Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I brown bag my lunch.

It may be a simple fact of life back in Canada, but not here in Israel. This is a country where the main meal of the day is eaten at lunch, but, as I have mentioned before, the working day is officially 9 1/2 hours long with only 1/2 an hour for lunch. Unlike Spain or Portugal, there is no siesta, so a fair number of the larger companies, the one I work for included, provide a subsidized cafeteria. And alot of people take advantage - who wouldn't opt for a full hot meal at less than $3?


Having worked in an industrial kitchen when I volunteered on a kibbutz in the Negev, I know what the stock in trade is for adding flavour and making mediocre food more palatable. That doesn't mean that I made compromises when I was cooking there. Quite the opposite. I was in charge of the "diet" kitchen. This meant I made all of the food for the creches, the old people and for those on special low-sodium, low fat, low interest diets.

When I first started only 30 - 40 people a day (not including the kids) would come over to my section for their lunch. The kibbutz only had about 800 people living on it so I was feeding about 5% of the population. By the time I left, 10 months later, I had a regular following of more than 150 people, an increase of almost 400%!. I could have fed more, but the budget for "special needs" wouldn't allow for it. What I did differently was add natural herbs and spices, use home made stock, and added flavour using basics like onions (no garlic allowed) apples, oranges and lemons. I even used prunes (which the old people loved!) to add flavour to the plain boiled chicken. What I didn't use was the bright yellow parve chicken soup mix that is prevalent in all kitchens here.

I can smell the chemicals in that stuff, which is why I don't eat in the work cafeteria.

I don't want to feel deprived of sustenance, which I am not, but a sandwich just won't tide me over for the whole day, so I prepare the basis for my lunch on Friday or Saturday and freeze indivual portions that I can take with me to work during the week. In winter I might make a stew, lasagne, moussaka, or even stuffed peppers and zucchini. But in summer I eat a bit lighter. For a while I was going through a turkey breast phase - rolled with grainy mustard or tarragon or whatever herbs I had leftover from the market, wrapped in silicone paper and baked slowly in the oven. Once it was cool I would dice it up and throw baggies of it into the freezer.

Recently I have been going through a meatball phase.

That doesn't mean I eat the same thing day in and day out. Not at all, I get creative and like to see how excessive I can go without being over the top.

Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

So what have I done with my meatballs...
  • Lemon, thyme, chilis and garlic
  • Baharat with rose petals, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom
  • Persian lemon and onions
  • Cilantro, garlic and onion
  • Hawai'j with turmeric, ground coriander and cumin, mace, nutmeg amd cardamom
  • Green onions and miso shiro with a soy ginger terikyaki glaze
  • Green onions and finely diced prunes
  • Ginger, chili, green onions and sesame oil
  • Tehina with parsley and onions
  • Nuoc cham flavour (fish sauce, soy, sugar, chilis, Thai basil)
  • Parmesan and oregano
  • Tomato paste, grated carrot and onion
  • Curry powder, garlic, onion, cilantro

I have used beef, chicken, turkey and pork and various mixtures thereof. I have made them with and without breadcrumbs (homemade, not bought), but I always add an egg and there is always lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Once lunchtime comes I get my veggies out. There is always cucumber and hot peppers, the rest, as they say, can change without notice.

Things that go into my meatball salads (not necessarily all at once!)

Tomatoes (regular or cherry)
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Pickles
  • Pickled hot peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Tarragon
  • Zucchini
  • Summer squash
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Fruit (apple, nectarine, peach, apricot)
  • Home made mayonnaise
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Some days I will be industrious (or just have alot of time on my hands) and nuke the potatoes, zucchini or squash from raw and have a semi-warm salad. Other days I won't want any kind of dressing and just use the juice that leaches from the veggies.

    No two days are ever alike, tastewise, though they may appear to do so. I am not bored yet...

    and if I do get bored I can only blame myself!


    veuveclicquot said...

    YUM! Meatball salad - now that's a great idea. Thanks for sharing your variations on them.

    aja said...

    Sorry I didn't put any quantities (again) but they all depend on exactly what I have in the fridge at the time... I really need to try and do some measuring.