Chickpea tuna sandwich filler

This is something I’ve been making mental commitments to try out for a while. I grew up on tuna sandwiches: most lunchtimes I’d sit with my friends to eat a tuna, mayonnaise, and pickled beetroot combination – odd, to some people’s tastes, but the tang of the beetroot went marvellously with the creamy mayo and texture of the tuna. I have a nostalgic hankering after the sandwiches of my high school years, always thickly stuffed by my dad, and rarely disappointing.

Eating this took me straight back to those lunchtime tuna sandwiches, as the texture of the roughly mashed chickpeas has the same loose, chunky feel. The red onion, carrot, and celery add a nice crunch, with the tahini adding a creaminess to bring it all together. I always preferred my tuna relatively dry, and as I’m not keen on vegan mayo, the relative dryness of this was perfect – but feel free to add mayo if you’re so inclined.

To make enough chickpea tuna for two / three sandwiches, depending on how thick you want them, you’ll need:

  • one tin / carton of chickpeas
  • half a small carrot
  • half a small red onion
  • half a small stick of celery
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • half a lemon
  • salt & pepper
  • vegan mayo (optional)
  • paprika and chilli flakes (optional)

Drain the chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Very finely chop the carrot, onion, and celery, before adding them to the bowl, along with the tahini, most of the lemon’s juice, and plenty of salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher to the desired consistency – chunky is best. Add paprika and chilli flakes for extra flavour.

Spread the chickpea tuna between thick slices of wholemeal bread, and top with cucumber / tomato / lettuce / pickled beetroot as desired. This also works very well in pitta breads, batons, or atop toasted bread.

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Tofu & salad sandwiches

Lunching as a student is difficult. You’re generally on the run between lectures or hunched over books in the library, so time is of the essence in your choice of sustenance. I divide my lunchtimes between my desk at work, in the Student’s Union, cramming in mouthfuls of a sandwich in quieter periods; and with a spot on the floor of the library foyer, between study sessions, or before my yoga class. I don’t particularly enjoy the rush, but such is life.

Generally, I bring a veggie pitta, usually with avocado, and some tomatoes or cucumber. Occasionally I’ll muster the effort to make a salad the night before, always with wholemeal couscous and some form of bean. Keeping lunches varied stops me from getting bored, and succumbing to the allure of buying an expensive ready-made wrap on campus (of which vegan options have gloriously increased). I’m currently trying to broaden my sandwich horizons, and this recent tofu creation was a winner.

For one big sandwich, you’ll need:

  • 2 slices chunky brown bread, or 1 large wholemeal pitta
  • 1/3 block tofu
  • thumb-sized piece of cucumber / thin slices of salad tomato
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari / soy sauce
  • 1 tsp maple syrup / agave nectar
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke / BBQ sauce
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • garlic powder (optional)
  • Dijon mustard (optional)
  • vegan mayo (not optional)

Begin by pressing the tofu: wrap in a clean tea-towel, and place under a heavy object, such as a bag of dried chickpeas, or a wooden chopping board stacked with tins for extra weight. Make sure it’s stable, and bear in mind that the surface underneath the tofu will be damp. Leave to press for as long as possible – half an hour will do if you’re really pushed for time.

In a bowl, mix the liquid seasonings and whisk briskly with a fork until incorporated. Add salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic if using, and continue to mix. Slice the pressed tofu lengthways into four pieces, place in a shallow bowl and pour over the marinade – turn over a few times and leave to absorb for ten minutes.

Heat the oven to to 200 degrees celsius, or gas mark 6. Put the tofu slices on a baking tray and cook for 25 minutes, turning halfway; they’ll turn a pleasant shade of brown.

In the meantime, thinly slice the cucumber and / or tomato. If you prefer your sandwiches crispy, pop the bread or pitta into a toaster. When the tofu is ready, layer into the bread with the slices of cucumber, slather generously in mayonnaise, and add a small amount of mustard for extra flavour. If there’s space, add fresh lettuce and a little chopped red onion. Bon appetit!

Stuffed veggie pittas

Sometimes expediency is of the utmost importance in eating lunch. Generally, you’re caught between tasks, you’ve got somewhere else to be, or there is much you need to do. Hence the brevity of this post, and the simplicity of the recipe.

These pittas are very simple, and can be stuffed with whatever is there is in the fridge.

