Curried Pearl Couscous Salad

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Recently, a very fortunate set of circumstances resulted in the creation of my new favorite summer salad dish.

  • I wanted to make something at the beginning of the week to pack for lunches for the rest of the week.
  • I needed to make sure I had protein, veggies and some carbs in my lunches.
  • I had made my dinner plan for the week and I had an abundance of fresh vegetables leftover, with no plan for how to use them.

The veggies in question were half of a head of orange cauliflower from Pleitez Produce, and a bunch of green beans from Walnut Hill Farm. The lunch setting: lunchtime in the break room. The weather: outside, warm all week with a slight chance of thunderstorms; inside, temperature could range from “balmy” to “beginning of the next ice age.” The goal: build a lunch that fills me up but doesn’t make me feel like I’m reversing all the health karma points I have racked up this week in my workouts.

Based on the temperature, I knew I wanted a cold dish, but with a little kick to keep me warm just in case my office felt like a meat locker this week. I decided to combine my old favorite, Whole Foods’ cracklin’ cauliflower, with a pasta salad to give it a little more oomph. I chose pearl couscous (or Israeli couscous) because I love the texture, but you could substitute the grain or pasta of your choice. Quinoa would be my second choice for its superfood nutrition benefits. I used roasted cauliflower, blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes and roasted chickpeas for the mix-ins, then dressed it all in a curry vinaigrette. You could throw in whatever veggies you have on hand.

I have definitely found my new favorite pasta salad! I can’t get enough of this stuff. I think the dressing is what really makes this salad special. The roasted chickpeas don’t hurt. Mmmm. And (bonus!) this is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Just in time for summer barbecue season.

Scroll past the recipe for a Gardenology update!

Curried Pearl Couscous Salad (serves 4-6 as a meal, 8-10 as a side dish)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of pearl couscous (uncooked)
  • 1 Tbsp oil (olive, coconut, or vegetable)
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, or half of a large one, cut into florets
  • 1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, snapped and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of grape tomatoes, sliced into halves
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas together with the 1 Tbsp of oil, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Cook the couscous according to package instructions. I added my 1 cup of couscous to 2-1/4 cups of boiling water, then reduced heat, covered, and cooked for 10-12 minutes. Pour out of pan and into a large bowl. Let cool.
  4. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Then remove green beans from hot water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
  5. While everything cools, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together curry powder, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil until combined.
  6. To the large bowl of couscous, add cauliflower, chickpeas, and green beans. Toss with the dressing. Add halved tomatoes and stir until combined.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

 

In other news, I have some green beans in my garden! Here are some gardenology progress photos:

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The first harvest was nine green beans. If I don’t get another thing out of this garden all summer, at least I can be proud of the nine green beans I grew from seeds. Never mind that that achievement probably requires the skill of a third grader. I am a remedial gardening student, okay?! It’s the little things.

For more BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch ideas, type BYOBB into the search bar.

WANTED: Ideas for BYOBB Lunches

white board art is my pageant talent

In case you haven’t heard, BYOBB stands for Bring Your Own Brown Bag in my world. In fact, I use this abbreviation so much that while I was text-message-inviting someone to a friend’s Super Bowl party last week, my phone auto-corrected BYOB to BYOBB.  This auto-correct malfunction either made me look like kind of an idiot, or completely confused my fellow party-goer (sorry Craig!). Maybe both.

Anyway, when I say BYOBB, I am usually inviting a coworker or friend to enjoy a brown bag lunch with me. I have developed a lovely group of brown bag lunchers in my office, and I have found that a lot of people are into saving money and calories by bringing to work a healthy lunch from home. We have been going strong for 4-6 weeks and I hope to continue. Usually I bring hummus, veggies, a wedge of cheese, and a pita pocket, with a piece of fruit to enjoy later. And after a month or so of that, I am starting to get a little bored.

I have featured ideas for BYOBB lunches here before, and now I am looking for some more creative options. I love checking out bento box lunch ideas and coming up with meal options that sound more appealing to me than what is being served at the lunch cart around the corner (so I don’t cheat!). So do you have any ideas for BYOBB lunches? What do you usually pack, and what do you wish you had more often? Is there a combination you have been dying to try out? Have a cautionary tale about a lunch idea that didn’t go as planned? Want to see my try to makeover one of your favorite guilty pleasure lunch options into a healthier one? Give me all you’ve got!

