When we asked people what they’d like to change about their working day, we were astounded by what we heard. Four out of five wanted their lunchbox transformed. Bhindi and roti, aloo parathas, chana chaat… no one wants to see these ever again.
So we called the experts and gave the lunchbox a makeover. If you’re bored, you’ve got exotic. If you’re on a health trip, we’ve made it exciting. If you want an appetising, delectable, flavoursome lunch every day without the trauma of hours of preparation, we’ve… well, we’ve tried to give you that too.
First, though, here’s a question. Why bother with a lunchbox at all? Why not simply order out?
The answer is simple, says celebrity chef and cookbook writer Karen Anand. "A dabba from home gives you control of what you are eating; how much oil and spice you ingest, and ensures that you eat only fresh stuff," she says. "There is no guarantee of this when you order out."
It also gives you the freedom to eat as you like, says Manidipa Mandal, a food writer and blogger based in Kolkata. "Want a large sit-down meal? Feel free! Prefer boxes of three or four snack-sized meals for all-day grazing? Voila!"
You may have your own reason to develop a dabba habit. Food preferences, for one, like vegan Nandini Gulati, Gurgaon-based blogger and owner of the vegan food consultancy, Be Light. Be Well. And Pooja Dhingra, Mumbai-based founder of Le15 Patisserie, feels it is important that lunch is from home. "I work long hours and am surrounded all day by things I shouldn’t be eating," she says. "My lunch dabba is the perfect escape."
Health is another very compelling reason to brown bag your lunch. "The food you eat at work can total up to about 1/3 to 1/4 of all the food you eat per day. And you need this nourishment to be able to work at your best," says Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, Mumbai-based gastronomy writer and MD of the food consultancy A Perfect Bite. And for Parineeta Nath, freelance Delhi-based travel journalist, outside food is simply unhygienic.
Finally, if you’re not concerned about your stomach, your wallet makes its presence felt. "With your own tiffin you get more bang for your buck," says Manidipa.
Put It Together
There you go, compelling reasons to dust off your dabba. But for most people, the thought of making lunch causes only one reaction – a dive for the free office delivery menus!
"Every now and then I decide to carry my own lunch, but within a week, I’m bored," says Kahini Roy, advertising executive.
For many people, the lunchbox is a chore but some things can make it simple. It means planning, however, so get used to it.
"Logically if you are a working person, you should shop at the weekend and then midweek," says Karen. "The whole point of taking lunch from home implies that it is fresh. If the ingredients are five days old, that defeats the purpose."
Still, you can do different things to the same ingredients that’ll save your lunches from being repetitive. "For example, a roast chicken can be had plain, in a sandwich, in a salad or mixed with pasta," says Pooja. "So think out of the box for that tiffin box."
Early morning or previous night preparation can get you down, but you can get out of that too. "When I worked at an office, I had what I called my Weeksworth Salad," says Rushina. "I’d prepare salads over the weekend; cutting, grating, roasting meats, boiling potatoes and beans. I’d store all this in boxes in my fridge and mix and match to make salads and sandwiches through the week. The same ingredients were also great for pastas. Also make small servings of nuts, cookies, toasted chivda and store in ziplock bags. Just put one in the box every day."
Delhi-based writer and photographer Renuka Kelkar shares her prep gems: Prepare veggies the previous night while watching TV; keep peeled garlic in an airtight container; marinate chicken and keep in the fridge as a lunch plan for three or four days in separate boxes. "Then it takes just 10 minutes to pan fry it in the morning based on a five-day lunch plan you’ve worked out over the weekend and stuck on your fridge with a magnet," she says.
Lists and tips to help you pack the perfect dabba every day. Take note
Healthy suggestions from Chef Saby, director of kitchen, Olive Bar & Kitchen
Cheese, avocado, and sprouts n Shredded carrots, cucumbers, sunflower seeds, avocado, and cheese n Grilled vegetables (bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini) with sliced cheese, goat cheese, or pesto sauce
Cheddar or mozzarella cheese with apple slices
Brie cheese with mustard and sprouts
Cheese, tomato, sprouts or lettuce, and pesto sauce
Turkey loaf with tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
Sliced chicken or turkey, cranberry sauce, and lettuce
Sliced chicken or turkey, honey mustard, tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
Sliced beef with mayonnaise or horseradish, sliced tomato and cucumbers
Chicken salad with celery, lettuce, and tomato n Tuna/cucumber/green pepper salad with tomato n Salmon or shrimp salad with lettuce or sprouts
For exciting lunches, have these at hand
Spreads, dips and dressings: Mayonnaise, butter, hummus, mustard, hung yoghurt, olive oil, nut butters, a chocolate spread (hey, a little won’t hurt!).
Sauces and seasonings: Tomato, light soya, vinegar, oriental stir fry sauces, soup stock or stock cubes.
Fillings and toppings: Various cheeses, deli meats, veggies, chicken, eggs, boiled potatoes, cheese slices or paneer, cans of baked beans, sweetcorn, fish (sardines, tuna), chickpeas, tins of pineapple and peach slices, eggs, jars of olives, gherkins, pearl onions and garlic.
Staples: Bread, pita bread, rice, pastas, noodles.
Make it better
Brown bag tricks from Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, gastronomy writer and MD of A Perfect Bite
Pita bread and rolls make convenient sandwiches. You can fit ingredients in them without having everything fall out at the other end.
