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In a lunch rut? 25 delicious £2 dishes to help you escape it – from quiche to quesadillas | Food

Some days you have only just cleared away breakfast when your child, flatmate, partner – or your own bored mind – starts thinking about what is for lunch. It is week six of lockdown: unless you do this for a living, you are probably all out of ideas. What is for lunch when you can no longer pop to the local cafe or sandwich shop and you have eaten last night’s leftovers? Here are 25 great ideas. They are cheap (under £2 a serving, without the optional extras), they are straightforward – and they will make you glad you made the effort.

Linda Berning’s easy fish bake

Finely slice and fry a medium onion, then spread it out on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Drain a tin of green beans and scatter them over the onion. Drain and break into chunks a tin of tuna, then one of sardines, and distribute over the top of the beans. In a bowl, beat 1 egg into 125ml milk and 125ml oil, then add 100g plain flour, 2 tsp baking powder and some dried sage (or your favourite dried herb). Season, then pour over the fish. Bake at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 until cooked, about 15-20 minutes.

Claire Thomson says these take all of 15 minutes to prepare, which makes them an excellent reason to always have a tin of beans in the house. Her recipe uses shop-bought tortillas, but they are just as easy to make yourself.

Miguel Barclay’s entire back catalogue would fit the bill here. This simple stir-fry is a great – if meaty – example. His latest book, Meat-Free One Pound Meals, features a vegan black bean panful with cashews.


Kale and bacon quiche

Kale and bacon quiche. Photograph: Room the Agency/Alamy

Line a shallow oven dish with shop-bought pastry (puff and shortcrust work) or your own (Felicity Cloake’s rough puff for her perfect quiche lorraine is good) and blind bake for 20 minutes at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Meanwhile, prepare your filling – fry some lardons or some veg (leeks, chard, kale, spinach), grate some cheese – and beat some eggs with cream and season. Dan Lepard’s rule of thumb is 1 egg for every 50ml double cream. You want to fill the case almost to the top.

Pour in some of the egg mixture, to cover the pastry, then add some of the filling, followed by the rest of the egg and then the remainder of the filling (you want it suspended in the egg, not stuck at the bottom). Bake for 20 minutes until set and slightly wobbly at the centre. Serve warm, not hot, with a green salad.

The curry Meera Sodha first learned to cook. She has simplified it to use no spice other than chilli and ground turmeric. There is no onion or ginger to cook and peel, either.

Meera Sodha’s potato masala toastie.

Meera Sodha’s potato masala toastie. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay.

I love that Sodha makes this toasted beauty with icebox staples (frozen peas and sweetcorn), basic spices and sunflower spread, AKA margarine (non-vegans can use room-temperature butter).

Salmon and greens

Place finely chopped ginger and garlic in a large pan with a little olive oil and cover with 2 fillets of salmon. Wash the florets of a head of broccoli and a large handful of roughly chopped green leaves (kale, chard, Chinese lettuce, cabbage, spring greens, cavolo nero). While still dripping wet, arrange over the salmon to cover it completely.

Pour over 1 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and a dash of sake (or white wine), adding a little extra water. Cover with a lid and cook over a medium heat until the fish is steamed through. If the veg needs a little longer, remove the fish and turn up the heat. Divide the veg between four plates, top with pieces of the broken-up fillets, plus the garlic and ginger from the pan, and garnish with sliced spring onion, toasted sesame seeds or chilli flakes.

Spicy omelette with paratha

Spicy omelette with paratha. Photograph: Jean Cazals/The Observer

Romy Gill uses a host of aromatics here (spring onions, fresh ginger, green chillies, fresh coriander, turmeric, cumin seeds and nigella seeds), but you could play around with the contents of your spice rack. Also, knowing how to make flatbreads is a game-changer.

One of the best things about Anna Jones’s way of cooking is her systems: hers are basic and endlessly adaptable recipes. For me, this is the best of the lot.

Veteran veggie cook Rose Elliot gives you instructions for cooking your own beans, but a tin will do just as well. Add a lemon and leave out the feta for a vegan version.

Warm salads made with roast veg are great lunch options, of course, because the veg can be prepared in batches in advance. In this sweet potato number, Angela Hartnett pairs red veg with spicy pork. For more options, check out Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter’s list.

Jeremy Lee’s chickpea pancakes with anchovy

Whisk 250g gram (chickpea) flour with 450ml ice-cold water until smooth. Stir in a spoonful of olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes. Chop up a few tomatoes with some anchovy fillets, then season with pepper and olive oil. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and cook the pancakes over a high heat on both sides until the edges turn brown. Lightly salt with flaky salt, scatter with rosemary and spoon over the tomato and anchovy to serve. A salad or a fried egg on the side would not go amiss.