And as for my ideas, here are a few:

 

Summer Solstice Meal

It’s officially the first day of summer!

I celebrated last night with a delicious summery meal. I made corn on the cob for the first time this year, and if the season wasn’t blatantly obvious by the looks of the main plate, it certainly was evident in the accoutrements.

You can take the girl out of Maryland. . .

I served up a Thai mock chicken salad over a bed of arugula, corn on the cob, and raw sliced kohlrabi. Regarding the previous photo, it is my firm belief that the only way to have sweet corn is on the cob, with butter and Old Bay seasoning. And while you’re salivating over that, might I add how excited I am that it is a seasonally appropriate time for a nice crisp white ale?

This chicken salad was a hit. I planned on having leftovers for sandwiches – I didn’t. It turns out that Kyle is a Thai chicken salad fiend! He suggested, between mouthfuls, that we call this “Trickin’ Salad” because it’s like chicken but it’s a trick – as there is no real meat in this salad. Har har har.

I love it when an original recipe is a home run on the first try.

Thai “Chicken” (or Trickin’) (or Mighty Ass-Kickin’) Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 package (4 pieces) Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/2 cup veganaise
  • 1 Tbsp light sodium soy sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lightly salted peanuts
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper or crushed red pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Cook the Naked Chik’n cutlets according to package directions. I chose to microwave mine with a few tablespoons of water, covered, for about two minutes.
  2. While the cutlets are warming up, dice the celery and carrot.
  3. Chop the cutlets into small cubes, or tear them for a more rustic texture.This yields about 2 cups of “chicken”.
  4. Combine the “chicken,” celery and carrots in a medium sized bowl. Add the veganaise, soy sauce, and vinegar. Stir to combine.
  5. Pour the peanuts into a small zip-lock bag and crush them by pounding them repeatedly with the bottom of a can or jar until they are smashed into a crumbly texture. Add the peanuts to the salad.
  6. Stir in peanuts and pepper.
  7. Chill for about an hour before serving.

Serve the Thai “Chicken” Salad over arugula or spinach, in sandwiches or wraps, or rolled up in large leaves of romaine for a crunchy summer lettuce wrap. The possibilities are endless!

What will you do to celebrate the longest day of the year and the official kickoff to summer?

BYOBB Lunches: Mediterranean Sandwich

Onward with the BYOBB lunches. . . Need an idea for a delicious bring your own brown bag lunch this week? Have a sandwich that is more exciting than your average PB&J.

Mediterranean Sandwich

Between two slices of whole wheat bread, pile on the following toppings:

  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • roasted piquillo peppers from a jar
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • spring mix
  • fresh crumbled feta
  • 2 teaspoons TJ’s Goddess dressing

Pack up with two healthy sides like lowfat yogurt and berries (mine are frozen) or carrot sticks and an apple. Refrigerate until lunch time and then dig in!

BYOBB Lunches: BBQ Tofu Salad

I mentioned last week that we started a BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch movement at my office. It has pushed me to come up with interesting ways to practice the art of lunch making. Here is a delicious salad that breaks up the monotony of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The BBQ tofu can easily be made at the beginning of the week, then all you have to do is assemble sandwiches or salads throughout the week to bring to work or school.

The night before this lunch, I was involved in some major make-the-night-before action. Notice in the above photo that besides making my lunch the night before, I made overnight coffee and overnight oats in a jar. This OOIAJ featured a peanut butter jar and a generous heap of strawberry preserves in the morning.

Is this post becoming a little acronym-heavy, or do you want more? More, you say? How about this: PBJOOIAJ. Bam! Peanut butter and jelly overnight oats in a jar. So when you have your PB&J for breakfast, you need a little something different for lunch. Make some barbecue tofu ahead of time. You can thank me later.

BBQ Tofu Salad

Make this super easy BBQ tofu by cutting a block of tofu into small chunks and sauteing in an oiled pan over medium heat. Break up the chunks as the tofu cooks and brown like ground beef. Add bottled barbecue sauce to taste, and add salt and pepper if you wish. I also added a pinch of cayenne for extra kick. Cook for a few minutes more and then remove from heat. Refrigerate for up to 4 days and use on sandwiches and salads throughout the week.

