at the tail end of the summer vacation mama would take my sibling and i shopping for the new school year. there were books to be bought and uniforms too. the most exciting element was buying a lunch box. the one that stands out in my memory was baby pink with a large picture of minnie mouse on the front. m had a turtle green one with a scene from ninja turtles. inside the lunchbox was a rectangular lidded box to hold lunch and a thermos for water or juice.
my fascination for school lunches was limited to the lunch box.
m and i always had a packed school lunch. very often it would a jam sandwich made with buttered slices of soft white bread. sometimes there would be aloo tikki (potato cutlet) or shami kebab (beef kebab) sandwiches with a smidgen of ketchup. mama was careful about the architecture of the sandwich, balancing the moisture content to keep the bread from disintegrating. she spared us fried egg sandwiches or ‘unda paratha’ (fried egg rolled in a flaky griddle fried flatbread) that were curiously popular with children whose parents were in the army. i had zero tolerance for the smell of eggs and grease and spent the better half of secondary school trying to distance myself from two classmates who perpetually smelled of the combination.
the real truth is, i was always more interested in lunch from the school canteen – greasy samosas stuffed with spiced potatoes, lukewarm plates of chickpeas and bun kebabs with dubious quantities of meat bulked with lentils. i had a fortnightly allowance for a canteen lunch along with rare occasions when mama had been unable to pack one. however this was quite unsatisfactory given my love for canteen lunches. fortunately, my classmates were always interested in the contents of my lunchbox allowing me to engage in an exchange programme. so whilst they munched on mine, i used their lunch money to tuck into samosa chaat and bun kebabs.
during my a level years, a group of us students discovered a love for keema naans from the legendary bismillah naan and tikka shop in f eight markaz. a charm offensive along with the promise of a share in our lunch was sufficient to dispatch the school guard to the tandoor. sometimes when that failed one of our male classmates would sneak out to get us some.
after all these years of scheming and lunching on canteen and bazaar bought food, i have returned to the packed lunch. sometimes there are leftovers but more often than not it is a sandwich that makes its way into my bag. a packed lunch does require a little bit of planning but it is so much better than buying weary sandwiches made with cardboard flavoured bread or soft pasta bound with heaps of mayonnaise. the sandwich is a nifty little vehicle for all manner of interesting fillings especially if you have roasted vegetables, cheese, cold cuts and some kind of chutney handy.
i have been meaning to share my thoughts and some ideas with you for a while now. but it somehow always fell aside. until i discovered this food fifty-two genius recipe for courgette butter. as far as i am concerned it is a perfect illustration of how easy packed lunches can be and how one recipe can be so versatile as to dress itself up for different days of week. i have used it in a sandwich with ricotta between slices of sourdough butter and to make a pita-wich with labne and dried mint. it is really delicious stirred through crème fraiche with a fistful of chickpeas and orzo. it really likes the company of smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon and zest. i have even swirled it through frittata with chopped chives, parsley and dill.
tell me, does this not inspire you to pack lunch?
five hundred grams mixed yellow and green courgettes
one tablespoon olive oil
one tablespoon butter
a thinly sliced shallot
a thinly sliced plump clove of garlic
salt to taste
wash, top and tail the courgettes. then coarsely grate them and set aside for a few minutes in a colander.
heat the olive and butter in a skillet over low to medium heat. sauté the garlic and shallots until translucent. they should not colour. squeeze the grated courgettes to rid them of excess moisture. then add to the pan.
fry the courgettes on medium to high heat, stirring often. it should soften completely and the pan should be clear of moisture. then continue to cook for a little longer allowing some of the courgettes to caramelise in patches.
the courgettes are ready when they achieve a spreadable consistency.