My first job was as a secretary in a Japanese bank. The actual work was pretty dull—filing, typing and making travel arrangements—but I loved every moment of it because the office of the Export-Import Bank of Japan happened to be on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
Although my daily routine was mundane, lunch never was. Part of my salary was in the form of “tickets restaurant”: vouchers to spend on lunch at a restaurant of my choice. Needless to say, most of my mornings were taken up with deciding where to spend them. If it was a nice day, I would buy a filled baguette and some pâtisserie and go and sit in the Jardin des Tuileries opposite, trying to look deep with my French paperbacks. Sometimes I would eat a solitary Plat du Jour at a local café—a steak haché or hachis parmentier—while watching the frighteningly chic Parisiennes on the Rue de Rivoli. Did I mention that those were the days of a 90-minute lunch break?
Several jobs later, I was working in Saffron Hill in London (a hint of what lay ahead perhaps?), near the busy jewellery trading district of Hatton Garden. I had lots of fun colleagues and we nearly always went out for lunch. Our favourite haunt was Di’s Diner, where the owner and her daughter were early pioneers of Middle Eastern flavours. Our favourite was an exuberant pita stuffed with falafel, salad and tahini sauce. Sometimes, if Di was trying out new wines for the menu, she would offer us a glass or three.
In India, of course, everything nearly always stopped for lunch, usually dal-chawal, parathe, idlis, aloo puri made by our housekeeper, sometimes street food like dosa, kathi rolls or chhole bhature. I’m drooling as I write.
I don’t miss working in an office but I do miss the rituals of office life, and the comradeship, but mostly the lunch. These days, I hardly ever eat a proper lunch and frequently find myself looking up at 3 o’clock, starving and with few options. I usually end up eating cheese on toast or pasta before descending into an unproductive carb coma for the rest of the afternoon.
My daughter has recently started her first job and her own lunch rituals. The options for lunch aren’t great near where she works so she’s been taking her own, healthy, colourful salads in a jar. I decided to take a leaf out of her book this week and get ahead with lunch and one morning made a layered salad based on Di’s wonderful pita fillings from the Saffron Hill days. Once I had made the spiced chickpeas, assembling the salad was the work of a few moments in the morning before I sat down at my desk. It was nice to know that there was something delicious, healthy and non-soporific in store for me when the tummy started rumbling. Sitting down to a proper, balanced plate of food was a real treat. The Plat du Jour and parathe days might be behind me for now but the lunch in a jar isn’t a bad new ritual.
Spiced Chickpea Salad In a Jar
100g cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin powder, roasted
1 tsp coriander powder
One by fourth tsp chilli powder
A pinch of salt
A handful of shredded red cabbage
Half a small cucumber
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 handfuls of baby spinach
For the dressing
2 tbsp tahini (sesame) paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp water
Salt, to taste
You will need a large screw-top jar.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the chickpeas and stir them for a couple of minutes to coat them with the spices. Set aside to cool.
To make the dressing, stir all the ingredients together until creamy, adding a little more water if necessary.
Cut the cucumber into four lengthwise, then cut out the seeds. Chop the remaining cucumber into 1cm cubes. Cut the tomato into small cubes. Toast the pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a dry pan until they take on a little colour. To assemble the salad, spoon the dressing into the bottom of the jar. Put the chickpeas next. Then add the cucumber, tomato, toasted seeds and cabbage. Finish with the baby spinach. Close the lid.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains. Pamela Timms tweets at @eatanddust and posts on Instagram as Eatanddust.
Also Read: Pamela’s previous Mint Lounge columns