on the packed lunch and a recipe for chickpea salad

I have a confession. When I’m at work, I often buy my lunch. I rarely bring a packed lunch.

Like, maybe once a month.

I’m not proud of this. A packed lunch is better for so many reasons. First and foremost, I can save a decent amount of money if I prepare my lunch at home and bring it with me to work. One day I paid close to $6 for a pile of tuna on top of some lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. A huge rip off.  I was almost embarrassed.

Another huge advantage of bringing my lunch to work is that I know exactly what is going into my food. I use good quality ingredients at home, so I won’t have to worry about whether that tuna has been sitting out a while, or how clean those transparent slices of tomato are.

So, what’s my excuse? The usual. I blame a lack of time. Between getting myself dressed and helping my husband get the kids dressed and out the door in the mornings, I just don’t have any extra minutes to spare. I could make my lunch the night before, but again, I don’t make time to do so. I’d rather read my Kindle. Or sleep.

I’m lazy. It comes down to that.

I’m going to make an effort to change, though. I’m tired of giving all of my money to the hospital cafeteria and the local Subway. I’d like to expand my limited packed-lunch repertoire. I’m going to start with this recipe from Molly Wizenberg that was in the April 2011 issue of Bon Appétit. I tweaked it a tad by adding some chopped preserved lemon, and it was a simple, yet flavor-packed, no-cook lunch. The beauty of it as a packed lunch is that it keeps well and can be eaten cold or at room temperature.

But, will you help me out? I’d love to hear other suggestions on the wonderful, healthy lunches that you all bring to work. Because I know you do. You’re better at this kind of thing than I am.


Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Fresh Herbs

This recipe is from Molly Wizenberg and was in the April 2011 issue of Bon Appétit. I barely tweaked it by adding some preserved lemon to bump up the flavor profile. Makes 2 servings.


1 15 to 16 ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground black pepper


Combine the chickpeas, basil, parsley, lemon juice, preserved lemon, olive oil, and minced garlic in a medium bowl. Add grated Parmesan cheese and toss gently to combine all ingredients. Season to taste with Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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31 Responses to “on the packed lunch and a recipe for chickpea salad”

  1. 1
    tami — April 13, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

    i picked up that issue of BA that this recipe was in and was reminded of how much i want to make this…and you’ve sealed the deal. love the addition of the preserved lemons.

    this orzo salad i made a while back for my blog is always something relatively easy to make & holds well for lunches: http://www.runningwithtweezers.com/palate-cleanser/


    • 1.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — April 13, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

      Tami – Thanks for the orzo salad link. It looks perfect! And yes, you should make the chickpea salad. It’s a keeper.

  2. 2
    Kate @ Savour Fare — April 13, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    I was going to suggest this one, too! I saw it in BA and put it on my mental lunch list. I also like lentils with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, a little fresh mint, and a mustard vinaigrette. Or Molly’s butternut squash and chick pea salad. Or the one on my site with the roasted summer squash and cauliflower and beans.

  3. 3
    Maris (In Good Taste) — April 13, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

    Lovely salad. What are your thoughts on certain Chicago schools banning children from bringing their lunch?

    • 3.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — April 13, 2011 @ 4:55 pm

      Maris – I’m just happy I don’t live in that school district. I would guess it’s a ploy to keep school lunch dollars within the school district. It usually comes down to money.

  4. 4
    Aggie — April 13, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    I love this post MJ. Its so honest and so true for so many people!! I’m home and I wish I had a cafeteria to give money too for lunch sometimes. I am also secretly (not so secretly) jealous of the lunches my husband has with his work friends too.
    But for all the reasons you mentioned, such a good idea to bring lunch from home. Going through this with my husband right now, trying to keep things interesting for him and me at lunch. Am def trying this chickpea salad. It looks all kinds of good. Where do I get preserved lemon?
    Here’s an easy throw together salad I’ve made plenty of times. I don’t put the dressing on till last minute.

  5. 5
    macaroni mama — April 13, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

    I have just the recipe you need. I will email it to you. Darlene made it for us and the men loved it!

  6. 6
    Jen — April 13, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

    I almost exclusively bring leftovers from dinner. You cook lots of yummy awesome thing- just make a little more and you have lunch covered.

  7. 7
    DessertForTwo — April 13, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    I made this same recipe from BA and adored it!

    My strategy for work lunches is to make extra dinner. I enjoy leftovers even better at work. But when I don’t have leftovers, I turn to a few things:
    1. Sweet potatoes. They keep forever in the cupboard and you nuke ’em at work, top with butter& honey. EatingWell has a great recipe for sweet potatoes topped with black beans. The recipe doesn’t sound that great, but the flavor is out of this world. It always surprises me!
    2. Hummus & baby carrots and celery is one of my favorite lunches. Add a glass of milk (or an ounce of cheese) and some fruit, dates and nuts and I’m good for a few hours.
    3. Avocado & salsa. Cut open avocado, fill pit hole with salsa and eat with a spoon. I’ve been known to eat this on-the-go. If you stash tortilla chips at your desk, you can enjoy them with this too.
    4. Smoothies. Can you stock frozen fruit in the freezer at work for quick smoothies?
    5. Can you stock cans of Amy’s Soup (lentil vegetable is my fave) at your desk? A bag of pita chips and an orange with this is a great lunch for me.
    6. And last but not least, whenever I make lasagne, I wrap up a few extra squares for the freezer. It usually defrosts by lunch time and it’s good to go!

