Caro­line’s lay­ered lunch­boxes

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - Caro­line McGivern

Thirty years of mak­ing my own packed lunch has bought me a house in Ken­sal Green. Well, that’s what I like to tell peo­ple. It’s money-sav­ing for sure, and you know ex­actly what you’re get­ting.

I usu­ally do a big cook the day be­fore, but you can split it by mak­ing the hum­mus and beet­root two days be­fore, as they keep well. Prep­ping, cook­ing and wash­ing up can take the best part of five hours, but it’s well worth it as you’ll have en­vi­able lunch­boxes for the week. Lay­ers of in­gre­di­ents equal lay­ers of flavour.

Makes about 5 x 450g lunch­boxes For the Per­sian rice with spring onions and fresh herbs

bas­mati rice 250g ten­der mixed herbs like co­rian­der, flat-leaf pars­ley, mint, tar­ragon or dill about 1½ small bunches in to­tal, finely chopped spring onions ½ a small bunch, finely chopped un­salted but­ter 75g sun­flower or vegetable oil 1-2 tbsp

For the le­mony hum­mus

good qual­ity chick­peas 1 tin (re­serve the juice) tahini 2 tbsp un­waxed lemon zest and juice of 1 gar­lic 1 fat clove ex­tra vir­gin olive oil a glug

For the baked spiced beet­root

beet­root 2 large or 4 small, washed olive oil a driz­zle herbs a hand­ful of your choice co­rian­der seeds 1 heaped tsp fen­nel seeds ½ tsp cumin seeds ½ tsp vegetable oil 100ml red-wine vine­gar 25ml

For the roasted feta with a crust of herbs and lemon

feta 200g un­waxed lemon zest of 1 co­rian­der and fen­nel seeds ½ tsp each, coarsely ground olive oil

For the cele­riac re­moulade

cele­riac about 250g lemon a squeeze of juice and ½ tsp of grated zest good may­on­naise 2-3 tbsp dou­ble cream 1 tbsp flat-leaf pars­ley 2 tbsp, chopped golden raisins 1 tbsp (op­tional)

For the tomato and pep­per salsa

onion ½, very finely chopped green pep­per ½, finely chopped red pep­per ½, finely chopped ripe toma­toes 2, finely chopped red chilli 1, de­seeded, finely chopped flat-leaf pars­ley 20g, finely chopped sumac 1 tsp, plus ex­tra to gar­nish pome­gran­ate mo­lasses ½ tsp olive oil 2 tbsp red-wine vine­gar 1 tbsp

To fin­ish

good qual­ity lit­tle gem let­tuce tossed with a cou­ple of tsp of French dress­ing (made daily 0r the leaves be­come soggy) dry-roasted nuts and seeds


Be­gin by pre­par­ing the Per­sian rice. Wash the rice in cold wa­ter un­til it runs clean. Cover the rice with salted wa­ter and al­low to soak for an hour. Finely chop the herbs and spring onion. Place the rice (drained from soak­ing wa­ter), herbs and spring onion in a pan, cover with new salted wa­ter and bring to the boil. Cook for 9 min­utes un­til par­boiled. Drain into a fine sieve, so as not to wash away any herbs, and set aside. In the same pan, put half the but­ter with the oil and a good sprin­kling of sea salt evenly over the bot­tom. Sprin­kle the rice into the pan, thus al­low­ing the steam to rise be­tween the grains, then fi­nally add the re­main­ing but­ter in small jew­els over the top. Fold a tea towel over the top to lock in the steam, put on the lid and cook for 9 min­utes over medium heat. Re­duce to a low heat for a fur­ther 25 min­utes.

Next make the hum­mus. Put all the in­gre­di­ents into a food pro­ces­sor apart from the olive oil and chick­pea juice. Start blend­ing on low and grad­u­ally add the olive oil, not too much. Then add some of the juice to loosen the mix. Blend on high un­til it’s a smooth con­sis­tency. Ad­just the sea­son­ing. It should have a creamy con­sis­tency as it will firm up once it’s in the fridge.

Pre­heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Lay the beet­root on strong tin foil (or dou­ble it up). Driz­zle with olive oil and tuck in a hand­ful of gar­den herbs such as sage or rose­mary and add a tea­spoon of sea salt. Fold the edges to­gether into a par­cel, leav­ing a de­cent air pocket for the beet­root to steam and roast. Lay di­rectly onto the shelf and bake for around an hour or un­til ten­der. Mean­while, in a small fry­ing pan, dry-roast the co­rian­der, fen­nel and cumin seeds on a low heat for up to 10 min­utes, or un­til the spices are black­ened and the fra­grance fills the house. Tip them into a mor­tar and pes­tle,

Get ahead with lunches for a week ... Lay­ers of in­gre­di­ents equal lay­ers of flavour

grind to a fine pow­der. Once the beet­root is done, peel and cut into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the ground spices along with a good sprin­kling of sea salt and freshly ground pep­per. Pour in the vegetable oil and red­wine vine­gar. Mix well and store in an air­tight con­tainer.

Now pre­pare the feta. Turn up the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Line a bak­ing sheet with parch­ment pa­per, place the feta on the pa­per and grate over the lemon zest. Sprin­kle over the seed mix­ture grind over some pep­per, driz­zle with olive oil and roast till the feta is golden, about 15-20 min­utes.

Next make the cele­riac re­moulade. If you have a man­dolin, this will make the job of slic­ing the cele­riac a lot eas­ier, oth­er­wise peel and cut the cele­riac into match­stick-size pieces. Mix straight away with the lemon juice and zest. Add all the other in­gre­di­ents and mix well.

Fi­nally, pre­pare the salsa. Place the onion, pep­per toma­toes, chilli and pars­ley in a bowl. Add the rest of the in­gre­di­ents, a tea­spoon of sea salt and a good grind of black pep­per to taste, and give ev­ery­thing a good stir. Al­low at least 15 min­utes for the in­gre­di­ents to mac­er­ate.

Ev­ery morn­ing be­fore work, layer the rice at the bot­tom of a box, fol­lowed by 2 ta­ble­spoons of hum­mus and 2 ta­ble­spoons of beet­root. Next, 2 ta­ble­spoons of cele­riac re­moulade, a layer of lit­tle gem, 6 evenly dis­trib­uted teap­soons of salsa and a de­cent chunk of feta, which should lie in the mid­dle. Lib­er­ally scat­ter the whole box with at least 3 tea­spoons of roasted nuts and seeds.

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