When you work from home, lunch is the most exciting part of the day. Now, I know that lunch is important to everybody, whether you work from home or go to an office. Everyone eats at midday, of course, and I’m sure most people aren’t such masochists that they would deny the need for breaks throughout the day. When it comes to food, though, I contend that the stay-at-home worker has the advantage. First, it’s far less expensive to eat at home than it is to have someone else prepare something for you. You don’t have to deal with any of that nonsense where you ask for an extra pickle slice on your sandwich and it costs you $3.00, oh, no. Second, you get to root around your own cupboards, presumably already stocked with things you like to eat, and make something that fits your needs and tastes perfectly. You want that third slice of cheese? An extra large pile of guacamole? More than what many doctors would recommend as a healthy serving of bacon? Pile it on, friend, and enjoy your meal! Finally, when you eat at home, you avoid the lineups. I see the value in being around people who aren’t your coworkers, but waiting in line to place, and then receive, your order just makes your lunch break shorter. And work days are already long enough without making our breaks shorter, am I right?
When it comes to good lunches, I am a firm believer in leftovers. My reasons are pretty obvious: leftovers are cheap and convenient, requiring little or no effort from me. A quick poke around the fridge, and maybe a few minutes on the heat, and then and I can get back to catching up on the news* or just relaxing until it’s time to grumble grumble my way back to afternoon productivity. My absolute favorite thing about leftovers, though, is how good they can taste the next day. No matter how good it tasted the night you made it, that time overnight in the fridge can turn what was already a decent dish into something that is absolutely, transcendently delicious. I’ve noticed that this magic tends to happen with dishes that feature some kind of acid–citrus, vinegar–and so I’ve tried to make use of this effect with what Keith and I affectionately call “slapdash” meals, or something you just throw together from whatever is on hand, with varying degrees of success. If I’m making a salad with onions, for example, the very first thing I do is chop them finely and let them sit in the oil and vinegar dressing until I’m done preparing all the other components. Even in a short amount of time, the onions will mellow just enough to ensure you don’t kill anyone with your breath while retaining most of their flavour and crunch.
Of course, I’m not here to tell you about a slapdash lunch. I’m here to tell you about Yotam Ottolengi’s Sweet Winter Slaw, from his book Plenty. And, boy, is this slaw ever plenty delicious (yuk yuk)! This salad has everything, and I mean everything, that makes great food great. Its dressing is sweet, salty and sour at once, redolent of the very best flavours of Asia. Two different types of cabbage and toasted macadamia nuts add a satisfying crunch, while the sweet mango and papaya lend a soft juiciness to the whole thing. And that’s not even to mention the cooling mint and cilantro, which contrast nicely with the heat from the minced Thai red chili. This salad is so well balanced that it’s hard to say what the best part is, but I can tell you with certainty that it won’t taste the same if you leave anything out. On several occasions, I’ve made this salad while forgetting the lemongrass, or the mint, or the cilantro, or the Savoy cabbage. Every time I convinced myself I could get by without one or another ingredient, its absence has been notable and the salad hasn’t been as good. If I had to name one thing that could be excluded or replaced, though, it would be the macadamia nuts. Thankfully, Ottolenghi recommends a much cheaper replacement–peanuts–which works really well.
This slaw tastes just great the day you make it, but it’s nothing short of phenomenal the next day. The Savoy cabbage wilts a bit and the fruit gets a little softer, but the red cabbage and nuts retain their crunchiness and all of the salad’s flavours meld together in sweet-salty-sour-spicy-refreshing harmony. This, folks, is a leftover lunch not to be missed!
*Because Facebook is not going to check itself….
Sweet Winter Slaw, recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
So, yes, it’s called a winter slaw, but don’t let that deter you. There is nothing winter-like about these flavours, which are bright and refreshing. Serve at room temperature immediately, or make it in advance and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
100 ml lime juice
1 lemongrass stalk, roughly chopped
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp soy sauce
1 pinch red chilli flakes
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp olive oil
150 g macadamia nuts or peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
7 leaves of Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 red cabbage, finely shredded
1 mango, cut into thin strips
1/2 papaya, cut into thin strips
3 sprigs of fresh mint, stems discarded and leaves roughly chopped
1 small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 Thai red chilli, de-seeded if you don’t like spiciness (I left the seeds in) and minced
Salt, to taste
Start with the dressing. In a small saucepan, add all ingredients, except for the sesame and olive oils, and bring to a boil over high heat. Let it boil for 4-6 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened slightly. Set aside to cool slightly as you prepare the salad ingredients.
Next, chop your vegetables and nuts and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Strain the solids from your cooked dressing mixture and then mix with the sesame and olive oils. Add the dressing to the chopped vegetables and nuts and toss. Taste for seasoning, and serve.