What to CookOn the CheapLunchNot Sad Desk Lunch

Why Lentils are a Lunchtime Hero (and How We Used Them)

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Lunch doesn't have to be hard. Or expensive. We put this theory to the test on a #NotSadDeskLunch visit to the First We Feast Team at the Complex offices, where we made lunch for roughly fifteen people for under $1 per person. How did we achieve this feat, you ask? One word: Lentils. The humble legume is the perfect (cheap) salad foundation—it's filling, healthy, and takes well to almost any vegetable or dressing. Here's how to make a simple lentil salad lunch (and how we did it for Complex):

Lentil salads make the perfect (cheap) lunch—beer optional.
Lentil salads make the perfect (cheap) lunch—beer optional. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Two to three days ahead: Make an enormous batch of lentils (roughly 3/4 of a pound makes about five servings—one for every weekday), then store them in your refrigerator. What we did: The night before, we cooked two 1-pound bags of lentils, making a double batch of Patricia Wells’ recipe, then stored them in a large container overnight in the refrigerator. Paired with a few other vegetables and some bread and cheese, this was enough to feed the roughly 15 people at lunch.

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The day before or morning-of: Pick up some vegetables at the grocery store (or bodega!) or at your farmers market. What we did: The day before our lunch, we went to the farmers market without a plan besides “get something that looks nice,” and ended up with one bunch of radishes, a few carrots, a bag of string beans, and Chioggia beets for a grand total of $9. Because we knew we wouldn’t have time the next morning—and didn't want to waste a thing—we made a very simple carrot-top pesto from the carrots' greens.

Before you leave for work: Make a simple vinaigrette at home (Tip: This can be made as far in advance as you like and just kept in a mason jar in your refrigerator!). To make it, mix together a fat (like olive oil) with an acid (think citrus or vinegar) and add a touch of something sweet (like honey, agave, or even a pinch of sugar). What we did: The morning of, we made a quick lemon vinaigrette by pouring roughly 1/2 cup olive oil, a few tablespoons honey, and the juice from a lemon and a half into a mason jar (no need to worry about mixing until you get there—but when you do, shaking a mason jar is about as easy a way to mix a salad dressing as any!).

Vinaigrettes are lunchtime's best friend (next to lentils, of course).
Vinaigrettes are lunchtime's best friend (next to lentils, of course). Photo by Mark Weinberg

For your commute: Pack a single serving of lentils into a container that’s slightly too large for them (this will come in handy later!), and grab your vegetables and vinaigrette to assemble your salad at work. What we did: We packed the lentils into a large plastic container, then we just added the raw vegetables into our bag with the lentils, and tucked in our jar of vinaigrette. Just before we left, we noticed an errant container of feta cheese, so we packed that too!

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At lunch time: You may choose to prepare your vegetables ahead of time at home, but there’s something to be said for the ten-minute ritual of cutting vegetables at lunchtime—we’d even call it meditative. If you’re able, bring your own cutting board and small knife or mandoline and keep them in a desk drawer, then thinly slice your vegetables come lunchtime. Then, shake your vinaigrette in its mason jar and pour it over your lentils along with the vegetables. Shake to combine (this is where the larger lentil container comes in hand), then eat your salad out of a bowl, if possible! What we did: When we arrived at our destination, a conference room at Complex, we immediately grabbed the cutting board we'd packed and set to work slicing our carrots and radishes into thin rounds and tossing them with the lentils and feta cheese. Then, we made a last-minute decision to keep the string beans we'd bought whole and dress them separately with mandolined Chioggia beets. The lentil salad, green bean salad, and carrot-top pesto were more than enough—a feast for fifteen people for less than $1 per person.

Some of Our Favorite Lentil Recipes:

While we used Patricia Wells's lentils as our base, any of these recipes would work!

Judy Rodgers' Lentils Braised in Red Wine

Judy Rodgers' Lentils Braised in Red Wine by Nicholas Day

Deborah Madison's Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers, and Feta Cheese

Deborah Madison's Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers... by Genius Recipes

Peter Miller's Lentils Folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

Peter Miller's Lentils Folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and B... by Genius Recipes

Patricia Wells' Green Lentil Salad

Patricia Wells' Green Lentil Salad by Genius Recipes

How Well Does it Work? The Proof is in the Pudding Instagrams:

So @food52 is here to feed us and we are not mad. At all. #notsaddesklunch

A photo posted by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) on

#notasaddesklunch @food52

A photo posted by khal (@khaldub) on

We want to see your lunches! Instagram them and tag them #notsaddesklunch—we'll share our favorites.

Tags: not sad desk lunch, revolution, lunch