Making good food is never a waste of time, particularly in times of crisis, so here are some lunch ideas.
Like many countries allover the world, we’re currently on a nationwide lockdown in Slovenia, due to Covid-19. My boyfriend and I are both lucky enough that we get to work from home and not worry about where our next paycheck will be coming from, so we (or rather I) decided to use the extra isolation time for some serious cooking.
If you’ve been reading blog, you’ll know that I love cooking and experimenting with food. I believe it’s always worth spending a few extra minutes and spices on your meal to ensure that the food is good and preferably even looks nice when put on the table. Eating tasty, balanced meals is not only good for our bodies, but also makes us happier and brings a degree of comfort, which is particularly important during stressful times (a world pandemic certainly qualifies!). Over the years of student life on a budget in different countries I’ve learned to improvise pretty well – I can confidently claim that you can make a decent dish out of even the simplest, cheapest ingredients with creative use of herbs and spices and that cooking good, proper food doesn’t actually take a long time.
However, this post is not about that kind of food. This one is all about lengthy, fancy cooking projects that I don’t usually have time to indulge in, and fresh, new perspective lunch ideas. It’s a collection of everything we’ve eaten during the first 2 weeks of lockdown here and so far it’s been a pretty creative cooking adventure. So, I give you our lockdown lunch ideas, by order of appearance:
#1: Roastbeef with kale-potato puree and salad
This was the first one, right at the start of the isolation period for us – Saturday the 14th of March. We had some fancy roastbeef steaks with garlic and rosemary, accompanied by mashed kale-potatoes (or savoy cabbage, I have a huge dilemma over what the kale-thing we eat in Slovenia actually is, which I already discussed here). Mashing together kale and potatoes works really well, because the potatoes remove the slightly bitter kale taste and the resulting taste is awesome. We also had a mixed lettuce salad with radish microgreens I’m growing on the windowsill and beetroot stalks, as well as a rare appetiser: sandwiches with homemade beetroot leaves pesto (more about leftover leaves pesto here).
#2: Stuffed zucchini with leek-mushroom-bacon pie, boiled kohlrabi and salad
On Sunday I decided to try out my new pie baking tray and made a leek-mushroom-bacon pie with cream and black pepper. I also tried making homemade ricotta from full fat milk and whey for the first time, which worked out pretty well and ended up on top of the stuffed zucchini. I used the leftover whey in my pie dough, which made it rise a bit and the end result was fluffier than normal (I usually make my pies with just water, flour and lots of butter). The zucchini were oven-baked and stuffed with millet porridge cooked in the rest of the whey, seasoned with turmeric, mint and melissa. We also had green radicchio salad, cooked kohlrabi with olive oil and homemade fermented cilantro lime jalapeno chilli salsa as sides. Apparently the pie was one of my better cooking ideas according to my boyfriend. 🙂
#3: An everything one pot vegetable stew
Thanks to my mother who went to the farmers’ market we were well overstocked with vegetables at the start of our lockdown. Since they were proper farm veggies, they came with all the stalks and leaves, which are usually the first parts to rot or dry out, so we had to use them up somehow. When in doubt, toss it into a soup/stew! This one pot stew was almost entirely made of vegetable spare parts: kohlrabi and parsley stalks, cabbage, kale and cauliflower thick outer green leaves and stalks etc., as well as some beans, carrots, garlic and onions. I also added 3 different scrap soup stocks just for the sake of cleaning out the freezer, so the end result was a delicious vegetable stew with a multi-layered taste and I didn’t even need to use any spices besides salt, pepper and a bit of sweet paprika. More about scrap soup stock and tips on how to use up your food bits and scraps here.
#4: Childhood classic: spinach, mashed potatoes and fried eggs
This next one is exactly what the title says: creamy sauteed spinach with mashed potatoes and two fried eggs sunny side up with a bit of pepper and salt. Now, for some reason spinach with mashed potatoes is a well-loved Slovenian childhood classic and also one of the simplest lunch ideas out there. You’d think that spinach wouldn’t go over well with kids, but we often got this for lunch in primary school and everyone except the really picky kids ate it. Personally I’ve always loved it and my mum often made it when I was sick, so this is true comfort food for me. As it turns out, that’s also true for my boyfriend, and we really should remember to make it more often.
#5: Kranjska sausage with mustard and cabbage-leek-root celery-mushroom casserole with roasted bread croutons and cheese
This might surprise you, but in my head this is actually a lasagna. For some reason I really, really wanted to eat lasagna that day, but as a responsible citizen I wasn’t about to go out to the shop during lockdown just to buy lasagna pasta sheets. So I figured I could use cabbage leaves as pasta sheets and fill my “lasagna” with pieces of leek, root celery and mushrooms. I splashed some cream with eggs, chilli flakes and rosemary into the mess, covered it with another layer of cabbage and topped it off with crunchy olive-oil roasted pieces of stale bread and of course, cheese (parmesan and homemade ricotta). The bread thing was inspired by a post about something else from my friend’s awesome Slovenian Instagram food blog on that day and I figured it can’t hurt. We also had some discount-buy-before-it-expires Kranjska (Carniolan) sausages (very tasty Slovenian traditional sausages) that were already past the said expiration date, so we boiled those and ate them with mustard, because let’s be honest, sausages are almost eternal.
