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Posted on Jul 17, 2007 | 25 comments

Mediterranean lunches

Mediterranean lunches

Salmon Mediterranean lunch for preschooler

Contents of Bug’s lunch: Dolmas (seasoned rice wrapped in grape leaves), baked salmon with pesto sauce, plum tomatoes, tabbouleh (bulgur wheat salad with parsley, cucumbers and tomatoes), a bunch of tiny Champagne grapes, and Hami melon. The Hami melon is a kind of Chinese muskmelon with crisp, sweet flesh. Bug decided he didn’t like tabbouleh after all, so more for mommy!

Morning prep time: 6 minutes, using leftovers and pre-made deli food. I packed the leftover salmon and pesto sauce when cleaning up from dinner the night before, the tabbouleh was ready-made from Costco (pretty good!), and the dolmas were pantry staples from a can. So other than plating the lunch, the only prep needed this morning was cutting up a slice of the melon.

Packing: I broke up the baked salmon for easy preschooler eating, and put the tabbouleh in a a coated food cup to keep it away from the fruit. Packed in a cheap 3-tier 495ml bento box from Daiso.

Cooking: The baked salmon is a dead-easy dish to make on a weeknight that allows you to quickly prep it and walk away. An hour in a moist, low oven yields moist, tender salmon every time — perfect for leftovers that can be transformed into composed salads, etc. I first came across this technique in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Café Cookbook . Essentially you take a big boneless fillet of salmon, put it on a lined baking sheet, rub it with olive oil, and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt (coarser gourmet salts like fleur de sel really shine here). Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (93 deg. C) — very low!! Place a pan of warm water on a low rack in the oven to create a moist cooking environment, and put the salmon on the middle rack. Let it bake for an hour, then remove from the oven and let it stand for at least 10 minutes (up to 3 hours) to cool. Spectacular results every time and excellent at room temperature, so whenever I go to Costco I try to pick up a side of salmon for this dish. An entire side is way too much for one meal for our family, so I look at it as planned leftovers (but you can make it with less salmon).

Salmon Mediterranean lunch

Click for yuzu miso glaze recipe…

Salmon Mediterranean lunch

Contents of my lunch: Same as Bug’s, but with yuzu miso sauce in the little container and baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant dip). Not shown: Wheat crackers in a separate Lock & Lock container for the baba ghanouj.

Morning prep time: 6 minutes. Although I’ll often make homemade baba ghanouj if we’re grilling and have some spare eggplant, this particular baba ghanouj is from a can — a fast, no-fuss way to round out a meal. The yuzu miso sauce was leftover from the previous night’s dinner, so I pre-packed the salmon and sauce the night before when cleaning up.

Packing: The baba ghanouj was thick enough that I was able to put it in a little food cup without a lid. If it were runnier, though, I’d be sure to pack it in a smaller sub-container with a lid to ensure that it didn’t spill during transit. I packed the crackers in a separate container (not shown) to ensure that they didn’t get soggy from being packed in with moist food (yuck!). Main lunch packed in a 500ml Leaflet box.

Cooking: I adapted a recipe for white miso barbeque sauce from Steve Raichlen’s excellent cookbook The Barbecue! Bible . Instead of regular white miso, I used some yuzu-flavored white miso that I picked up from a Japanese market the other week. Yuzu miso is an interestingly nuanced twist on white miso, with the perfumey essence of yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit, info here). There’s a recipe for homemade yuzu miso here; you can use it anywhere you use regular white miso (soups, sauces, glazes, salad dressings), and even eat it plain with something like sliced cucumber.

Yuzu Miso Glaze

  • 1/4 cup yuzu miso (if unavailable, use white miso or make your own yuzu miso)
  • 1 Tb mirin (if unavailable, substitute an equal amount of sake and 1 tsp sugar)
  • 1.5 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1.5 tsp dashi (bonito stock) (if unavailable, substitute water, chicken stock or vegetable stock)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stir well. Microwave on medium power until bubbly, remove and stir. Microwave again on medium power until bubbly, remove and stir. Let cool, then use as a dipping sauce for vegetables or cooked tofu, or a glaze for roasted fish.

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  1. I love your website! It’s so helpful and cute, especially the prev. post about how to select bento boxes based on size and age!

    I would love to start making bento boxes for lunch at school, but as a busy university student I’m usually on campus all day long. My lunch/dinner usually has to sit for a few hours (unrefrigerated) before I nuke it in the microwave. After reading your post about bacteria in bento boxes, do you think I should still attempt to make bento boxes or should I stick with the yucky soggy sandwich?

    Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

  2. Mmm, love tabbouleh…

  3. Oh low temp cooked salmon is just magnificent :).
    I like some cuts of beef cooked low temp too.

  4. I would love to start making bento boxes for lunch at school, but as a busy university student I’m usually on campus all day long. My lunch/dinner usually has to sit for a few hours (unrefrigerated) before I nuke it in the microwave. After reading your post about bacteria in bento boxes, do you think I should still attempt to make bento boxes or should I stick with the yucky soggy sandwich?

    I’ve been taking Bento to university for nearly a month now. It has to travel by bicycle and train and, if its lucky, it gets about an hour in the refridgerator before lunch. So far I’ve suffered no ill effects but I’m sensible about what goes in it (for instance, I don’t put in anything in it that’s been in the fridge for more than a couple of days, or is past its sell-by date and nothing should be reheated more than once) and things like yoghurt stay in the sealed containers they came in. As a general rule if something smells, looks or tastes odd when the box is opened then don’t eat it (this applies to all food – don’t simply trust sell-by dates).

    I can’t think of anything that is safe in a sandwich for half a day which wouldn’t be safe in a bento box for half a day – and at least that way it isn’t making the bread soggy since you can carry the bread separately.

