My cooking lately has been very lunch focused: making dinner with leftovers in mind, preparing a few things before bed so as to have an easy-to-assemble lunch ready in the morning. To me, there’s not much worse than take-out lunch, at least in the places in Manhattan near where I work a few days every week. I’ve had enough mozzarella sandwiches on stiff, oil-soaked cibatta and little pre-packaged trays of gummy, grocery store sushi to get through the rest of my life. But packing your lunch to take to work can be so tedious, too. Maybe as my friends and I get older we’re marginally more inclined to wake up a half hour earlier so as to, you know, accomplish things before heading off to work. But a fair share of us still roll out of bed, into the shower, and are out of the house in 12 minutes flat, and that leaves no time at all to pack up a thoughtful lunch.
To make lunch easy and accessible while rushing to get out the door in the morning, I find it best to maximize your time spent cooking dinner the night before. You can spend a few extra minutes, while you’re in the kitchen anyway and working your cooking muscles, by roasting extra vegetables, cooking extra beans or quinoa, whipping up hummus or baba ganoush. With the vegetables, beans, and grains you’ve got the base for salad, and with the hummus and baba ganoush you’re only a few steps away from a good sandwich that can be slapped together in the morning. If you’re making ravioli for dinner, cook an extra portion or two, cool it under running water, then toss it with pesto for an easy pasta salad that will taste good for lunch and can be taken in any number of different directions depending on the kind of pesto you use and vegetables you want to add. And then there’s the more obvious route of making enough dinner to yield re-heatable leftovers: this works best for soup, curry, grain-based salads, pasta. Rounding off your lunch with some nuts, an orange, and some radishes or whatever you like is the easy part. I’m sure you have some leftovers secrets of your own, and I’d love to hear what they are.
Around this time of year, cold-noodle dishes always sound great to me for lunch, so I’ve been tweaking my version of Peanut Noodles—based on Deborah Madison’s very addictive Spicy Peanut Dip in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone—by adapting it for almonds. Almond butter forms the base of a creamy sauce that’s made savory with some miso paste, and then it’s poured over cold udon noodles and tossed with a bunch of fresh vegetables. I happened to have broccoli rabe and asparagus on hand, but as you’ll see in the recipe, you can use any type of vegetable you choose. It comes together in no time with the help of a food processor, and makes for a hearty dinner that will yield lunch the next day.
Cold Almond Noodles
Makes 4 to 5 servings
Two 9- or 10-ounce packages dry udon noodles
1/2 cup almond butter
2 tablespoons miso paste
4 teaspoons soy sauce
5 scallions, white and pale green parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste if needed
Zest of one lemon
Several handfuls of fresh vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces if need be: baby spinach or arugula, steamed (and cooled) asparagus, steamed (and cooled) broccoli rabe, snap peas, baby turnips, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, radishes, cucumber . . .
Roughly chopped almonds, to garnish
1. Cook the noodles according to package instructions and then cool under running cold water. Drain thoroughly. Steam or boil any vegetables you’ll be using as condiments, and then cool.
2. Combine the almond butter, soy sauce, miso paste, scallions, cilantro, lemon juice and zest in a food processor and puree until smooth. The mixture should be somewhat thin—rather than being able to spread it, you should be able to pour it. Add warm tap water (I usually add about 3 tablespoons) to the food processor with the motor running, to thin it out as needed. Taste carefully and adjust the flavors as needed.
3. Pour the almond sauce over the cold noodles, add the vegetables, and toss well with tongs. Garnish with the almonds and serve.
Keeps well for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container.