Feb 20 2015

The Lunch Predicament

Each day I face a dilemma sometime between the hours of 11:30 and 1:00. Lunch. There are days when I practically itch to get out of the house; on those weekdays, I use lunch as a significant motivator to finish projects in the morning and as a way to gain steam for the afternoon. We’ve adopted several out-to-eat lunch routines that include walking down Burnside to eat at AND Cafe or hopping over to Bollywood Theater on Division.

But, aside from that jittery need to leave the house, I most frequently think about lunch in the same manner I think about dinner: if I have the ingredients, I just want to make it myself. That hopeful, eager intention sometimes wages war with my less-than-gentle guilt complex, a complex best described as a tiny person on my shoulder reminding me that I “better cook lunch” because I have the flexibility to do so.

Whether driven by excitement or guilt, the end result looks the same. Lunch, on the table, made by me. Yet when I enter my kitchen out of obligation instead of excitement, the results aren’t worth it. Even if I used a few ingredients that were going stagnant in the fridge, saved money, or ate something nutritious, I still have dishes to clean, floors to sweep, an oven to wipe down, and a general annoyance about the whole enterprise. That supposed flexibility feels like a heavy burden crushing my spirit, and with my work-life balance eliminated, the mess surrounding me becomes too irritating to ignore.

The best lunches, for the palate and spirit, are the children of creativity, innovation, and excitement. Of course the dishes stack up just as high with a creative attitude, but if I’m making a lunch that I really want to make – a meal that will fuel my afternoon while simultaneously tasting better that many lunch options available out – it’s amazing how the framework switches. Suddenly those dishes aren’t a spirit-crushing burden but merely part of the day. With a more freeing attitude, I don’t even clean them up before transiting back to something else.

This particular lunch automatically met certain requirements, as I had the ingredients on hand and woke up with ample inspiration. As soon as we picked up the sweet potatoes from our CSA, I knew I wanted to turn them into a peanut-y sweet potato soup. In the two weeks that it took me to use them, it wasn’t until I began scrubbing them that I remembered that the sweet potatoes were purple. The resulting richly hued purple soup may look like thick grape juice, but it left me with that rib-stickingly full feeling that only a soup made with half a cup of peanut butter will elicit. I’m now completely on board with purple soup; the flavors were the same but the color was much more enticing than the brownish-red I was expecting.

As for the salad, over the years, I’ve assembled numerous versions of celeriac (or turnip or kolhrabi) and apple salad-slaw hybrids. They’ve all been okay, but none have been particularly memorable or filling. Yotam Ottolengthi is the best resource to consult if you’re seeking memorable flavors: his recipe brought a much needed dose of creativity, spice, and texture to this potentially bland starting point. With the addition of the poppy seeds and chili, the celeriac and apple salad managed to crunch and surprise with each bite, balanced by the quinoa clinging to the vinaigrette.

Sometimes when I make soup for lunch, I eat the entire pot (to clarify: with Justin’s help) and still feel hungry two hours later. We each ate a bowl of the purple peanut sweet potato soup and had to helplessly put our spoons down after just the one serving. The soup made appearances at two additional in-house lunches last week, an extremely rare occurrence in our house, as leftovers never last that long. That Monday, I cleaned up the kitchen, without grumbling or feeling conflicted. The next day for lunch, we went out to Bollywood Theater. And I felt content with that decision too.

Sweet Potato Peanut Soup

Recipe Source: Vegetable Literacy


  • 1 small bunch of cilantro
  • 2-3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 pinches of ground cloves
  • 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 lbs of sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup salted, roasted peanuts
  • lime juice from 1 lime


  1. Separate the cilantro stems from the leaves. Slice the stems and set the leaves aside.
  2. Warm the peanut oil in a wide soup pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cilantro stems, cooking for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened and started to brown.
  3. Stir in the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper flakes, and cloves. Add the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt, and 4 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then the lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Then, stir in the peanut butter, and taste for salt.
  4. Puree the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in half the chopped cilantro leaves. Then, chop the rest of the cilantro with the peanuts, and mix a few pinches of red pepper flakes with the lime juice. Ladle the soup into bowls, add, a spoonful of peanut-cilantro-lime mixture to each bowl, and enjoy!

Celeriac and Apple Salad

Recipe Source: Plenty More


    • 120 g quinoa
    • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
    • 3 tablespoons superfine sugar
    • 1 medium red onion, thinly slice (yielding about 130 g)
    • 1/4 cup canola oil
    • 300 g celeriac
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice
    • 400 g tart apples
    • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
    • 1 chile, thinly sliced on the diagonal
    • 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
    • salt


    1. Bring a saucepan of water to boil, add the quinoa, and simmer for 9 to 10 minutes. Drain the quinoa, refresh under cold water, and set aside to dry.
    2. Place the vinegar, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the onion and rub the liquids into the onion with your fingers. Add the oil, stir, and set aside to marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish (30 minutes is ideal).
    3. Peel the celeriac, cut it into thin strips, and place in a bowl with the lemon juice. Quarter the apples, remove the cores, and cut each quarter into thin strips. Add the apple to the celery root and mix well.
    4. Add the onion, the quinoa, the poppy seeds, chile, and cilantro to the apples and celeriac. Mix well and taste for salt, sugar, vinegar (etc). Enjoy!