Rachel Roddy’s polpette

Rachel Roddy’s polpette. Photograph: Rachel Roddy/The Guardian

The deep-fried cousin to Jones’s veg fritters. Rachel Roddy’s method calls for 300g cooked vegetables, making this a great way to use up leftovers and veg drawer dregs.

Slow-cooked fennel is a thing of beauty. I would make this Sophie Missing and Caroline Craig special, though, with any other veg, too: the secret lies in the zesty breadcrumbs …

… which can just as easily be scattered atop a cooked pasta bowlful, as Olia Hercules does here. It is a trick to remember. You could use any greens – and forgo the chorizo to keep it veggie.

Anna Jones herby polenta

Anna Jones herby polenta. Photograph: Issy Croker/The Guardian. Food and prop styling: Emily Ezekiel.

Much like the crumbs above, Jones’s drizzle of sage butter on her polenta is that detail that elevates the whole. Cavolo nero, kale, spinach or other leaves would make a good substitute if you didn’t have any asparagus.

Sodha’s verdant take on the mixed-rice formula is just as flexible: you want some basmati rice, some green veg (peas, beans, fennel, kale, spinach) and some fresh herbs.

Rice, lentils and onions, AKA mejadra

Rice, lentils and onions, AKA mejadra. Photograph: Alleko/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another mixed-rice staple. I can think of little more satisfying and more comforting than this early Yotam Ottolenghi go-to: fried onion with rice and lentils cooked in sweet and fragrant spice.

Rinse 400g Japanese white rice until the water runs clear, then put in a saucepan with 520ml water, cover with a lid and bring to a boil on a high heat. Listen to check that it is boiling – do not remove the lid – then reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes is up, gently stir up the rice and serve topped with egg and chicken (this could be thigh meat sliced and cooked with onion in a broth of 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tbs mirin or sake, a little fish or chicken stock and a pinch of sugar, with some beaten egg stirred through at the end), steamed salmon, beef or tofu (prepared like the chicken). Top with sliced spring onion, sesame seeds, pickles, avocado – whatever you have to hand. Tim Anderson has more topping suggestions here.

Roasted tomatoes on toast, with basil instead of Galasso’s mint

Roasted tomatoes on toast, with basil instead of Galasso’s mint. Photograph: Martin Turzak/Alamy Stock Photo

Eleonora Galasso’s tip for optimising cheap, tasteless tomatoes is a slow cook in a low oven and a little caster sugar. Once they are tasty, all you need is bread or toast to make it lunch.

Nigel Slater uses corn on the cob for this chowder, but he says tinned corn will work just as well. You could substitute the haddock with smoked mackerel or salmon, too.

Season some chicken legs or breast with salt and coat with buttermilk or yoghurt and refrigerate overnight. Before lunch, season some flour with the dregs of your cupboard: cornmeal (or polenta or semolina, up to half the amount of the flour), cornflour (up to half the amount of the flour), mustard powder, salt, pepper, spice (cajun spice is best, but anything goes – curry powder, smoked paprika, cumin, turmeric, chilli).

Take the chicken, with plenty of buttermilk clinging to it, and dredge in the flour – lay it in the flour, bury it, press the flour on. It doesn’t need to sit there long, but it does need a good coating. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan (no more than half the depth) until a bit of batter dropped in bubbles immediately and floats to the surface (about 150C-160C). Carefully lay the chicken in the oil. If it is covered, fry for about 15 minutes, until cooked. If shallow frying, turn and fry for a further 15 minutes. Serve with a salad and/or chips.

Meera Sodha’s cheap-veg curry

Meera Sodha’s cheap-veg curry. Photograph: Rob White

Another Sodha special that makes best use of the cheapest veg: tinned tomatoes, white cabbage and any potato (her mother likes waxy varieties; she uses crumbly maris pipers).

Ottolenghi’s version of this lemon-infused staple is ever-changing, he writes, “depending on what kind of stock I have in my freezer, or herbs in my fridge”. He suggests adding miso to the veggie stock, if you have any, to boost the flavour – but chicken or beef stock will work, too.

Just like fried rice, risotto can be made with practically any produce. Lemon, though, was a revelation to me. Roddy pairs it here with mascarpone, saying that Anna Del Conte, from whom she learned the recipe, plumps instead for cream and an egg yolk. So, as with most of the recipes on this list, go forth and experiment, gleefully!

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