P.S.: I always buy food from the reduced-because-of-expiration-date sections in the supermarkets, because it’s up to 70% cheaper and the food doesn’t end up in the trash. This is also how we can afford fancier foods, particularly good meat, fancy pates and cheese. In my experience, the expiration date is usually set too early for everything except dairy products like milk and yoghurt, so the food is still good for up to a week in the fridge and the meat can be kept frozen for longer. I’ve been doing this since I moved out on my own and I never got food poisoning or anything, so I really recommend it if you want to save some money and aren’t doing it already.
#6: Chicken soup with noodles, dandelion salad with eggs and bacon and sour cherry topped cookies for dessert
Next up was a lighter lunch day, starting with my mother’s chicken soup from the freezer and homemade noodles (but not by me). Then we had dandelion salad with hard-boiled eggs, bacon, pumpkin seed oil and apple cider vinegar. If you’ve never tried dandelion salad or pumpkin seed oil I really recommend it! Dandelion leaves are best picked in the spring, when they’re still small and tender, with a less biter taste. It’s pretty popular in Slovenia and central Europe and dandelion picking is a common family activity here – some more ideas on how to eat dandelion here. Much like radicchio or endive, dandelion leaves are a bit tougher, so you need to add something warm to soften them up for your salad, but they’re pretty filling and very healthy. We usually make it with still hot hard-boiled eggs and/or fried pieces of bacon, but you can also just heat up the oil and vinegar a bit (make sure you don’t boil the oil though). For dessert we had Domaćica chocolate cookies with hot sour cherries from a can, because we were out of ice cream.
#7: Chicken paprikash stew with couscous, oven-baked pumpkins and cucumber salad
This one is another classic in Slovenia: a simple, but surprisingly flavourful, chicken paprikash stew. It’s originally a dish from Hungary, but it has mutated into a million versions allover the world. The way I make it is by roasting together chopped onions and larger pieces of chicken and bell peppers (red are best) in a pan on butter with some salt, sweet paprika and sometimes turmeric first, then I add water to make it into a stew and leave ti to boil for a while (a similar recipe is here). It can be eaten with anything: rice, egg noodles, potatoes, pasta etc., but my favourite option is with couscous. This time I also added some oven-baked pumpkin slices with salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, pimento and olive oil. The sad looking salad is actually drained peeled cucumber salad dressed with olive oil and leftover brine from homemade pickled radishes, pickled in apple cider vinegar with coriander seeds and thyme.
#8: Cauliflower soup with almonds and cardamom, radicchio salad with beans and buckwheat gnocchi with apples, butter, cream and cinnamon for dessert
Another lighter lunch day (as you can probably tell by now, I love salads), this time with a red radicchio brown beans salad with pumpkin seed oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and thyme. For some reason radicchio and beans, particularly brown beans, go really well together and you can often find them served together in restaurants in Slovenia. The same goes for cauliflower, almonds and cardamom in my opinion, although this is a much less common combo. I often make this cauliflower soup, so here’s a rough recipe: start by sauteing one chopped onion and a chopped head of cauliflower on butter, then add water, salt and pepper, cook until the cauliflower is mushy, blend it into a smooth soup and add ground almonds and cardamom. You can also add cream and some parsley if you have it, so it tastes a bit less cauliflowery if that’s better for you.
That day I also made buckwheat gnocchi (there will be a separate blog post about all the bigger homemade projects like fermenting, pickling and bread, gnocchi etc.), so we had some as late dessert/dinner, topped with a random cream sauce with apples. I heated up some cream, butter and sugar for the sauce, added apple slices and sprinkled cinnamon on top and it was awesome.
#9: Stuffed peppers with pumpkin puree, buckwheat gnocchi with caramelised onions, pickled zucchini and vanilla pudding with lingonberry jam for dessert
Next up we had another one of those use-the-leftovers lunches, which actually turned out pretty good. I used leftover uncooked pumpkin parts from the chicken paprikash day for a pumpkin puree with nutmeg, cloves and pimento and half a giant bell pepper leftover from one of my fermented salsas. The bell pepper was stuffed with leftover stuffing from our Prešeren’s day lunch that we had in the freezer. We also had some buckwheat gnocchi with caramelised onion sauce and pickled zucchini, followed by vanilla pudding with Swedish lingonberry jam for dessert.
