What’s for lunch? It’s an oft-asked question in our house. Sometimes it’s my husband or my daughter inquiring about the noonday meal. Sometimes it’s just me asking myself. About half the time, lunch is leftovers from dinner the night before. The other half of the time, it’s what our family calls “fend for yourself” meals.
One day last week, lunch was definitely a fend-for-myself type affair. I looked in the fridge. I looked in the freezer. I looked in the breadbox. All the while, I was muttering to myself in a kind of mournful chant, “What’s for lunch? What’s for lunch? What’s for lunch?” My eyes alighted on a can of garbanzo beans — although the fashionable term is chickpeas, perhaps because it sounds cuter, like baby chickens cavorting with legumes. For the purposes of this article, I’ll give way to the trend and call them chickpeas.
Anyhow, I’m not going to lie to you: My original plan was simply to open the can and eat the plain beans. I hesitated because although I was hungry and didn’t feel like making a fuss, a pile of unadorned chickpeas seemed perhaps too uninspired, even sad. It was a dreary, drizzly day and on balance, I decided that sad beans were not going to cut it. I needed cheerful chickpeas.
I did quite a bit of rummaging, and here’s what I unearthed in the pantry: a large jar of artichoke hearts and a small jar of pimientos. Well, that was a start. I opened the fridge and found two aged carrots, a bag of green onions, half a block of feta and — way in the back, partially blocked by the peanut butter and pickle relish — a jar of my own pickled green beans with big chunks of garlic and slices of onion. They’d been hiding back there for a while but I opened the jar and the green beans were just as crisp and zingy and garlicky as you please. Last, I found an open can of tuna because we’d run out of cat food and had to call in the reserves. Fortunately, there was still half a can left.
I seemed to have the makings of a fashionable chickpea salad.
I drained the beans and poured them into a big bowl. There were some tomatoes ripening in the fruit bowl and I chose the reddest one and chopped it into chunks. Then I sliced the carrots and green onions, drained the pimientos (but reserved the juice for later use, maybe in a pasta sauce) and fished half the artichoke hearts out of their deliciously pungent marinade. I cut up about half the pickled green beans into bite-size pieces and threw in a few of the pickled onion slices as well. I dressed the salad by pouring on a bit of vinegary liquid from the pickled green beans and a bit of oily artichoke marinade. I added salt and lemon pepper. I sampled a spoonful and it was good but it was still missing something, so I went into my rainy garden and picked fresh rosemary, oregano and parsley. I chopped them fine and tossed them in a sampled a second spoonful. Jackpot! The fresh herbs took it from good to great. I’d made a recipe-worthy salad.
This salad would work well with variations on the basic formula, which is chickpeas plus tuna plus cheese plus fresh veggies plus a pickled element. The real star of the salad, I thought, wasn’t the chickpeas or even the cheese but the snappy pickled green beans. A pickled element is important but it doesn’t have to be green beans. You could also use pickled beets, pickled okra, pickled asparagus or that wonderful Italian mix with carrots, cauliflower and peppers.
Instead of feta, you could use goat cheese or grated fresh Parmesan (I think the powdered, shelf-stable Parmesan might disappear into the salad) or even a sparing handful of crumbled blue cheese or Gorgonzola. Any cheese with a sharp edge would be nice.
Instead of canned tuna you could use canned chicken, pan-fried shrimp or diced ham. A little bacon wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Instead of carrots, use crunchy orange or yellow bell peppers, diced raw broccoli or cauliflower. Instead of green onions you could use thinly sliced red onions. Or do a two-for-one and use pickled red onions. Throw in some olives because olives are yummy. Slice up some jalapenos or peperoncini because you like that spicy tingle.
If you don’t have fresh herbs, don’t let that stop you. Dried dill, rosemary, oregano would be perfectly serviceable. You could even toss in a little cumin and curry for Indian flair (or cumin and cayenne pepper for heat).
All that you need to answer the question “What’s for lunch?” is a willingness to put a bunch of things in a bowl and see what happens. You might be surprised at how delicious it is. Of course, the surprise might be that your family says, “Why can’t we have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like normal people?” In that case, put it in the blender and call it Deluxe Hummus.