Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Lunch that Wasn’t a Leftover

I don’t usually have post-worthy thoughts while heating my lunch in the workplace microwave, and some of you may argue that the thought I am about to share only barely qualifies as something of interest to anyone other than myself.

But, here it is: I don't eat lunch anymore.

Sure, I eat a meal between 1 and 2 in the afternoon. This meal, however, is always the remnants from dinner the night before, or the night before that (or, horror, even the night before that). I have stopped preparing food that is, truly and proudly, lunch.

Clearly, this is a major omission on my part, because the meals that characterize lunch – and only lunch – have some wonderful qualities. A whole genre of these meals comes wrapped within the warm arms of bread; another species – light, airy and gently moistened – gains its substance from lettuce. Lunch meals can also be purposefully dainty and, well – lunch-size – by appearing as individual servings of quiches, pizzas or savory tarts. Oh, what I have been missing. I could blame the lack of good sandwich bread in Harare, or the dearth of lettuce. But, the real culprit is morning laziness. On weekday mornings, grabbing a Tupperware container of leftovers from the fridge seems much more manageable than any sort of spreading, assembling, tossing or – dear me – cooking.

Post-realization, however, I set out to change my ways and begin preparing proper lunch food. In my quest for a suitable rut-breaking recipe, I turned to The Soul of a New Cuisine. This cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson not only includes recipes for traditional African fare, but also for dishes that take African spices, ingredients and preparations and apply them to other cuisines. Thus, in Samuelsson’s able hands, boring old egg salad becomes piquant, ruddy-hued, peanut-studded egg salad, with nary a dollop of mayonnaise in sight. This is egg salad like you’ve never had it before, which, for me, is a good thing, because I’ve never been too fond of the egg-y aroma and squishy consistency of traditional egg salad. (In fact, as a child, I disliked the smell of egg salad to such an extent that when my parents told me they had almost named me Alison, I said, “I’m so glad you didn’t! ‘Alison’ sounds like ‘egg salad.’” ) Samuelsson’s egg salad may lack the pretty, lemon color of traditional egg salad, but the recipe more than compensates with its complex textures and spices.

Because it contains fresh tomatoes, this salad does not keep very well, and I suggest you make it on the day you plan to eat it. For easier workday morning preparation, you can prepare both the sautéed peanut and spice mixture and the dressing on the night before. Serve for lunch, of course on a wheat-bread sandwich, or cradled in a Romaine lettuce leaf.

Spiced Egg Salad
Adapted from The Soul of a New Cuisine
Serves 4-5 spread on a sandwich, 3-4 scooped onto lettuce

30 milliliters olive oil / 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus an additional 30 milliliters/ 2 tablespoons
35 grams / ¼ cup dry-roasted and unsalted peanuts, blanched and de-skinned
1 green chili, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 small red onion, minced
1 small scallion, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
15 milliliters / 1 tablespoon paprika
2.5 milliliters / ½ teaspoon ground ginger
7.5 milliliters / 1½ teaspoons chili powder
15 milliliters / 1 tablespoon soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
3.5 milliliters / ¾ teaspoon salt
5 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
10 milliliters / 2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme, or other fresh herb of your choice

Heat 30 milliliters / 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a frypan over medium-low heat. Add the peanuts and sauté until golden, about five minutes. Stir in the chilies, onion, scallion and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika, ground ginger and chili powder, and cook another two minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a medium bowl.

In a separate, small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, lemon juice, salt and additional 30 milliliters / 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add this dressing, as well as the eggs, tomatoes and fresh herbs, to the bowl with the peanut mixture. Mix gently, and serve at room temperature.

1 comment:

Tempest in a Teapot said...

I took Samuelson's book out of the library over the summer and loved every recipe I tried, but neglected to copy any down. This one was the hit of my sister-in-law's Canada Day party, and I feel the need for a little West African sunshine right about now. So thanks for saving me a trip to the library.