Caroline’s layered lunchboxes
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
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.