everything, I would think . . . and I hope you don’t mind my stealing all your menus.
Thinking up lunch used to be quite a chore for me, as it is for many of the people who turn to me for advice on changing their eating habits. One of the best ways to care for yourself and regain control of your eating is to make your own food—but it still feels like a lot to do.
Here’s a mashup of things people say to me: I go to a job, as in I must leave the house, which implies this is not an episode of The Real Housepants of Anywhere. I have to get dressed! Do things to earn my hourly wage! Oh and also maybe push some laundry through and feed other humans as well as myself. I have health issues. I have a family. My three kids have five sports. My partner is on active duty, and my car’s always in the shop. How am I supposed to deal with all that, and plan, shop, and cook homemade meals? Tell me that, Mrs. Lady.
I have an answer, which not everyone loves—at first. Because my answer is salad. But don’t run away! I mean good salad. Not a laughing-alone salad bowl of dry leaves. My salad is giant salad. Full-fat salad. Stick-to-the-ribs salad. Salad every lunch.
Why salad? Planning for salad only has to be done once—and I’ve done it for you, below. Most important: Salad doesn’t have to be cooked. Salad for the win!
Here’s my basic recipe. Between shopping, which you can do as infrequently as every other week, and washing and chopping, which should take no more than 15 minutes, you can be eating in less time than it takes to run to the bodega and pay triple for your trouble. (Not having to think something up when you’re hungry should save you some time, too.)
8-12 oz. raw or cooked vegetables. Any vegetables you like. I like: chopped purple cabbage, jarred artichoke hearts, purple or orange cauliflower, romanesco cauliflower, every-color carrots, mild peppers, shaved Brussels sprouts. It’s also nice to toss in leftover roasted vegetables, if I have them, like squash, rutabagas—anything goes! Salad is a broad church.
My base always has a generous proportion of cucumbers and tomatoes, like an Israeli salad or a Greek salad. These are very watery vegetables, which are good to balance things like cauliflower and cabbage.
Mushrooms, which come to find out, are not technically vegetables. They add a great texture.
Half an avocado, cubed, at the ripeness you like.
Half a cup of cooked beans, for protein. I love the beans from Rancho Gordo, and splash out on a bulk order every few months. You can get good beans anywhere, though, and already-cooked beans in a can are a gift from the universe.
Some kind of allium. Bermuda onion, green onion, shallot, chives.
A lot of olive oil. A fearsome amount. I’ve never even measured. It’s a lot. (I got this tip from a friend who used to live in Israel. That’s how they do it, and they are onto something.)
A quarter cup of nuts or seeds. I like toasted walnuts and toasted pepitas.
A mountain of any fresh herbs you like, and I do mean “any” and “mountain.”
Fancy or flavored salt, for fun, and for balancing the olive oil.
1. Chop vegetables into biggish dice. Some people like precision here, but it’s not necessary. Salad isn’t fussy.
2. Add the beans, alliums and avocado.
3. Pour in some olive oil and mix everything. The avocado will emulsify if soft, which is fine. Taste and add more oil if you need it.
4. Sprinkle with salt. Mix and taste again.
5. Add the nuts and herbs on top. If you like, serve with a hunk of bread on the side, which you should of course feel free to dip in olive oil.
6. Enjoy, because this salad is delicious.
7. Repeat tomorrow!
A Handy Shopping List
A week’s shopping list for one person (six lunches) would look something like this.
a pint of cherry tomatoes
1-2 hothouse cucumbers, or a tray of Persian mini-cukes
1 bunch of scallions or chives or 1 Bermuda onion or 2 shallots
3 cans of already-cooked beans, any kind (or a 1 lb bag of dried beans)
6-8 oz nuts or seed
3-4 lbs assorted vegetables and mushrooms. Get a good mix, so that you can have some variety throughout the week.
1 bunch each of mint, basil, Italian parsley, or whatever you like. I even use lavender and rosemary.
More than one person? Just double down on the shopping. Nothing could be easier than making an even bigger salad.
In the MDK Shop
If You Don’t Like Salad, and I Haven’t Changed Your Mind
Salad is just a suggestion. It doesn’t work all year, in all climes, or for all people.
My salad framework could be a good shortcut, though—a starting point for you to modify. You could apply this method to another lunch-food category, such as sandwiches, rice bowls, or soup.
What’s for Dinner?
You still have dinner to think about, it’s true. But thanks to generous amounts of fat, protein, and fresh complex carbs at lunch, you’ll have the energy to think about dinner calmly, rather than hangrily. Maybe your kids will even want salad. Just kidding. But when I’ve had a giant salad for lunch, I feel pretty good about pizza for dinner.
Image: Kalebas, twee perziken en een walnoot, Michiel van Huysum, 1714-1760, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.