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Posted on Aug 17, 2007 | 6 comments

Strawberry tree fruit & curry lunches

Strawberry tree fruit & curry lunches

I packed number of unusual fruits and vegetables in our meals today, the most interesting of which is the striking red fruit of the strawberry tree (“arbutus berries”). I haven’t seen this fruit in stores, but our friend Vincent from the African island of Réunion picked them from trees in the neighborhood with Bug. I find them faintly sweet and a bit mealy when eaten out of hand, but they make a very nice jam or couli. We didn’t have enough strawberry tree fruit to cook up into anything much, so into the bentos they went, to be eaten out of hand. Suite 101 tells us they can also be made into “jellies, syrups, candied fruit, distilled and fermented drinks, such as wines and liqueurs. In Spain, they’re made into a highly flavored wine, called medronho.”

Chicken peanut curry for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Honeydew nectarine, strawberry tree fruit (arbutus berries), sliced cucumber with herb oil from marinated bocconcini (we shared this), and a curry that Vincent made with chicken, potatoes, banana squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, chili, coconut milk, peanut butter, lemongrass, and keffir lime leaves, simmered with Parmesan cheese rind for flavor complexity. This particular honeydew nectarine was disappointingly mealy, but another one we had a day early was sweet and medium-firm with (not surprisingly) a hint of melon. There’s an interesting article on fruit hybrids here.

Chicken peanut curry

Morning prep time: 10 minutes, to reheat leftover curry that Vincent made, and cut the nectarine and cucumber.

Packing: I pre-heated the thermal food jar with hot tap water before packing to maximize heat retention, and dipped the nectarine in lemon juice mixed with strawberry banana juice to prevent fruit from browning without making it sour. Packedin a 560ml insulated bento set (240ml rice jar and 160ml side dishes).

My meal is the same, minus the cucumber. Packed in a 300ml thermal food jar and a 190ml metal side dish container.

Chicken peanut curry with gemelli

Contents of husband’s lunch: The same curry, pre-frozen gemelli pasta, plum tomatoes, broccoli and orange cauliflower florets with red wine vinaigrette, and a mini pudding cup. The orange cauliflower tasted just like regular white cauliflower to me; I bought it at Safeway so it should be widely available. (Pasta is pushed to one side for the photo only; I re-covered the curry with pasta after the photo was taken.)

Morning prep time: 10 minutes of mostly microwave time, to warm the curry, defrost the frozen unsauced pasta, and quickly cook the broccoli and orange cauliflower in my microwave mini steamer (speeds cook time by 50%).
Freezing pasta
Packing: This lunch features a variation of the “rice lid” technique that I first described here, where you pack a container mostly full of your stew or curry, and cap it with a layer of rice to keep things warm and intact until eating. We were out of cooked rice, so I pulled out a little packet of pre-frozen pasta and microwaved it to use instead. I had serious doubts that pasta would work as a lid, so we purposely tipped it on its side in the car to really put it to the test. Result: it actually kept the very thick curry in place without leaking out of the loose rice container lid, but this definitely wouldn’t work with a thinner broth. The top tier is divided by a little plastic gelato spoon that I kept from a gelato takeout shop. It did double duty as both food divider and spoon for the pudding; it’s the perfect size for box lunches so I wash and reuse it. Lunch packed in a cheap Chinese thermal lunch jar, bought locally.

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  1. Looks wonderful! I’ve been “lurking” and getting ideas for my three year olds lunches when she goes to “school” my only question is, when you make lunches like this for Bug do you generally reheat them? I am unsure her teachers will be reheating lunches for her and she’s got a wheat allergy. I am concerned because if i make her rice and stir fry etc and warm it in the morning and let it cool before I pack it will it be ok in an insulated lunch bag three hours later?
    she doesn’t need hot food so warm is ok…
    I wasn’t sure if there was a Q&A section I am missing, I did look for one though
    thanks!!!

  2. Nature’s own pantry is really cool – especially finding it so that you can just pick off a tree :).

    In my very wooded and fielded neighbourhood a bunch of middle eastern women pick these herby leafy greens every summer. None of us “natives” do. Since I have developed this peculiar interest in botany I have always thought I would find out the name of it and what you do with it. Haven’t so far.

    Oh, and mendronho is really good :). Give me something distilled spirits for a drink and I am happy (not over time as the drink kicks in but for the taste ;) )

  3. @1 from Natesgirl: Welcome out of the lurkers’ area (but nothing wrong with lurking!). My post on hot vs. cold lunches might answer some of your questions. I don’t reheat lunches before eating because we usually eat outside, but that post has tips on packing for microwaving, cold/room temp lunches, etc. If you’re looking for warm food without microwaving, I’d recommend using either a thermal food jar or a thermal lunch jar. I haven’t yet written up a good FAQ — it’s on that ever-growing to-do list!

  4. @4, Biggie, I am not the best describer of flavour in wines and spirits.
    It is a clear distilled spirit (the process that yields what you’d call schnaps in Germany and grappa in Italy), it is found locally in some regions where you find the tree. I had it in Algarve in Portugal. I’d describe the flavour as complex. With every sip you find it more entising but it is strong. Eat something with it ;).

    First we had it as a tasting when we passed an orchard, then at a local restaurant after dinner. It was served straight and as I can recall at room temperature. It was described to us as fire-water. I must concur with that.
    I haven’t been able to find it since I travelled that region so if you can find it, lucky you :).

  5. @5 from Jessica: Fascinating info on mendronho, Jessica — thank you. I’m now officially on the hunt.

  6. I love the gemelli pasta and the fun and colorful lunches you have made here. Thanks for the great inspiration!