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A Never-Wilty Salad Perfect for Travel-Ready Lunches

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When lunchtime rolls around, we crave meals that look just as good (or even better) as when we packed them...which, admittedly, can be a lot to ask of a sandwich or soup. In her latest cookbook, The Pretty Dish, author Jessica Merchant explores more than 100 different recipes that taste great and sit pretty on your plate. Below, she shares her favorite way to make a filling, attractive salad with hearty chickpeas.


I adore chickpeas in all forms. I especially love them roasted, but that requires a bit of time (albeit hands off) that I don’t always have. So, in my search for the perfect lunch, marinated chickpeas were born.

I struggle with lunch daily because I work from home and tend to be testing and creating a bunch of recipes at once. If I don’t plan out my lunches and prep a few things, “lunch” ends up being a piece of a scone, a bite of chicken and maybe (definitely) a cookie. Oops. My lifelong goal is to find something balanced that won’t leave me feeling sluggish but that tastes fantastic.

A bunch of my favorite ingredients go into these chickpeas—including the incredible combination of red wine vinegar, honey, basil and oregano. Occasionally I’ll switch up the vinegars or add different herbs, depending on what I have in the fridge; what’s lovely about these chickpeas is that they’re customizable. Whatever you have—add it in! They’re wonderful when eaten straight out of the bowl but also last in the fridge for a good amount of time; they are perfect on top of a salad or even as a side to chicken and fish.

One of the dishes that I make most often using the chickpeas is this panzanella salad. I will never pass up bread in a salad. I like to toss the entire thing in some homemade chimichurri for a huge burst of flavor. And adding the chickpeas in makes the salad such a satisfying, filling meal.

A balanced lunch that won’t leave you feeling sluggish.
A balanced lunch that won’t leave you feeling sluggish. Photo by Julia Gartland

Though delicious, the panzanella with chickpeas isn’t the most gorgeous dish, but with a few easy tricks, you can make any dish pretty. Here are my top three tips for beautifying your food—because that makes us all excited to eat!

Use bright white plates.

While I am the biggest fan of beautiful place settings (floral? I’m sold!), I find that food looks best on simple white dishes. It really allows the food to take center stage. The only exception I make is for a rather bland (beige…) dish, like plain mac and cheese or buttered toast.

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Throw ingredients together right before serving.

This is especially true for things that brown quickly, like avocado or banana or apple slices. Toss those ingredients in at the end and the finished product will look so much more vibrant and fresh.

Add a sprinkle of fresh herbs at the end.

I do this with almost every dish. Bright, green herbs not only add delicious flavor, they instantly make a meal look prettier. I like to have basil and oregano on hand during the winter, but come summer when my herb garden is in full force, I’ll have up to ten different herbs ready to go.

Panzanella with Marinated Chickpeas and Chimichurri

Panzanella with Marinated Chickpeas and Chimichurri

Jessica - How Sweet Eats Jessica - How Sweet Eats
Serves 2 generously (maybe even 3 or 4 if you're serving before a meal)

Marinated chickpeas

  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Chimichurri and salad

  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2/3 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups thick Italian bread cubes
  • 3 cups torn butter lettuce
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Go to Recipe

What's your favorite lunch to pack for work? Share in the comments below!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Not Sad Desk Lunch, Books