    I dishwash the tupperware I use which will also help keep it sterile. I’ve no idea if there is a risk of latent bacteria on tupperware but if you don’t have access to a dishwasher (or your bento set isn’t dishwasher safe) then it might be an idea to, at the least, rinse it out immediately after use so there aren’t any leftovers going off in it during the afternoon.

  5. I love your site. It’s encouraging me to think out of the sandwich bag and into the box, pardon the pun, for my childrens’ school meals. I have 5 and a 3 year old who both go to school/daycare and have lunch away from home. Your ideas are sure to encourage my kids to try more than the typical PBJ or grilled cheese sandwich. Thanks for your creativity and generosity to share this with all of us.

  6. Your dolma’s look delicious for some reason… even though I’ve never tried anything that has looked like that before. Do you eat the grape leaf too or do you peel that off? Do happen to have the recipe and where would you find grape leaves?

    I’m a big fan of your bentos! Keep them coming!

  7. @4 from Louise:
    Thanks so much for this excellent response, Louise! I appreciate your chiming in.

  8. @3 from Jessica:
    Ooh, tell me more about what kind of beef you like cooked at low temp!

  9. @5 from Knittymommy:
    Thank you for the nice comments about the site! Love the “thinking into the box” line, too. I do hope you can find something useful for your children, and please don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything you like (even old entries — I try to keep up with them too). Basically I’m too lazy to make special kid food, so whatever we eat is what Bug gets. So far it’s been working fine… (knock on wood)

  10. @6 from Jenny:
    My secret dolma recipe is as follows (don’t tell anyone): open can, remove ready-made dolmas. Ta daa! Seriously, these are store-bought canned dolmas from my local Mediterranean produce market (22nd & Irving) — unfortunately I don’t remember the brand offhand. You eat the grape leaves and everything — I’d recommend buying some ready-made from a deli first to see if you like them. Perhaps someone else has a favorite recipe they can recommend — I haven’t actually made these from scratch before.

  11. @6 and 11, Jenny & Biggie. I’ve done dolmas from scratch using a lebanese recipe. It is kind of finickity initially until you get the hang of it; stuffing, rolling, cooking.
    It is really not much harder than making spring rolls on your own though but requires a slight technique. I do them on my own if I feel up to it. There are two kinds of dolmas, although they are not called that in lebanese kitchen, either they are a veggie cold meze or a meat filled meze that is served warm. They are not a meal in themselves, not the lebanese ones anyway.

  12. Oh, I’ll try the ones from the deli, I think Loblaws probably has them in Canada. Lebanese recipe… sounds complicated, let me see if I like the ones from the deli first. Thanks Jessica & Biggie

  13. @9, Biggie & 13, Jenny.
    Lebanese food is considered to be part of mediterranean food. If it weren’t for politics and well, flare ups of war (not getting into the minefield of who is right and whos not), more people could visit and discover the cuisine and what is or was a a beautiful country. God knows what is left of it after the latest thing.
    It offer as healthy food as, lets say Italy or Greece and is as good as both of those. For the most part it is not complicated at all (you had to start with the dolmas huh?!? = warak inab for the veggie ones).

    Biggie, I cook low temp most cheap cuts. I cook them forever basically on low temps. I have also tried some low temp cooking on more expensive cuts like beef (don’t try that!). Because meat here is cut somewhat differently than in the US it is hard to say that I do this with that one and this with this since it is hard to do it like that, or so I imagine.

    After the beef scenario failed (I tried an experimental cooking recipe not made for home cooking) I stay with cooking the life and whatever chewiness there is out of cheap cuts and leave the rest alone. Cooking meat from frozen on low temp is a great technique.

  14. Wow this one looks so good!

  15. This was like the best Salmon ever I cooked it a little to long and at to high a temp at the end (cuz I got impatient) but it was so good. your blog is the best.

  16. @16 from Amie: Ooh, glad it worked out for you! It’s pretty forgiving; I think the pan of warm water and low temperature helps create a gentle environment for the fish…

  17. Have you tried this recipe with other fish? I’d like to try it but hubby isn’t crazy about salmon. And Muffin won’t eat fish (“fish are friends” from Finding Nemo unfortunately killed her appetite for anything from under the sea).

  18. @18 from snappiness: I haven’t actually tried this recipe with other fish. I think it’d need some fiddling with timing as the salmon sides are so big and thick (and fatty).

  19. Do you heat the salmon after taking it out of the fridge and before packing into the bento? And just cool it afterwards? Do you then pack with ice or just keep as a regular room temp bento?

  20. @20 from e: I’m trying to remember. I think with this one, I packed everything cool directly from the fridge with ice packs in an insulated lunch bag.

  21. Ok – thank you. I’ll give it a try!

  22. I have a frozen piece of salmon. Do you think I need to defrost it first, or just cook it longer?

  23. @23 from Sunflower: I would definitely defrost it first. To do this quickly without using the uneven heat of a microwave, you can put it in a freezer bag (squeeze all the air out) and use the convection method. Put the bagged salmon in a big container of cold water in the sink, and let the faucet drip cold water into the container, keeping the water moving around. Alton Brown approved!

  24. Can you freeze the salmon once it’s been cooked? My sitch is that I’m a single mom with the pickiest eater in the universe (don’t even bother, I guarantee he will beat whatever you got) so I’m cooking for myself and I refuse to cook unless I get 4 or 5 meals out of it.

  25. @25 from kris: I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t freeze the salmon once it’s been cooked, just be careful about how you defrost it so that you don’t inadvertantly overcook it (i.e. a minute in the microwave on High or something would probably make it nasty).