Layered lunches: planning ahead for a week of good eating

Lentil fritters 2
Bulgar wheat salad 1

We often struggle to recognise our own strengths, but one of mine is organisation. Sometimes it feels more of a weakness - for instance, if a friend changes plans at the last minute, my organised mind struggles to adjust. But most of the time, organisation plays to my advantage. Never more so than in the preparation of packed lunches, which have often been the envy of my colleagues.

I am frequently asked how I put together my packed lunches and the secret is layering. I batch cook different layers - a base, vegetable, topping and dressing - and store them in the fridge, ready to be thrown together each day. Below are two of my favourite layered lunches, including seasonal suggestions for the vegetable 'layer' to see you through the year. 

With just a little preparation at the beginning of the week, you can feel smug about your delicious lunch as others resort to a sad supermarket sandwich. These days, I’m feeling even more smug as I transport my lunches in the new, sustainable bamboo lunch boxes from Leon (pictured below). 

*These recipes make enough for four portions, after which the food won’t keep well. When Friday comes around, I like to treat myself to lunch from a local food stall or cafe.*


Lentil and veg fritters, feta, herby lime yogurt

These fritters have recently been a staple on our table. Light, gently spiced, with a crisp shell that gives way to a squidge in the centre, they never fail to please. They are perfect stuffed into a pitta with salty feta, crunchy salad leaves and a bright yogurt dressing.  Makes around 12 fritters (enough for 3 per day). 

Base:

  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tin green or brown lentils
  • 1 egg
  • 20g dill
  • 20g parsley
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Vegetable:

  • 250g courgettes (1-2 medium courgettes)
  • 100g broad beans

Topping:

  • Feta (or another soft cheese, such as goat’s cheese or ricotta)
  • Pittas
  • Lettuce (optional)

Dressing:

  • 100g plain Greek yogurt 
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp cumin, toasted
  • Drop of honey
  • 2 tsp each of dill and parsley (set aside from the base ingredients)
  1. Grate the courgettes and place them in a sieve over the sink while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a large frying pan set over a low-medium heat. Once warm, gently cook the red onion for 10 minutes until soft and starting to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the spices and fry for a further minute. Remove from the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, boil the broad beans for 3 minutes, drain and, once cool, slip the beans from their skin. Finely chop the dill and parsley. Set 2 tsp of each aside in a small bowl for the dressing.
  4. Add the lentils, breadcrumbs and beaten egg to a food processor and blend until just mixed. Add the onion mix and pulse until it is incorporated. Tip into a bowl and fold through the herbs, courgette and broad beans. Season to taste and stir. 
  5. Wipe the frying pan clean. (Now is a good time to toast the cumin for the dressing, then set aside in the bowl with the herbs). 
  6. Put a thin layer of olive oil in a pan set over a medium-high heat. When hot, use two tablespoons to scoop small mounds of the mixture into the pan, flattening slightly. Fry for 4 minutes on each side or until golden. You will need to fry them in two or three batches depending on the size of your pan.
  7. Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together all of the ingredients in a small bowl, including the herbs that you set aside earlier.
  8. Once cooled, place the fritters and the dressing into separate containers and store in the fridge until ready to use. 

To assemble: If warming the fritters, re-heat in a pan or under the grill so they stay crispy. Warm your pitta in the oven or a toaster. Stuff with the fritters, feta and lettuce, and drizzle with a generous spoonful of the dressing. 


Seasonal vegetable variations:

Winter: 

  • Cauliflower (cut into small florets; boil until al dente or roast in a little oil until golden) 
  • Kale or cabbage (thinly shredded and steamed or boiled)

Spring: 

  • Broccoli (cut into small florets, boiled or steamed until al dente) 
  • Spring greens (shred finely, steam until wilted or fry gently in a little oil until wilted)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (grated)
  • Broad beans (boiled and shelled)

 

Autumn: 

  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Leeks (thinly slice, gently fry in a little oil until golden)
Lentil fritters 3
Lentil fritters 1

Bulgar wheat salad, goat’s cheese, lemon and pomegranate dressing

This bulgar wheat salad is a lighter, more sprightly option for lunch. The nutty grain is suffused with the juice from the roasted vegetables and the sharp-sweet dressing. Its especially good with goat’s cheese - or any soft cheese - crumbled on top to turn it into a fuller, more balanced meal. 

Base: 

  • 240g bulgar wheat (other grains also work well - couscous, quinoa, farro, pearl barley and brown rice. Adjust cooking times according to the packet instructions)
  • 20g flat leaf parsley

Vegetable:

  • 450g courgettes (2-3 medium courgettes)
  • 400g ripe cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes

Dressing:

  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
  • Salt and pepper 

Topping:

  • Goat’s cheese (or another soft cheese, such as ricotta or feta)
  • Little gem lettuce (optional)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Slice the courgette into 1cm coins and place on a baking tray with the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, season well with salt, pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the courgettes are golden brown and the tomatoes are bursting. 
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, place the bulgar wheat into a small pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, until it is just tender. Drain and leave to cool, before gently using a fork to mix through the flat leaf parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little olive oil.
  4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and pour into a jam jar or small pot. 
  5. Once cooled, place each element - the bulgar wheat, roasted vegetables and dressing - into a separate container and store into the fridge until ready to use.

 

To assemble: Whisk the dressing with a fork if separated slightly.  Take one quarter of the bulgar wheat and vegetables. Drizzle with a spoonful or two of dressing and mix gently. Lay the bulgar salad on a bed of lettuce (optional). Crumble over the goat’s cheese.


Seasonal vegetable variations:

Winter: 

  • Root vegetables (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Kale or cabbage (shred finely, steam until wilted or toss in oil and add to the root vegetables for the last 10 minutes)

Spring: 

  • Asparagus or purple sprouting broccoli (steamed or boiled until al dente)
  • Peas (fresh or frozen, boiled according to the packet instructions)

Summer (as above): 

  • Courgettes (sliced, roasted in olive oil until golden)
  • Tomatoes (roasted in olive oil until bursting)

 

Autumn: 

  • Roasted squash (dice into small cubes, season, roast until soft) 
  • Mushrooms (slice, sauté in a little oil until the water has evaporated and they are golden)
Bulgar wheat salad 2