Whole-wheat and white breads make soggy sandwiches. Use rye bread instead.
Avoid too much mayo or other moist condiments. They make bread soggy.
Put salad dressing in a separate container and add it just before eating. Veggies soaked in dressing for too long lose their zest.
Wrap sandwiches individually in foil. They break apart if two are put together.
Use disposable bags as much as possible.
Take the pain out of prep
Travel writer Parineeta Nath’s lunchbox shortcuts
Make stock every weekend (throw bones, quartered onions, root veggies, bayleaf and peppercorns into a pressure cooker and let it cook on its own for two hours). Use this for soup, pasta or risotto, with garlic and herbs.
Some veggies can be prepared and stored for a few days, such as florets of cauliflower and broccoli, batons of carrots and shelled peas.
Cook rice in advance or use leftover rice. Revive it when required with a little water and a few minutes in the microwave.
“Finger foods are fun and practical if you have to eat at your desk,” says Kolkata-based food blogger Manidipa Mandal. Her suggestions:
Tightly roll salad leaves, ham and cheese in a tortilla that’s been spread with mustard, then slice into ‘sushi rolls’ and hold together with toothpicks.
Make a club sandwich and wrap it tightly in cling film for 10 minutes to jam the layers together. Then cut into four pieces and secure with toothpicks. (Possible fillings: paneer and green chutney; mashed pumpkin and minced red chilli pickle; mashed rajma and sweet corn.)
A fruit and veg salad of watermelon balls and diced cucumber with chopped mint and a little grated feta; or red grapes, diced mango and roasted baby potatoes; or boiled chhole with halved cherry tomatoes and pesto; or orange segments, black olives and red onion rings. Dust with chaat masala.
For dessert, a bamboo skewer through cubes of your favourite fruit. Dip into a tamarind-chilli chutney.
cooking enthusiast Renuka Kelkar’s suggestions:
Seasoned sprouts with an egg salad sandwich.
Hummus with raw vegetables like carrot, radish, celery sticks, with a soup as accompaniment.
Manidipa Mandal’s suggestions:
Grilled fish & pineapple salsa and wilted spinach with raisins and onions. Dessert: yoghurt mixed with melted chocolate and set overnight, topped with orange slices.
A reheatable hot salad of steamed broccoli, roasted pumpkin and onions, and a little diced chicken or turkey ham. Dessert: layer a small jar with berries, oats and yogurt and top with a sprinkling of flax seeds or walnuts.
Pasta salad (roast cherry tomatoes till they burst and yellow peppers till the skin chars; peel and chop the latter, mix with the tomatoes and basil/thyme; stir into wholewheat pasta with boiled beans, dress with olive oil and vinegar). Dessert: iced green tea (brew from tea bag and pour over half cup of frozen orange juice).
A stir fried sprouts and noodles dish (stir fry sprouts and cooked rice noodles with red pepper, mushrooms, carrots, spring onions, chilli sauce and sesame oil). Dessert: a frozen banana, honey
and date smoothie in a kulfi mould, sprinkled with pistachios.
Cubes of cheese, sausage chunks and pineapple pieces on cocktail sticks, followed by an apple-peanut butter sandwich – Manidipa Mandal, food blogger
Roasted daliya with chopped raw veggies or a puffed rice bhel. Or steamed beans (chop and steam green beans till soft enough to eat, but still crunchy. Toss in 1 tbsp of gunpowder, 1 tsp of flax seed powder and add salt to taste. Or add crushed peanuts or toasted sesame seeds and lemon juice) – Nandini Gulati, blogger and owner of Be Light. Be Well
Veggies or finely chopped meats stir fried with oriental sauces (ideally from Ong’s) and stuffed into sandwiches, rolled in parathas or packed with steamed rice
– Sid Khullar, CEO at Brands at Large
Mushrooms stir fried in a little butter with or without onions but with salt and pepper, tossed with rice or noodles or used as a topping on toast. Or veggies stir fried with garlic, pepper and salt and tossed with any grain (brown rice, quinoa, cous cous, rice noodles or pasta) and a little olive oil and lime juice –
Parineeta Nath, freelance travel writer
Go Mexican for a change, says blogger Manidipa Mondal. "Reheat leftover rajma with a dash of cumin till mushy and all liquid is absorbed. Mash up and cool. Make a kachumber (tomato, onion, chillies, coriander). Take a tortilla or large roti, add a dollop of rajma mash down the centre, make an indent in the middle and fill it with your salsa fresca, add a little grated cheese or a slice or two of avocado, and wrap over the tortilla, tucking ends in for a secure bundle. Add a dip of hung yoghurt with lime juice and red chilli to dollop on later, if you like – but this is pretty delicious on its own."
Or add a little Lebanon to your lunchbox.
"Mash leftover chhole to make miniature tikkis and grill in the OTG or pan-fry till golden. Add matchsticks of carrots, radish and beet with a splash of vinegar; some celery sticks and baby red radish; a little pot of tahini loosened with yoghurt; and a couple of pita bread halves lined with salad leaves. Or make a non-veg version with small shammi kebabs or leftover keema or tandoori chicken minced finely in the mixie," adds Manidipa.
From HT Brunch, February 19
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