Chefs Take on the Brown-Bag Lunch

By: Kate Nerenberg

Looking to save some cash? Here’s a suggestion: Bring your lunch. But that doesn’t have to mean Fluffernutter on Wonder Bread. We asked a few chefs for value-driven recipes for sandwich lovers, vegetarians, carbo loaders, health nuts, and sweet tooths. Here are four cheap ways to make your turkey-sandwich-toting office mates jealous.

Nicholas Stefanelli, formerly executive chef of downtown DC’s Mio, conjures up a healthy salad. His result convinced us that canned tuna can be way more than a deli toss-off.

Fennel Salad With Tuna and Citrus
Serves 2

1 fennel bulb, shaved
1 can tuna (Italian tuna in olive oil works best)
1⁄8 cup pine nuts
8 green olives
1 sprig dill (ferns only)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1⁄8 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Drain the tuna and set it aside. In a large bowl, gently fold the remaining ingredients together. Sprinkle the tuna over the fennel mixture and drizzle with extra olive oil to taste.
 

For those who can’t live without sandwiches (we can’t!), here’s a Mediterranean-accented vegetarian offering from Mike Isabella, chef at Zaytinya in DC’s Penn Quarter.

Marinated Eggplant Sandwich with Chickpea-and-Red-Pepper Relish
Serves 4

For the eggplant:

2 medium eggplants, cut into ¾-inch slices
3 cups balsamic vinegar UPDATE: This recipe was originally scaled down incorrectly. This should be 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Marinate the eggplant in the balsamic vinegar and oil for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 days. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the eggplant slices from the vinegar mixture. If you have a grill pan, you can mark the slices on the grill before baking—2 minutes per side—to add a grill flavor. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet and cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until soft.

For the relish:

1 red bell pepper (or 1 cup of store-bought roasted red peppers)
1 cup chickpeas
2½ tablespoons capers
¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons chopped parsley
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 cup red-wine vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

If using a raw bell pepper, roast it by blistering its skin on the burner of a gas range. Once the pepper is mostly black, place it in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. After 20 minutes, remove the cooled pepper. The skin should peel off easily. Dice the skinned pepper. Combine the pepper with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the herb salad:

½ bunch mint
½ bunch parsley
½ bunch watercress
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Just before assembling the sandwich, combine all ingredients in a bowl.

To assemble the sandwich:

4 pitas or flatbreads (any thin, crispy bread or cracker will work)
Olive oil to taste
Salt to taste

Top each pita with 4 to 5 slices of eggplant. Top with a bit of chickpea relish and a bit of herb salad. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

 

We can’t get enough of sandwiches, so we also asked Jeff Heineman, chef/owner of Bethesda’s Grapeseed, to give us a recipe for one of his favorites, served hot.

“Fantabulous” Chicken Sandwich

Serves 1

1 kaiser roll
1 3-to-4-ounce chicken breast, grilled or baked
2 slices bacon, preferably applewood, cooked
2 ounces sliced Manchego cheese (Swiss works, too)

For the sauce:

½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl.

To assemble the sandwich:

Slather sauce to taste on both sides of the sliced kaiser roll. Layer with chicken breast, bacon strips, and cheese.

 

Carla Hall, a finalist on the last season of Top Chef, has an easy recipe for carb-addicts. “I love sandwiches and especially wraps,” she wrote us in an e-mail, “but here’s a recipe for the Tupperware.” You can make it a couple of days in advance, she says—it’ll keep for the whole week.

Sesame Noodles With Roasted Chicken

Serves 3 to 4

6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili sauce or minced chilies
1 pound linguine
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 store-bought roasted chicken, skinned and meat pulled
Sesame seeds to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger, sugar, canola oil, rice vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce. Prepare the linguine according to package directions. Toss the hot pasta with the sauce mixture. Allow to cool. Toss in the cilantro and pulled chicken. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

No lunch is complete without dessert, right? We didn’t even have to ask for it, but Hall sent us a cookie recipe, too.

Oatmeal-Craisin Cookies With White Chocolate


1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup nonfat protein powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup Craisins, or dried cranberries
1 cup white-chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the flour, protein powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the oats, cranberries, and white chocolate. Drop the batter in rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool the cookies slightly, then transfer them from the sheet pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

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