You’ll need:

  • one large wholemeal pitta
  • half one ripe avocado
  • half a lemon (for the avocado), and seasonings
  • stuffings: chickpeas, pepper, tomato, roasted veg will all work beautifully

 

Simply tear the pitta in half and place in the toaster – slightly crisped is the aim. Mash the avocado (to make batch lunches, use more) with the juice of the lemon, and season well with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes. Carefully slice open the pittas, and spread the avocado inside. Chop a little red onion and sprinkle within, before adding stuffings of choice – but don’t over-stuff.

Eat immediately, or wrap up and pop in your bag. My absolute golden combination, as of yet, is as follows: avocado seasoned with lemon, s&p, and cayenne; cold yellow peppers, roasted in oil and mixed herbs, perfectly tender; and a few sprigs of coriander.

Butternut squash and carrot soup

It’s definitely soup season. With chillier afternoons and cold evenings, I crave warm and comforting bowls of chilli, stew, or soup, the latter with a doorstop of crusty bread for the dual purposes of dunking and mopping up last vestiges. And if such simple things as bread and soup don’t cheer me on a winter night, then I fear nothing will.

As butternut squash is abundant right now, and delicious, I bought one and then sat a long time looking at it, considering its possibilities. A previous squash had made a vegan mac ‘n’ cheese; another quarter was roasted in a dish with other vegetables, with rosemary from my garden. This one, I decided, was destined for soup.

Carrot and cumin make for a beautiful combination, earthy and mildly sweet: and the squash added another layer of sweetness. I added chickpeas to mine, although these can be easily omitted for a lighter meal.

You’ll need, for two generous portions:

  • half of one medium-sized butternut squash
  • two carrots
  • one medium-sized brown onion
  • tin of chickpeas (optional)
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half of one small red chilli
  • cumin seeds
  • cayenne pepper
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

There are two ways to go about cooking the squash: either cut in half and roast for an hour, skin-side down, in a little water; or go through the lengthy process of removing the skin, deseeding, and chopping into cubes.

Whichever way you choose, begin the soup by toasting half a tbsp of cumin seeds until aromatic. Roughly chop the onion, and cook on a low heat until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and chilli, fry briefly, then add the toasted cumin.

Roughly chop the carrot into small pieces, put in the pan, and pour in 200-300ml of  vegetable stock. If using pre-cooked squash, scoop the flesh out of the skin and add to the pan; if using uncooked cubes, drop them in. To bulk the soup out, you could add chickpeas or a cooked potato (sweet would be interesting).

Simmer for half an hour, or until the carrot and squash are tender. Blitz to the desired consistency, using a stick blender or food processor – I left mine relatively smooth, with the occasional chunk. Season and stir in chopped coriander before ladling into bowls. Add a swirl of plain soy-based yogurt and sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

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Avocado and sweetcorn quinoa salad

In the midst of exam season, food is one of the only things which keeps me sane. Taking time out to cook a decent meal after a day of revision is therapy to an over-saturated mind, and really helps me to shake off some of the stress. Bulk-cooking ensures I’m not eating beans on toast when I come home, too tired to do anything else.

Thankfully, the worst of my exams are now over, and I’ve been enjoying some well-deserved downtime: cooking, going for coffee and cake, eating out. Also, I can get back to blogging without feeling as though I’m committing some kind of sacrilege against my degree.

So I thought I’d share one of my favourite salads, one of many lunches eaten at a desk in a crowded library, or outside for ten minutes of snatched sunlight. I’ve tried many combinations of veggies, and have managed to isolate a few which really work. Avocado and sweetcorn is one: the former is a good source of fat to fill me up for longer, and the sweetness of the corn compliments the balsamic vinegar very well.

In general, I eat every weekday lunch at uni, so every night I pre-prepare something to eat to take with me the next day. Although food outlets on campus aren’t too bad, there’s no way I can afford to buy food everyday: spending £3 on a reasonable meal would equate to £15 per week – over a ten-week term, that’s £150, guys.

So it’s become part of my evening ritual to throw together a sandwich or a salad ready to put in my bag the next day. Quinoa and couscous are gloriously versatile as the basis of salads – they’re easy to cook, and go well with just about anything. (I used to hate quinoa, until I realised that eating it cooked simply in water was doing it no favours. Simmering it in vegetable stock is a good way to go, or letting it absorb the flavours of salad dressings. With couscous, you can pour boiling water over the top, cover, and leave to stand for a few minutes, before fluffing it up and seasoning it well.)