#10: Spanish potato omlette, homemade tortillas with marinated chicken, avocado and tomato salsa, sour cream, sauteed radicchio and salad
I have a tiny Spanish omlettes cookbook at home that I rarely use, so this time I decided to try out one of them – the Spanish potato omlette. My cooking thought process somehow ended with “Spanish is almost Mexican so tortillas”, so we also had homemade tortillas (very thinly rolled water, flour and salt dough baked in the oven at high temperature), pickled zucchini brine marinated chicken and two quick salsas. Since our avocado was super hard and not ripe at all, we had a weird chopped guacamole salsa and a simple tomatoes with spring onions, olive oil and sweet paprika salsa, as well as sour cream and a lemon dressed salad. We also had a random late addition to the lunch, as my grandfather makes a killer soy sauce sauteed radicchio and he sent me a portion the previous day, so we just ate it along with everything else and it actually fit in quite well somehow (probably because it’s so awesome).
#11: Onion soup with cheese bread, veal hot dog sausages, buckwheat porridge, mustard and salad
This next one was a very lazy lunch day. We had just received a fresh meat delivery from a local farm, so we had some very nice veal hot dog sausages with mustard, plain buckwheat porridge with butter and a salad with lettuce, radishes and spring onions. I also really wanted to eat soup, so I made a quick onion soup with cheese breads to use up the couple of stale bread pieces we had lying around from the cabbage casserole day. We didn’t have white wine to deglaze the onions, but we did have some red wine, which was only good for cooking at that point. I figured why not, so we ended up with a somewhat blasphemous, but still tasty, version of the traditional French onion soup.
#12: Roasted tempeh with buckwheat stuffed and goat cheese topped sweet potatoes, mixed salad, oil-pickled cheese and ajvar, with apple strudel for dessert
Then it was time to try something totally new: tempeh. Tempeh is originally an Indonesian fermented soybean cake, but the vegans figured out it’s a very good source of protein, so they now make it with other beans too and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while. We got a chickpea tempeh version delivered from a local Slovenian shop with interesting fermented stuff and I can honestly say it was quite good. I made it pan-fried with sweet paprika and olive oil, so it was a bit crunchy but soft, accompanied by oven-baked sweet potatoes stuffed with leftover buckwheat porridge and spring onions, topped with fancy fresh goat cheese from a local goat farm (we’ve been exploring the wonderful world of local farm deliveries). We also had ajvar (Balkan roasted red pepper spread), homemade oil-pickled cheese with rosemary and garlic, and a fresh mixed salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, microgreens, onions and radishes to go with it. Afterwards my boyfriend also made apple strudel for dessert, because apparently Friday parties are now strudel parties. 🙂
#13: Marinated veal steaks with curd cheese štruklji and cooked asparagus with a historical egg yolk- nutmeg-vinegar sauce
We had kind of lost track of the days by then, but somehow it was another Saturday again and we decided to have a very fancy Saturday lunch. When we were ordering farm stuff, we also ordered about a kilogram of veal, so we had marinated veal steaks with štruklji, a kind of cooked Slovenian curd cheese rolls topped with pan-fried salty breadcrumbs, and cooked asparagus with a historical egg yolk-nutmeg-vinegar sauce my archaeologist boyfriend dug up somewhere. He was also responsible for the veal steak marinade, which he made with marjoram, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, olive oil and a bit of apple cider vinegar and it was awesome. I’ll be honest though, making štruklji is pretty annoying (I’ll show you in a separate post) and if we didn’t break up then, we probably never will.
#14: Chinese cabbage and carrot filled dumplings in Asian-style calf tail vegetable soup with sesame miso
Last one in this batch of luckdown lunch ideas was Asian-inspired: dumplings! We made Chinese-ish dumplings with carrot, cabbage and sesame oil filling (you can see them in the cover photo and the recipe and making of will be featured in a different post along with štruklji, gnocchi etc.). Normally they would be steam cooked, but this time we decided to have them in a soup, so I improvised an Asian-inspired soup with sesame miso, bell peppers, spring onions, leek, coriander and a couple of pieces of calf tail that we got when buying the veal. It turned out really well and we had two bags of dumplings to spare, so they’re currently sitting in the freezer.
And you’ve made to the end for now! I haven’t lost my cooking motivation or imagination yet, so stay tuned, there will definitely be a part 2, after we eat another 14 of these of course. I hope you liked my lockdown lunches and that they gave you some fresh lunch ideas. Cooking is quite the attention-consuming activity, which can serve as a relaxing coping mechanism during self-isolation when you can’t go outside, and making your own meals is much cheaper and healthier than getting them delivered or buying instant meals. If you need other ideas on what to do during lockdown though, check out my post here.
Feel free to ask me about any cooking specifics or share your lockdown lunch ideas with me in the comments. 🙂 You can also check out the #cookathome hashtag for more food inspiration.
P.S.: Surprisingly we haven’t gained any extra weight yet…