Donal Skehan’s ultimate lunch-box fillers: a Take ‘n‘ Shake salad box, big kid/little kid bento boxes and the perfect BLT
Last September, I posted rather excitedly about the fun of packing lunches for our eldest child’s first day of school. I got a barrage of messages from older and wiser parents who’ve done it all before, scoffing over my enthusiasm. I’ll show them, I thought!
owever, four months in and, yes, they were right. The school lunch-box routine is indeed quite a pain.
And whether you are packing lunch boxes for the children or yourself to bring along to the office, you need to be armed with some new inspiration.
I’m going to channel my inner infomercial star and sell you the ‘Take & Shake’ salad box! Beyond the catchy title, the concept to this little lunch-box starlet is that you create your dressing in the base of a small lunch box and then pile in chunky ingredients that will hold up well until you’re ready to give it all a good shake to serve. There are plenty of variations you could apply, but here, it’s all about chicken, noodles, vegetables and killer sauce.
Up next, a really good BLT. Simple though it may sound, the combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato requires attention to detail and well-chosen ingredients.
Whether you toast your bread or not is up to you. I like to fry slices of sourdough in some of the bacon fat for just a little more joy in the eating experience. Salty back bacon (I love O’Neills from Wexford) with crisp, freshly washed butterhead lettuce and a generous slather of mayonnaise and you are on your way to one of the best and most iconic sandwiches your lunch box will ever be graced with.
Finally, Bento boxes are sometimes what spares me pulling out my rapidly greying hair. Building a bento box is all about little steps and logic, and at 7am, having those little sections, airplane-meal style, can be what gets me through. Ours get filled with all sorts of things, from quesadillas and crudités with hummus to rolled-up wraps and leftover pasta from dinner the night before. There’s just something dinky about those little nooks that can make even the sorriest looking leftovers appealing to your tyrant toddler.
Take & Shake Salad Box
Serves: 2 Time: 25 mins
2 tbsp red miso
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tsp sesame oil
2 chicken breasts
200g soba noodles
100g peas, frozen
½ cucumber, deseeded and sliced into half moons
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
100g edamame beans, cooked
Handful of coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Handful of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
100g kale leaves, stalks removed and shredded
1 Little Gem lettuce, shredded
Sesame seeds, to garnish
For the sesame miso dressing:
80ml light soy sauce
60ml rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp white miso
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp sesame seeds
1. For the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Alternatively, you can shake them all together in a jam jar fitted with a lid.
2. Mix the red miso, rice wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil together in a shallow bowl. Add the chicken breasts and turn to coat. Then set aside until needed.
3. Cook the noodles according to packet instructions before draining and cooling under cold running water. Place the noodles in a large bowl with the remaining 1 tsp of sesame oil and toss to coat. Set aside.
4. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, then add the frozen peas and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain and run under cold water. When cold, place into a separate bowl.
5. Place the cucumber, spring onions, edamame beans and herbs into the bowl with the peas and toss.
6. Heat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat.
7. Brush the marinade off the chicken breasts and grill the chicken, turning often, for about 6-8 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is cooked through. Rest the chicken for 5 minutes, then slice into thick strips.
8. To assemble, place the dressing in the bottom of your lunch box and top with a layer of noodles. Add the cucumber and spring onion salad on top and then a layer of the shredded kale and lettuce. Finally, add some sliced chicken breast and finish with a few extra herbs and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Once you are ready to eat, take your salad box and shake it to coat the salad in the dressing.
Big Kid/Little Kid Bento Box
Serves: 2 Time: 25 mins
For the cornbread muffins:
175g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
150g cornmeal — use coarse or fine cornmeal
50g mature cheddar, finely grated, plus extra for garnish
100g halloumi, coarsely grated
160g tinned sweetcorn, drained
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
300ml whole milk
100g butter, melted
For the rest of the bento box:
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Line a large muffin tin and mini-muffin tin with paper cases — or grease a large and mini silicone muffin tray.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, cheddar, halloumi, sweetcorn and chives into a bowl. Season with salt and black pepper and stir to combine.
3. In a jug, mix together the milk, eggs and melted butter.
4. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to only just combine, then spoon the mixture into the mini-muffin tin, for your little one.
5. Slice 1 jalapeño into thin rings — you’ll need about 8 —and finely chop the other.
6. Stir the finely chopped jalapeños into the remaining batter and spoon this into the large muffin cases. Top all the muffins with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and press a slice of jalapeño into the larger muffins.
7. Bake the muffins in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden and risen. Leave to cool before assembling with the rest of your bento-box fillers.
The Perfect BLT with Bacon-Fat Mayonnaise
Serves: 4 Time: 30 mins
16 slices O’Neills smoked back bacon
8 thick slices tartine sourdough
1 butterhead lettuce, leaves separated
2 ripe vine tomatoes, thinly sliced and sprinkled with a pinch of salt
For the bacon-fat mayonnaise:
1 large free-range egg
Juice of ½ lemon
½ garlic clove
½ tsp Dijon mustard
200ml vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
2. Lay the bacon out on lined baking trays and place into the oven for 20 minutes.
3. While the bacon cooks, make the mayonnaise. Find a jug or jar that you can fit the head of a hand blender into snugly. If you don’t have a jug or jar that suits, then you can make this by hand without using a blender — it will just take slightly longer.
4. Place the egg, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, oil and a pinch of salt and pepper into the jug. Place your hand blender into the bottom of the jug and begin to blitz — do not move the blender at all. After 30 seconds or so, you should start to see an emulsion forming. At this point, you can begin to slowly tilt and lift the head of the hand blender until the mayonnaise is completely emulsified. Set aside.
5. After 20 minutes cooking, the bacon should be just starting to crisp up. Remove from the oven briefly, draining off all of the fat into a bowl, and then place back into the oven for 5 minutes.
6. Lightly toast your sourdough slices and place on a chopping board for assembly.
7. Add the drained bacon fat into the mayonnaise and stir to combine, adding a tablespoon of water if it is too thick. Taste to check the seasoning and add more lemon juice/salt/pepper if needed.
8. Once the bacon is cooked, build the sandwich by spreading the bacon-fat mayonnaise on the lightly toasted sourdough and seasoning with black pepper. Add the lettuce to 4 slices and then top with the thinly sliced tomatoes. Top with the bacon and then add the second slice of bread.
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