6 lunch recipes to get you through the day
Letâ€™s get idealistic for a moment. In an ideal world you will have had a sumptuous breakfast full of protein and slow-burning, low-GI carbohydrates to start your day and keep you going (see WellBeing issue 121 for recipes). In this scenario, lunch will be a solid meal but not huge and dinner will be something light to not place too much strain on your digestion while you are sleeping. Alas, you may not be inhabiting that idyllic space all the time.
In a busy world of work, kids, partners and other commitments, breakfast is often sparse or missed altogether. So, by the time you get to lunch, you are often ravenous and will eat anything that canâ€™t run away. The problem is that kind of situation often leads to poor food choices that leave you feeling bloated and tired or hungry again by mid-afternoon.
The recipes we set out here are aimed at helping you get the balance right. If you have skipped breakfast, they will be nutritious and solid enough to keep you going. Yet, if you have had a big breakfast, they can be adapted to meet your needs and are also light enough to not make you feel over-full. Before getting into the specifics, though, it helps to think about what you are aiming to achieve with the lunch meal.
Even the biggest of healthy breakfasts will not see you through an entire day. Lunch needs to be adequate to provide you the nutrition your body needs until the evening without weighing it down with nutritional â€œbaddiesâ€. While fats taste good on the tongue, they sit heavily in digestion. So you want light protein meals that come with moderate amounts of good fats such as omega-3 oils. Fish is a great protein source that provides omega-3s. Eggs are also a good source of protein. If you are choosing meat, go for high-quality lean cuts.
What you really want to avoid at lunchtime is sugars. While you get a temporary lift from sugar, itâ€™s burned quickly and you will hit the mid-afternoon trough as your blood sugar levels drop. Complex carbohydrates (such as from wholegrains and vegetables) will deliver slow-burning energy to avoid that afternoon crash. Make sure you combine your lean protein with vegetables so your body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its best. All this can be done with delicious meals that donâ€™t need too much preparation, as you can see from these recipes.
Lamb, olive & oregano burgers
Burgers are a great meal, especially for kids. They have plenty of protein, are full of salad and you get to eat them with your hands. Most commercially available burgers are full of rubbish â€” cheap meat, fillers and other additives. But these burgers are easy to make and full of flavour. Serve them in a bun with a pile of salad and some spicy relish or baba ghanoush. You could also cook them on the barbecue. Makes 4 burgers.
Storage: Make double the amount and store the uncooked burgers in the freezer for another time.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 400g lamb mince
- Â½ cup olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
Cook the onion: Into a non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat, pour 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3â€“4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Remove and put to one side.
Make the burger mix: Combine the mince, olives, oregano, fresh mint, ground cumin and cooked onion in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Divide the mixture into four and shape into patties.
Cook the burgers: Return the frying pan to the heat. Add the rest of the oil and cook the patties 3â€“4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve immediately.
Yellow split pea & miso soup
This is an easy one-pot soup thatâ€™s both filling and warming. Serves 4.
Storage: Stores well in the fridge overnight and can also be frozen.
- 1 cup yellow split peas
- 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
- Â¼ tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp shoyu (or soy sauce)
- 1 tbsp miso, dissolved in about 2 tbsp hot (not boiling) water
- Â½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cook the soup: Wash the split peas in a couple of changes of water and drain. Place in a large heavy-based pan along with the carrot, onion, ginger, turmeric and 1Â½ litres of water. Bring to the boil and turn the heat down to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the split peas are soft. Donâ€™t worry if a foamy substance forms on top; it will dissipate during the cooking.
Finish the soup: Add the vinegar, shoyu, miso and parsley. Stir through until thoroughly combined. Leave on a low heat for 5 more minutes to allow the flavours to amalgamate.
Chicken with a pistachio & sesame crust & green salad
Chicken is delicious in a spicy, dukkah-inspired crust. The pistachio and sesame combination can also be used with haloumi cheese. Or serve it in bowls with chunks of sourdough bread and olive oil for dipping. Serve with a large green salad. Serves 4.
Storage: Serve the chicken immediately. The pistachio and sesame mixture keeps for 2 weeks if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
- 1 tbsp ground sumac
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- 50g pistachio nuts, unsalted & shelled (alternatives are almonds
- or cashews)
- Â¼ cup sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 4 small free-range chicken breasts
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 180Â°C
Make the pistachio dukkah: Put the sumac, lemon zest, pistachios, sesame seeds and spices in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Cook the chicken: Place the pistachio mixture in a shallow bowl. Dip the chicken breasts into the beaten eggs and then place them in the pistachio mixture. Pat the nuts and seeds into the chicken until itâ€™s well coated. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the chicken pieces for 3â€“4 minutes until theyâ€™re golden brown all over. Transfer to a baking tray and place in the oven. Cook for 8â€“10 minutes, until cooked through.
To serve: Rest the chicken pieces for 5 minutes, then serve with a large green salad.