    Good luck with this! You will love living without the guilt of eating hospital cafeteria food 🙂

  8. 8
    DessertForTwo — April 13, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    Wait! I have one more!

    Bulgur! You know, the stuff they make tabbouli with? You boil water, pour it over, cover it and let it sit for ~5 mins and it’s done! (just like cous cous). Usually, I add a handful of herbs, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil.

    While my honey is washing the dishes after dinner, I throw on the tea kettle, add some bulgur to a bowl (and some sun dried tomatoes), let steep, stir in herbs & things and throw it in the fridge for the next day. Super easy! Cubes of feta and olives are great in it, too.

  9. 9

    My 13 year old daughter informed me today that hummus is embarassing to take to lunch — maybe I’ll try this one out. Looks like a delicious way to get your garbanzos if hummus is uncool!

  10. 10
    Gretchen — April 13, 2011 @ 9:54 pm

    I’m a weirdie and can’t handle day after day of room temperature lunches. The solution was to get a vacuum jar; we use Mr. Bento but there are other varieties out there. This keeps two dishes hot and two dishes at room temperature (there’s an insulated lid separating the top from the bottom.) I have to use fairly robust lettuces in the salad to keep it from wilting, but those are better for you anyway. Anyhow, you can put anything you like into this, so it’s not as restrictive as a cold lunch diet, and it doesn’t require waiting in line for a microwave like most workplace hot lunches. We batch cook weekly and then vary it slightly with garnishes and sides.

    You can get an idea for the kind of goodies you can put in these boxes by looking at http://www.flickr.com/groups/mrbento/ — I’m way behind in my uploads but my own pictures are http://www.flickr.com/photos/flit/sets/72157604454686268/ and you can see how we evolve from using some packaged foods, especially packaged soups, to a completely from-scratch lifestyle. This has also gotten my husband eating more fruits and vegetables, and broken his habit of eating restaurant lunches, which were hammering his blood pressure along with not being cheap.

    When we need to do cold lunches, I really like either something based on fried rice or quinoa, or frittata. It keeps a few days so a pan of frittata can make several meals, depending on how big your pan is.

    • 10.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — April 14, 2011 @ 7:12 am

      Gretchen – Holy cow! What a wonderful idea, and your photos of the lunches are incredible. So colorful! Thanks for sharing with me.

  11. 11
    Binky — April 14, 2011 @ 12:14 am

    Great post + photo! That chickpea salad looks so good!

    I am lazy too. But, money is getting tight around the house, and I have to discipline myself.


    I used to do leftovers from dinner. Now, I cook in bulk. Chicken soup from a whole chicken, beef stock just to have it, beef stew, filipino chicken adobo (easy dish; I can give you a recipe!), and chicken curry. I freeze dishes in separate tupperware if I make a lot, and put one in the fridge to defrost as I plan my meals.

    For my morning breakfast or snacks, I make bulk oatmeal to refrigerate for a few days, or have grapefuit with cottage cheese, or just boil some hard boiled eggs the night before.

    I eat every dish with rice (except the oatmeal & grapefruit w/cc), and so I make 2- 3 cups of rice in the rice cooker (set & forget) which is good for a couple of days.

    With homemade bulk, you get to control what you eat, and the system is lazy-friendly!

    • 11.1
      mj (merry gourmet)
      mj (merry gourmet) — April 14, 2011 @ 7:12 am

      Binky – I like the bulk idea. We rarely cook in bulk, so this is an easy thing we could change.

      • Avatar
        Gretchen — April 14, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

        Cooking in bulk has really changed our lives. It does mean our staples are not “one dish wonders” but lots of stews and braises, but we can do special cooking on the weekends when we have more time for it. We like to keep a week of frozen main dishes and soup on hand… it’s usually easier to make the sides as we go. I like freezing in freezer-safe canning jars, which can be popped into a pan of hot water for a rush defrost, but you have to be careful to leave enough headspace, or they can crack. It makes portioning a breeze, too, just figure out how much you like to eat at a meal, find a container that fits two portions, freeze/store in fridge depending on how soon you’ll eat it. Split it in half and enjoy not having to cook.

  12. 12
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — April 14, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    I do adore a good chickpea salad. I love how filling garbanzo beans are, how this could not only make a wonderful side dish, but a vegetarian entree for lunch as well!

  13. 13
    Ara — April 17, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    Looks delicious! That chickpea salad recipe is easy to do and seems really delicious. I would try this one of these days. Good thing, I found this. Anyway, a good pack lunch is a healthy pack lunch. =) Why not make a sandwich or a salad? Here, I think you might be interested on this one, http://www.happytiffin.com/blog/happy-tiffin-recipe-section-launches-with-tasty-hummus/

  14. 14
    Molly — April 18, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

    Although my husband could survive on pb&j sandwiches, a glass of milk and cookie, I am not as lucky. I never seem to get my act together in the morning for a freshly made lunch. I keep some ramen-esque type noodle soups in my desk at work for emergency situations, and oftentimes eat last night’s meal for the next day’s lunch. I wouldn’t recommend dressed leafy greens on the second day, though. Bad, bad news.

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  16. 15

    I am so glad that you posted this. I saw this in the recent issue of Bon Appetit and thought it looked good. It looks like a really easy recipe to make and would be perfect for packing for lunch. Also, a wonderful side dish for dinner! Thanks again.

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