I ate this tofu over spring mix, diced cucumbers, and diced tomatoes with a bit of TJ’s Goddess dressing, with steamed broccoli on the side. I steamed the broccoli the night before, seasoned to taste, and packed it with the salad to store in the refrigerator overnight. I kept it in the work refrigerator until lunch time and ate it cold. It was very satisfying and kept me full all afternoon.

Happy lunching!

 

BYOBB Lunches

I’ve already learned to evade the Starbucks trap by making healthy breakfasts at home. I make these breakfast cookies about every other week and they have worked wonders for my wallet and my waistline. My next challenge is lunch. I used to go home every day for lunch, which saved me money and ensured that I ate a healthy homemade meal. Plus, 30 minutes in front of mindless TV in the middle of the work day definitely helps to preserve your sanity. Since starting a new job in January, I haven’t gone home once for lunch and I’ve only brought my lunch a handful of times, for these reasons.

  1. My new office is too far away from home to squeeze in another commute in the middle of the day.
  2. I am working downtown, surrounded by tons of awesome lunch spots.
  3. Most of my coworkers grab lunch out, and it’s hard for me to say “No thanks, I brought a sandwich.”

Lucky for me, my company has started a new healthy eating initiative in which we are encouraged to bring a healthy lunch to work 3 days a week. My coworkers have organized a lunch club that gathers to eat a healthy brown bag lunch (Bring Your Own Brown Bag!) and track our progress daily. Because I have been lazy about getting creative in the kitchen for my daily lunch, I am excited that this program is giving me the extra push I needed.

BYOBB is more fun with reusable bags

I plan to start featuring at least one fun and healthy lunch per week in case you want to join me and need some ideas. I get bored easily, so it should be no problem to come up with some interesting ideas for brown bag lunches. Added bonus, all of my lunches are vegetarian by default, so if you are trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, if you need to avoid meat on Fridays for Lent, or even if you want some fresh ideas for your school-aged vegetarian son or daughter’s lunchbox, hopefully you will find some inspiration. Here are three lunches to get us started.

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Vegetarian Gumbo with Brown Rice

This should be made the night before, and it keeps well in the fridge so you can get several lunches out of it. This is more Creole-style than Cajun gumbo, because you don’t have to worry about making a roux. Beans replace the meat that is found in traditional gumbo to offer a source of lean protein.

  1. Start with some cooked brown rice. Hint: try to make a few servings of brown rice early in the week and keep in the fridge so you can grab a healthy grain whenever you need it.
  2. In a slow cooker, combine the following ingredients: frozen gumbo vegetables or frozen okra (example), frozen vegetable soup vegetables, 15 oz can black, kidney or mixed beans, 15 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (or any combination of herbs and spices that appeal to you), salt and pepper. Cook on high 2-3 minutes then season to taste.
  3. Store rice and gumbo separately overnight, and in the morning pour one serving of gumbo over one serving of brown rice in a portable dish. Add hot sauce for extra spice. Refrigerate then reheat at work.

Tempeh Veggie Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread

Make the tempeh the night before, then assemble the sandwich in the morning. Serve with fresh cut carrot sticks and hummus or the dip of your choice.

  1. Prepare tempeh. Cut one block into thin strips and saute in olive oil in a pan, browning on all sides until it is crispy on the edges. Add your favorite Asian marinade or stir fry sauce to the pan (just enough to coat), lower heat, and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Assemble sandwich. Between two slices of whole wheat bread, place a layer of tempeh, baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, fresh cilantro, and light mayo or vegannaise. Refrigerate or pack with an ice pack during the day and eat cold.

Kale with Chickpeas and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

This recipe is from the March 2011 issue of Real Simple magazine and the original is found here: Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes. I adapted it to what was in my refrigerator, substituting kale for chard and adding a little parmesan for deeper flavors. If you are sick of brown rice, you could serve this with couscous or another grain. Cook the night before (it’s really quick), refrigerate overnight, and reheat the next day.

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With a little planning, I think I can successfully overhaul my lunch routine to make sure I get all the nutrients I need to stay sharp in the afternoon, and save a few bucks while I’m at it.

What are your tricks for healthy brown bag lunches?