out to lunch

A packed lunch, when done well, is a daymaker. Never has this been more apparent to me than the last few weeks working in the hospital. Mornings start early and run at a harried pace, and most days I am in need of a serious energy boost by lunchtime (whenever in the afternoon lunchtime happens to fall).


I’ve always been a little wary of cafeteria fare and was ever a flag-bearer for the camp of “home lunch” kids in school- my mom or dad sent me to school with a PB&J each day and saved me from a fate worse than mass-produced turkey tetrazzini. Force of habit, my student budget, and the comfort I take in my Sunday evening ritual of preparing food for the week and packing it up in tupperware have made me a home lunch lifer. While I default to PB&J every once in a while, these days I favor substantial salads that are filling interesting enough to keep me from opting for Au Bon Pain by Wednesday. 



Joanna is the queen of such lunch salads and I used her deconstructed dolmades recipe from the archives for last week’s lunch fare. I riffed on that premise today and used this fattoush recipe by which I am totally obsessed as further inspiration. Sumac is everything I have ever wanted in a spice- lemony, fragrant, purple, and slightly bitter- and while it can be tricky to track down, it’s totally worth the hunt. 


1 medium head cauliflower

3T olive oil

Juice and zest of one large lemon

1 large clove garlic, minced or crushed

1 T sumac

¼ t salt


1 c quinoa or other grain, uncooked

½ of a large onion, thinly sliced

1 T oil


½ c sundried tomatoes

Handful walnuts

2 large handfuls spinach (or more)


2 T lemon juice

½ t sumac

1 T fresh chopped herbs (I used sage and mint)

1 T olive oil

Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and combine with 3T oil, zest and juice of one lemon, garlic, 1T sumac, and 1/4t salt in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the cauliflower on it in a single layer. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring a few times, until the cauliflower begins to brown.

Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a medium saucepan, cover w 2 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer 12-15 min, until water is absorbed. 

In a medium skillet, caramelize the onions. Heat 1 T oil then add onions. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until golden, at least 20 minutes. 

Make the dressing: place all ingredients in a small jar, put the lid on, and shake to combine. Taste to adjust the flavors. It should be tangy. 

Place spinach, tomatoes, and nuts in a large bowl and add the cauliflower, onions, and quinoa when they’re done cooking.  Toss with dressing. Serve at room temperature or cold.

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