January 28, 2018

Couscous Lunch Boxes - Lazy Lunch Prep

One Cup of Couscous = 4 lunch boxes.

I admire the folks who assemble beautiful identical lunch boxes on the Sunday evening to set them up for the first four (or five) days of their work week. This doesn't really suit me for a few reasons. One, I'm not inclined to eat the exact same thing every day, no matter how delicious, and two, even if I were so inclined, our tiny German fridge simply doesn't have room for this many packed lunches at any given time - even for one person, let alone two. I also try to use up any cooked meats within three days of cooking (unless it's going into the freezer). My packed lunches need to be cold or room temperature, as I do not have access to a microwave or stove at work.

In the spirit of planning a bit ahead and also using up foods already on hand or leftover from the previous night's dinner (not to mention avoiding the canteen at work), I had the idea that I could prepare a base of flavourful couscous on Sunday night, and then portion it out over the following four days. While you'll see a certain amount of repetition in the ingredients, each box was different enough from its predecessor to feel like a completely different meal.

I started by making my standard fluffy couscous base, which takes about 5 minutes active time, plus 15 minutes inactive:

Couscous Base

1 cup dry couscous
1.25 cups boiling water
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika powder (check that it's not stale)

In a large container (preferably one with a tight-fitting lid), add the dry couscous, half the salt, and the paprika. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, and the other half of the salt. Basically, you're making a vinaigrette of sorts. Stir it well until it emulsifies, for the best effect. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous, and stir quickly with a fork until every grain is coated with the lemony oil mixture. Add the boiling water and stir quickly to distribute the grains of couscous evenly, and then cover tightly. Wait for 15 - 20 minutes, remove the lid, and marvel at how easily the couscous grains fluff up when you stir them with a fork. Let the couscous cool, and store in a sealed refrigerator container.

Lunch Box #1 - Monday

Couscous, baked chicken thigh (curry seasoning), finely diced cucumber, tomato, yellow bell pepper, and spiced sweet potato coins with a bit of sliced green onion.

The chicken and sweet potato were leftovers from Sunday dinner. The bone and skin were removed from the chicken. You can't actually see the bottom layer of couscous, but it's definitely there!

Lunch Box #2 - Tuesday

Couscous, Berbere-spiced chickpeas, diced tomatoes, diced cucumber, crumbled feta, sliced avocado.

In the morning, I opened a tin of chickpeas and extracted half of them. The rest were transferred to a refrigerator container, along with their liquid. I rinsed the chickpeas, and then quickly sauteed them in 1/2 teaspoon olive oil and a 1/2 teaspoon of Berbere spice mixture. I spread out the couscous in the bottom of the box, and scraped the seasoned chickpeas into one side before filling in the rest of the ingredients. I let the box cool before closing and stashing in my work bag.

Lunch Box #3 - Wednesday

Couscous, boiled egg, diced yellow bell pepper, avocado, and spiced sweet potato coins.

The egg was boiled up the night before and stashed in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I peeled it quickly with a spoon, and cut it before putting it in the box. The spiced sweet potatoes are continued use of leftovers from Sunday's dinner. You can actually see the bed of couscous in this one!

This box was full of delicious things, but in combination it was a bit dry. A bit of sauce or dressing would have made a big difference, which I will keep in mind going forward.

Lunch Box #4 - Thursday 

Couscous, Caribbean-curry-spiced chickpeas, finely diced cucumber, yellow bell pepper, crumbled feta, spiced sweet potato coins with sliced green onions, and diced dried apricots.

These chickpeas were done quickly in the morning, using the other half of the can of chickpeas I'd opened on Tuesday, and opting for a spicy Caribbean curry powder for the seasoning. The other items we've seen in previous boxes, but the one special ingredient here was the diced dried apricots which lent a wonderful fruity sweetness that went very well with the curried chickpeas. The inclusion of the apricots made this final box feel a bit special.

By Friday, I was ready for something entirely different, and had a homemade bento with Japanese rolled omelette with yakionigiri and gingered carrot coleslaw. But that's another type of lunch, for a different type of post.

This was not a completely effortless scenario - each day I had a couple of small tasks to pull the day's box together - but having the couscous waiting for me did inspire me to make good use of my leftovers, to vary my ingredients, and motivated me to actually do it.

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