For the salad, all you’ll need is:

  • quinoa / couscous
  • half an avocado
  • a few tablespoonfuls of sweetcorn
  • salad leaves (ideally, rocket or another peppery leaf)
  • red onion
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

 

If you prefer quinoa, simmer for ten minutes on a low heat. I tend to go for half a mugful. Once it’s absorbed all the water and is fluffy,  add a good squeeze of lemon, season, and mix. If you prefer to cook it in vegetable stock, go for it.

Simply chop the avocado into rough chunks (if you’re keeping the other half in the fridge, add a few drops of lemon to stop it going brown). Cook the sweetcorn in the microwave or in a pan, drain, and add to the pan – or heap everything straight into a container. Chop or tear your salad leaves, along with a quarter of a sliced red or spring onion. Drizzle with olive oil, dress with plenty of balsamic vinegar, and season. Incorporate everything, pop the lid on the container and shake it round, round, and all around.

Place in the fridge until it’s needed – and voila. An easy, healthy, and tasty lunch, with no hefty price tag.

 

Simple chickpea & couscous salad

I suspect that I may offend anybody looking for a proper recipe to cook a proper meal with this post. If you’re that person, look away now: this salad is so very easy that a child could throw it together. Yet I am going to post it, because sometimes a recipe doesn’t have to list more ingredients than you can count off your fingers, and because I think it could help out a fellow hungry, tired, travel / deadline-weary reader.

I arrived home from home (the conventional university paradox) fairly late on Sunday night. When I booked my train, I’d pre-planned how I would approach the dilemma of having no food in the house, and probably no energy to want to cook anything anyway. In my suitcase I stowed a can of chickpeas from my first home, along with some cherry tomatoes, to form two essential parts of this salad.

As I tucked into this, in front of Netflix, with my suitcase abandoned behind me, I was surprised by the success of texture and flavour. Balsamic vinegar pairs brilliantly with couscous, chickpeas, and tomatoes on individual levels: all together, they taste fantastic. Minimalism, it seems, is a definite culinary technique; proving that there is method in the madness of student cooking. (I’m talking about those weird and wonderful combinations we concoct, and the meals we masterchef out of half a tin of chopped tomatoes and whatever’s lurking in the fridge.)

All you’ll need is:

  • dried couscous
  • a few handfuls of plum or cherry tomatoes
  • half a can of chickpeas, or other beans (c’mon, not baked)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

In this trial of culinary skills, pop the kettle on and pour enough couscous as you’re hungry to eat into a mug. Once the water’s boiled, just cover with water, and rest a tea towel on top to prevent heat escaping. It’ll take five minutes or so to absorb the liquid – add a little more water if the couscous is still firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, open the can of chickpeas, drain, rinse, and put half into a bowl. Slice the cherry or plum tomatoes in half and add in.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork, and add to the bowl. Drizzle in olive oil and plenty of balsamic vinegar, season, and mix well. Finish with a last flourish of vinegar and seasoning, sit down, and eat hungrily.

This would make an excellent lunch, post-gym snack, or light / late-night dinner. Still hungry, I had a slice of toast afterwards – travelling does tire one out. I would previously have encouraged adding other vegetables, salad leaves, feta cheese – but this salad is fantastic as it is.

 

Mushroom and spinach scramble

Today’s lunch was too good to not share. Mushrooms and spinach are two of my favourite vegetables: although bland in their uncooked states, they’re blank canvases to all sorts of tastes, and so perfect for a veggie fry-up. Using spring onion, chilli, and lemon to add some strong flavour, I whipped up a scrumptious lunch in next to no time.

Quite simply, this is all you’ll need:

  • four closed-cup mushrooms
  • a few big handfuls of spinach
  • two spring onions
  • butter, or olive oil
  • chilli flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • half a lemon
  • optional wodge of cheese to melt in.

 

To begin this versatile breakfast, lunch, or dinner, heat a frying pan, and slice up the mushrooms. Melt a knob of butter or heat a splash of oil (I much prefer cooking mushrooms in butter – the taste is so much better), before throwing in the mushrooms. Roughly chop the white ends of the spring onions, and add them to the pan when the mushrooms have started to gain a little colour.

Adding more fat if need be, begin wilting the spinach in the pan. Season generously with salt, pepper, and chilli flakes, crumbling in the cheese if you want it (which, really, you should). Once everything’s significantly reduced (after about five minutes), squeeze in a burst of lemon juice and incorporate well.

Serve over good-quality toasted bread, perhaps with a dollop of your favourite chutney. Bon appétit.

(There’s no picture here, which I make no apology for. I couldn’t wait.)