I am super popular, and I have been absolutely inundated with tweets, instagrams, and emails from obsessed fans and serious critics* asking for ideas and blog posts about springtime lunch-ready foods. Cold weather lunches are a cinch — there’s kale soup and brussels sprout gratin — things that travel well and heat up easily and just feel good to eat when it’s freezing cold outside. Once it starts warming up, and all we want is mint and asparagus, it’s harder to come up with delicious food to take to work.
*Ok, so I got one email from my friend, Lauren. But I’m easily overwhelmed! And inundated. Also, Lauren is one of my “cooking friends” so she and I have been pinging each other about what to make for lunches for literally years. But to all my readers who aren’t my close friends who I already talk about cooking with — hit me up! I’m leightogreato on twitter, instagram, and @gmail.com. I am usually bored at work and always happy to talk about food (and, let’s be honest, I’m probably already daydreaming about food, so it’s not like you’re going to interrupt anything important).
So, to answer your question, Lauren, I don’t really know what to do about spring lunches. I miss chili, too. But I have some ideas. For now, I’m going with grain salads — like this radish and arugula quinoa salad and this tabbouleh barley salad. I love salads like this — full of fresh, raw vegetables and a nice, tangy dressing. But sometimes, they don’t feel like enough. So on those days, I will hard-boil an egg before I leave for the office and throw that on top. (Sometimes, I go super crazy and do a soft-boiled egg so when I cut it open at lunch, the yolk runs all over the salad.)
For dinner leftovers that wouldn’t usually transition well to lunch, I’ve been turning them into grain salads. If you chop this eggplant and smash the meatballs and throw in a handful of bulgar or millet or rice, and then stir everything together with the sauce, you’ll have something healthy and balanced and delicious — but also easy to eat with flimsy office plasticware.
(Full disclosure, though, The Boyfriend and I finished off these leftovers for dinner tonight and we did smashed meatball sandwiches instead of grain salads. A split pretzel roll with smashed meatballs on one side, chopped eggplant and sauce on the other, and a pickle spear on the side. We were two happy campers — the meatballs taste so fresh and green! And the eggplant was smoky and creamy. They made for a delish sandwich, which I guess is another lunch idea?)
Ok, just one last thing on this recipe. It is really easy to make pretty little mint ribbons. I took pictures as I chopped to illustrate, but the basic idea is: stack the leaves, with a big guy on the bottom. Roll the leaves as tightly as you can, and then slice thin strips across the roll. You’ll wind up with a pile of pretty ribbons that keeps the mint small enough to blend in with this meatball mix, but also big enough to be a thing and not a background thing.
- 1 lb. ground turkey
- 1 egg
- 1 large zucchini, grated on a cheese grater
- 3 green onions, sliced thinly in little rings
- 4 T. mint, ribboned (see photos above for how-to)
- 2 T. cilantro, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
- 1 t. cumin
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1 t. cayenne pepper
- Vegetable oil
- 1 eggplant
- 2 T. olive oil
- ¼ c. za'atar
- 1 c. greek yogurt
- 1 lemon, juice and zest
- 1½ T. olive oil
- 1 T. sumac
- 1 t. kosher salt.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine turkey, egg, grated zucchini, green onions, mint, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper.
- Heat a skillet on the stovetop with a thin layer of vegetable oil until very hot. (If you run water over your fingers in the sink and flick the water into the oil, it should crackle. That's how you know it's hot enough.) Scoop the meatball mixture with a tablespoon and drop into the oil (this won't make the prettiest meatballs, but you don't wanna waste time rolling out balls by hand and then finding a place to line them up and keep them pretty. The game I like to play with raw poultry is Let's Touch As Few Things As Possible. It's like for meat.)
- Brown the meatballs until they are golden on both sides -- about 4 minutes each. Once brown, put them on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 400 for 10 minutes, or until they're cooked all the way through.
- Serve over eggplant with the sauce on top, or as an appetizer with toothpicks and the sauce on the side for dipping.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees (this is the same temp as you'll need to finish the meatballs, which can cook either with or after the eggplant, depending on your timing).
- Slice the eggplant crosswise into thin rounds.
- Drizzle with olive oil, and roast for 15 minutes, until the eggplant gets browned around the edges.
- When the eggplant comes out of the oven, sprinkle on za'atar (or a little more, if you love the stuff like I do) (also, za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend available at [url href="http://www.sahadis.com/"]Sahadi's in Brooklyn and Dual Specialties in Manhattan, or on amazon. OR you can make your own.)
- Note: People have TALKED about the best ways to cook eggplant. And there are better ways that this. In fact, if you are just making eggplant as a side dish, I would suggest checking out a more complicated way to get a nice, roasted eggplant that can stand alone. But for this dish? The eggplant is a meatball bed, and I've found that I like the vegetable to be a little slick in some places, and crunchy around the edges, and I am not bothered by any little dry patches, either because they soak up the meatball juices and sauce, or they're covered by the generous sprinkle of za'atar.
- Stir together all of the yogurt sauce ingredients. Keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve, and either dollop on the meatballs and eggplant, or serve on the side for dipping.