It is an everyday routine to stare at the fridge and pantry to decide what to cook and wishing some magic to help with an answer! And like many, I am realizing every single day, how cruel it was tell Amma that her lunch menu was repetitive and boring (though she packed a good variety of food and never have packed idli, dosai, noodles or bread for lunch even once in 14 years of my school life!). Karma is REAL, you guys!
Being a working woman for close to 9 years now and married for the past 3 years, I hold a decent record of packing good, tasty lunch boxes to self and husband. Hence I qualify myself in writing a post on a few ideas that I follow to cook lunches to work.
Before scrolling through I would like to you to know –
- Recipes that I use are very much Indian (read south Indian/vegetarian).
- Nothing fancy. Basic and healthier than eating out/cafeteria food.
Pressure Cookers – I say cookers because, I had only one 2.5 litre pressure cooker for a longtime and it used to be a pain to cook, wash and use it for the next dish/meal. So, I got one more 2 litre from India and I can say really vouch that this will really bring down the cooking time. Worth the money you spend!
I own these and I highly recommend if you are looking to buy one –
Heavy bottom kadais – Again kadais because I own 3 small/medium kadais and that works like breeze. Heavy bottom as you don’t have keep stirring and stand near the stove the whole time and wait for it to cook. Keep the flame low, let it cook and use that few minutes for another task. Even few minutes count on busy mornings, right?
Sambar powder – Do not underestimate the power of this versatile powder. It is a savior in many ways. I always stock sambar powder (I use homemade powder but I recommend Sakti Masala Sambar Powder if you are looking for store-bought ones). Stir fry, tomato rice, semiya I add it to most of the items I cook.
Vaangibath Masala – I usually make this extra and store it in airtight container in the fridge. This masala powder works with many vegetables and helps to maintain a variety in the otherwise usual lunchboxes.
Bisibelebath Powder – Same as the above and it is a breeze to make Bisibelebath if you just have rice and dhal soaked and vegetables of your choice. Cut vegetables, add this powder, dump into pressure cooker and done!
Grand Sweets Thokku – If you aren’t using the ready mix thokku varieties from The Grand Sweets and Snacks, Adyar, you are missing the real deal! They are available on Amazon if you are looking to purchase online. If you are living outside India, do buy a couple of them when you visit and thank me later! Cook rice, mix the thokku, pack your lunchbox in less than 20 minutes! Omlette/Pappad, Chips are best sides.
Frozen Paneer/Peas – These two help in making easy one pot rice varieties.
Other common vegetables and groceries I stock regularly are
- Minimum 2 bunches of fresh coriander and mint leaves
- Ginger Garlic Paste
- Kasuri Methi
- Sakti masala brand Curry Masala Powder – Adds an extra zing to tomato rice, sabzi and any kuruma.
- Anil Ragi Semiya packets
- Millet Semiya packets from any local grocery stores (If you have Sarvodhya Sangam or commonly known as Kathar Kadai or Khadi stores try their millet semiya packets. For 20 bucks, they do a good job! )
Cook rice (normal or basmati) in pressure cooker. Ultra 2 liter pressure cooker works perfect and the grains come out separate and not mushy like how they used be for variety rice.
In a kadai, add oil, splutter mustard, add sliced onions, curry leaves and fry until onions become slightly brown. Add sliced brinjal or chopped capsicum or grated carrot and required salt and cook until the vegetables are wilted/cooked. Let it cool for a few minutes add the cooked rice and required salt for the rice and mix well. Cooked rice or the vegetable mixture should not be very hot as they tend to go bad when packed for lunch. For immediate consumption, no need to cool down. Add a spoon of ghee to avoid the rice turning dry until lunch time.
Soak rice and keep aside for a min 15 minutes. Wash a bunch of coriander or mint leaves 2-3 times in water. Just chop off the roots and wash, no need to chop. Grind it in a mixie jar with green chilies, ginger garlic paste and a little salt. Heat oil in Pressure cooker, add whole spices, thinly sliced onions and cook until transparent, a small tomato chopped and cook until they turn half mushy, add the ground masala and cook for 4-5 minutes or the raw smell goes. Add the soaked rice, water and required salt and pressure cook for 2-3 whistles on medium flame. Pack it with plain curd/any stir fried vegetables.
Stir fried vegetables
Cut vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, beans, capsicum, bell peppers into bite size pieces. Add salt, sambar powder and garam masala and mix well. Heat a heavy bottom kadai, add oil, jeera and add these vegetables cover and cook until done. Add crushed kasuri methi and give it a toss. Works best with curd rice/pulav/variety rice/rotis.
You can also repeat the same steps with brinjal. Add vaangibath masala instead sambar powder and garam masala and skip kasuri methi.
I add a few cashews along with the tempering items like mustard and urad dhal, cubed capsicums with onions while preparing Ragi semiya or any ready-to-make millet semiya, so that it becomes filling and a lunchbox menu rather than having only for breakfast/dinner.
Grate/chop vegetables like beetroot, radish, broccoli, carrot and greens like methi and palak into the roti dough along with a little of red chili powder, garam masala, jeera and mainly kasuri methi. Mix everything together to a soft dough and make rotis. They stay softer than normal rotis because of the moisture from the vegetables. Pack it with plain curd or pickle.
Below are the recipes that I use very regularly for work-lunches.
Hope you find these information useful. Do let me know your comments below.