I take my lunch to work most days of the week. On the one hand, a package of turkey, spinach, grape tomatoes, wraps and homemade salad dressing stretch my dollar pretty far. But on the other, it can get a little ho-hum.
I was inspired a while back by a slideshow featured on MarthaStewart.com all about Brown-Bag Lunches. She suggests a variety of meats, cheeses, spreads, greens and other veggies to put a little more ooomph into a lunch routine. The photography isn’t too shabby. Oh Martha, you slay me.
So lately I’ve been trying to make a lunchbox item on Sunday evenings in preparation for a week of packed lunches. Sometimes it’s just grilled chicken or a new salad dressing, but even that seems an upgrade after a week of bread-turkey-mustard.
My first two lunchbox projects were classics: Crunchy Ginger Rotisserie Chicken Salad and Egg Salad. And then I followed it up with SmittenKitchen’s Smashed Chickpea Salad.
My mom makes really superb versions of both chicken and egg salads, so I wasn’t looking to out-do, I was looking for different. And as far as I know, there are no “wrong” chicken salads. There are so many varieties, and everyone has an opinion about nuts and grapes and mayonnaise and relish and curry and everything. I embrace them all. But when it’s time to be choose, I do like crunchy and chunky over more spread-like chicken salads. The chicken salad wrap from The Fresh Market deli has always been a favorite of mine, so with a little searching, I found their recipe online.
Crunchy Ginger Rotisserie Chicken Salad
1 rotisserie chicken (or quickly roast some chicken cutlets in the oven)
1/4 cup sour cream (light is OK)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
* my addition: honey for sweetness; I added a couple of tablespoons. Just enough to taste.
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced (find this on the international foods aisle)
salt to taste
Roasting the chicken, if you haven’t purchased a rotisserie bird, is an ideal and easy way to add lots of flavor to the chicken salad. I lined a baking sheet with aluminum foil, drizzled the cutlets with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, lemon juice and rough chopped rosemary and garlic. You could substitute just about any combination of aromatics here. Put it in a 350º oven and just check it until it’s done. Then allow to cool before dicing and mixing with other ingredients.
The crystallized ginger is one of those kind of quirky ingredients, but it’s worth it! Because it’s a little gummy, I recommend popping it in the freezer before you attempt to dice it. It will be much easier this way.
After you combine the ingredients, chill it in the fridge for a few hours, allowing time for the flavors to marry. Yum!
Now for the Egg Salad. When I read 101Cookbooks.com‘s Heidi Swanson’s take on egg salads—“It has long been my personal belief that the egg salad sandwich is a sandwich too ugly to look at, let alone eat. I’m talking about those structure-less mayo bombs served on soggy white bread”—I laughed because I know what she’s talking about. And I often like those egg salads. But after trying out her recipe, I know I’ve found a winner egg salad that tops the traditional.
6 large eggs
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or Greek yogurt)
Salt and pepper
A tiny squeeze of lemon juice
2 stalks celery, washed and chopped
1/2 bunch chives, chopped
Seems easy enough, but as 101 Cookbooks points out, it’s all about boiling the eggs properly, striving for a tender, bright yellow yolk and no green-grey ring. The no-fail method is this: Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water by a 1/2-inch or so. Bring to a gentle boil. Now turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for exactly seven minutes. Have a big bowl of ice water ready and when the eggs are done cooking place them in the ice bath for three minutes or so – long enough to stop the cooking. Crack and peel each egg.
Then gently fork the eggs until broken up, but retain some texture. Toss with the mayonnaise, lemon juice, celery and chives. Funny enough—the chives are what led me to this recipe. I have some in my herb garden that I wanted to use. Plus, chives and eggs are a happy pair, so I imagined there was a recipe out there for egg salad with chives.
What I liked about this egg salad was that it was moist, from the tender eggs and a touch of mayo— just enough to bind everything together, but not enough to make it drippy. Toast up some grainy bread and add a couple of scoops of egg salad. All the components come together so happily. It’s absolutely delicious—crunchy celery and tender egg with a mild onion flavor.
Now for the less traditional recipes. I am a huge fan of this Smashed Chickpea Salad. I was thinking I’d do some sort of cucumber-tomato-chickpea rendition until I came across SmittenKitchen’s recipe, which was inspired by the chopped chickpeas at ‘wichcraft (Tom Colicchio’s sandwich venture). I don’t put this spread on bread, but instead I eat it on a good, hearty cracker with lots of seeds on it.
Smashed Chickpea Salad
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons pitted, halved and very thinly sliced black olives (you can just buy these in small cans, already sliced, then just dice them)
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Zest and juice from half a lemon (if you’ve got one of those sad, juiceless lemons, use both sides for juice)
Couple good pinches of salt
A few grinds of black pepper
A few glugs of olive oil (not so much that it becomes oily; after a few days in the fridge, it was good to be able to add a few more glugs of olive oil to perk it up)
Mix all but olive oil and mash the chickpeas gently with the back of a fork (or a potato masher if you own one). Texture makes this spread interesting. Think of it like a deconstructed, chunky hummus. Once combined, stir in the olive oil. Allow to chill in the fridge before dipping into it. And if you can wait a day, the flavors will be really jelling by then.
Here’s why I like it. The olives. It has taken me until the last couple of years to like olives. I am really proud of being an “I’ll eat anything” kind of person, but olives for the longest time were a big hangup. Can taste buds change? What’s new? But I love olives now. Something about that tangy flavor and meaty texture can really add something special to a bite. The flavors in this spread remind me a lot of one of my favorite snack foods on the planet. It’s a spread my mom makes—Snowman Cheeseball. (Sidenote: It’s called the “Snowman” Cheeseball because you can shape it into a snowman around the holidays.) The snowman cheeseball is mayonaissey and cheesey with prominent onion and diced green pimento olive flavors. So as it turns out, some of the basic ingredients are the same, but chickpeas would be the healthier option.
This is a tasty snack on crackers, an addition to a salad or a spread on a sandwich (SmittenKitchen recommend pairing with tahini and roasted red peppers). I will definitely be making this again, maybe as a party snack next time? Oooh! I bet it would be really great with pita chips.