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Roast bean caesar salad and spicy chickpeas: Melissa Hemsley’s recipes for quick lunchbox fixes

Melissa Hemsley

I’m sure I am not the only one who’s been tempted to eat my packed lunch before 11am. I think that’s the definition of a lunchbox hero, though: something that you look forward to eating, that spurs you on in the morning, then powers you through the afternoon. Get yourself some good lidded containers for a portable lunch, meaning you can have a few moments away from your desk. Bring on laptop-free lunches: we all deserve a midday break for something delicious and wholesome.

Roast white beans with caesar-style tahini dressing (pictured top)

Use any crunchy salad leaves you like here, but I particularly love the combination of little gem and red chicory for the contrast in colour and between the sweeter and more bitter leaves. I love this dressing, so this recipe makes lots and you’ll have extra left over. Use it as a dip, in a lunch wrap, on roast cauliflower or broccoli, drizzled over grilled sweet potatoes or tossed through a pasta salad. The croutons are a great way to use up bread that’s going stale. To make the dish plant-based, swap the anchovies for a teaspoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce or miso paste, add two teaspoons of the pickling liquor from a jar of capers, replace the cheese with a teaspoon of nutritional yeast, and roast the beans in oil rather than ghee.

Prep 15 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 2–3 as a main, or 4 as a side

3 tbsp ghee
1 x 400g tin
white beans, or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme or rosemary
1 handful walnuts or pecans
1 handful bread, cut into 1cm chunks
1 little gem lettuce
1 head red chicory (or an extra little gem)

For the dressing
2 anchovy fillets, from a jar or tin
tbsp tahini, stirred well first
1 garlic clove, peeled
¾ tsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 handful grated parmesan, or other hard cheese, plus extra to serve

Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9, then put half the ghee in a large roasting tray and pop it in the oven to heat up.

Meanwhile, dry the beans in a tea towel to ensure they don’t spit in the hot ghee. Once the ghee is melted and hot, toss the beans in it with a good pinch of salt and pepper and the dried herbs, then spread out in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.

Add the rest of ghee, the nuts and the bread chunks to the tray, toss well, spread out again into a single layer, then pop back in the oven for 10 minutes more. Remove and leave to rest for 10 minutes, if you’ve got time, because the beans and bread will crisp up more as they cool.

Meanwhile, put all the dressing ingredients in the small bowl of a food processor, add four tablespoons of water and blitz to combine. Season, then add one or two tablespoons more water if the dressing needs thinning down.

Cut off and discard the root ends of the lettuces, separate the leaves, then wash and dry them really well, so the dressing doesn’t slide off the leaves. Arrange the leaves haphazardly on a platter (or in a lunchbox), scatter the roast bean mixture over the leaves, drizzle over half the dressing (if you’re taking this to work, pack the dressing separately and dress just before eating; save any excess dressing for another use), sprinkle with extra grated cheese to taste and serve.

Lunchbox ‘chuna’ two ways

Melissa Hemsley’s lunchbox ‘chuna’

Inspired by the tuna sandwiches of my childhood, this chickpea version, nicknamed “chuna” by vegans and vegetarians, is really tasty and quick. It’s a great way to pack lots of crunchy fresh veg in at lunchtime. On colder days, I like it tuna melt-style in a toasted sandwich or stuffed into a jacket or roast sweet potato; it’s also delicious in a wrap or with more greens as a salad. Most of the time, however, I just eat it straight out the bowl.

Prep 10 min
Serves 2

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 spring onions or ¼ red onion, finely chopped
3 handfuls finely diced celery, red pepper and carrot
2 tbsp capers, chopped gherkins, pickles or olives, plus 1 tbsp brine from the jar
1½ tbsp mayonnaise (vegan, if you prefer), or thick natural yoghurt
Juice of ½ lemon, or 1½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp dried dill, or a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill or parsley
1 tsp mustard (any kind)
2 tsp curry powder (optional)
Sea salt and black pepper
2 big handfuls
lettuce leaves, to serve

Optional extras
2 tbsp tinned or smoked fish, or 1 chopped hard-boiled egg
A little chopped fresh chilli (such as jalapeño), or hot sauce

In a medium bowl, roughly mash half the chickpeas with a fork or potato masher. Add all the other ingredients bar the lettuce, including the curry powder if making curried chuna. Toss to combine and taste for seasoning.

Divide between plates or bowls (or pack into a lunchbox) and serve with the lettuce and any of the optional extras.

  • Recipes edited and extracted from Feel Good: Quick and Easy Recipes for Comfort and Joy, by Melissa Hemsley, published by Ebury Press at £22. To order a copy for £19.14, go to guardianbookshop.com