Crunchy winter coleslaw with tuna & tahini dressing
This is a lovely salad made with crunchy winter vegetables and topped with a tangy tahini dressing. Serves 4.
Storage: Stores overnight in the fridge.
- Â¼ white cabbage, hard core removed & finely shredded
- 1 carrot, finely grated
- 2 fennel bulbs, finely sliced
- Â½ red onion, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 425g tin tuna in springwater (can substitute with boiled eggs)
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp shoyu
- 1 tbsp mustard
Make the salad: Combine the salad ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Toss to mix together and serve immediately.
Zucchini, dill & fetta fritters
Fritters are a great way to make vegetables a bit different. If you struggle to get your daily vegetable quota, or find it impossible to get your kids to eat vegies, fritters are a good option. Serve these by themselves with vegetables or wrap in lavosh bread with salad and chilli dressing. Serves 4.
Storage: Can be stored overnight in the fridge, but these fritters donâ€™t freeze well.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 shallots, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 500g zucchini (about 4), coarsely grated
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbsp buttermilk
- â…“ cup plain wholemeal flour
- 1 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
- 1 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
- 200g fetta cheese, mashed with a fork
- Olive oil for cooking
Saute the vegetables: Heat a large frying pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil, shallots, garlic and zucchini. Cook gently for about 7 minutes until the zucchini is soft.
Make the batter: While the vegetables are cooking, beat together the eggs, buttermilk and flour, ensuring there are no lumps. Add the herbs and fetta and season with black pepper (it wonâ€™t need any salt added because of the fetta). Once the zucchini is cooked, add that to the egg and fetta mixture and stir to combine. This forms quite a sloppy, wet mixture.
Cook the fritters: (Use about 1 heaped tablespoon of batter to make each fritter. Itâ€™s important you donâ€™t make them too big or theyâ€™ll fall apart when turned over. At the end of each batch youâ€™ll need to add another drizzle of oil to the pan.) Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into a heavy based non-stick frying pan and heat to a medium temperature. Place about 4â€“5 heaped tablespoons of the zucchini mixture around the pan. Cook on one side for 2â€“3 minutes, until browned and turn over. They will still be quite wet at this stage, so take care when turning. Cook the other side for 2â€“3 minutes, again until browned. Drain on kitchen paper and serve.
Tomato, egg & spinach tagine
This is an easy vegetable casserole with a twist. Eggs are broken onto the surface of the dish and poached in the tomato juices. It makes a delicious lunch, containing plenty of vegies and protein from the eggs. English spinach and fresh mint also work well in this recipe. In winter make it with tinned tomatoes instead of fresh, though it will require a slightly longer cooking time. Serve with chunks of crusty sourdough bread. Serves 4.
Storage: Cook just before serving.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Â½ bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- Â½ bunch coriander, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1Â½kg fresh tomatoes, quartered
- 1 whole chilli (optional)
- Â½ bunch silverbeet, roughly chopped
- 6 eggs
Cook the vegetables: Heat a heavy-bottomed flame-proof casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic and stirfry gently for 1 minute. Add the parsley, coriander and oregano and stir to combine. Continue gently frying for another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to coat with the garlic mixture. Split the end of the chilli and add to the tomatoes, along with the silverbeet. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and then cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the eggs: Take the lid off the casserole dish and stir the contents. With the back of a spoon, make six wells in the tomato mixture and break an egg into each well. Continue cooking gently for about 5 minutes until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks set. Serve immediately.
Pasta with sardines & fennel
Sardines are packed with omega-3s. While fresh sardines are a little fiddly (though you can buy them filleted at goof seafood vendors), this recipe, a simple variation on a traditional Sicilian specialty, uses tinned fish. Itâ€™s a quick and easy sauce that can be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Serves 4.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- â…“ cup breadcrumbs
- 40g pine nuts
- 1 fresh chilli, finely diced
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 300g tinned sardines in springwater, drained & cut into chunks
- 450g spaghetti
Toast the breadcrumbs: Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan. When hot, add the breadcrumbs and pinenuts and cook for 3â€“5 minutes. They should be crisp and golden, but not burnt. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add salt and cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce.
Make the sauce: Add the rest of the oil to a large, heavy-based frying pan and heat over a medium flame. Add the garlic and fennel and cook gently until the fennel is soft and lightly golden (about 5 minutes). Add the chilli, oregano and sardines. Continue cooking for 2â€“3 minutes, until heated through.
Finish the pasta:
Drain the pasta, reserving a small amount of the cooking liquid. Stir through the sardines and fennel, adding a few tablespoons of the reserved liquid to make a sauce. Divide among four bowls. Top with the toasted breadcrumbs and pine nuts and serve immediately.
Kathryn Elliott is a nutritionist and herbalist. Kathryn also writes a professional blog, Limes & Lycopene, which includes articles, recipes and healthy diet advice. W: www.kathrynelliott.com.au