Now that so many of us are back to the grind, whether that means school, work or something else, let’s talk about that all important meal: lunch. With many people brown-bagging it for health or financial reasons, bringing a tasty lunch from home every day can become a grind of its own.
Several articles about lunch have cropped up in magazines recently. These pieces usually feature pretty sandwiches daintily cut into shapes with cookie cutters, decoratively arranged fruits and cheeses, and whimsical desserts cleverly adorned to look like animals, all packed neatly in color-coordinated BPA-free plastic containers. A note to my kids: sorry, this won’t happen at our house.
These prettied-up lunches remind me of the bento box lunches we used to see when I was a kid on vacation in Japan. Called “obento” in Japanese, these compact and compartmented boxes were filled with a traditional Japanese lunch of rice, pickled veggies and fish, all artistically arranged.
Somewhere in the mid-2000s, bento box lunches made the leap across the Pacific and became popular in the U.S. The appeal of artistry, portion control, economy and novelty, I’m sure, all played a role in bento boxes achieving their near-cult status in the West. You can even buy bento box containers on Amazon. But then, what can’t you buy on Amazon?
While I enjoy an aesthetically pleasing lunch, I’m really more concerned about the contents of that meal. Our family home schools, so we usually are home for lunch. But there are a couple of days each week when we are out and about at lunchtime and need to bring food with us.
For me, lunch frequently means a salad of some sort. The trick is putting together a salad that will make the journey from kitchen to wherever I eat lunch without wilting, or worse yet, turning to mush.
In looking for sturdy salad recipes, I came upon one with a few of my favorite hot weather ingredients: tomato, avocado, corn and cilantro. It also contained millet, a whole grain that I had not tried. Remembering my goal of incorporating more whole grains into my diet this year, I decided to give it a try.
When I mentioned that I was going to make a millet salad, my alarmed 15-year-old asked if this was the same type of millet that her friend feeds their family’s pet cockatiel. Umm…sort of.
A small-seeded grain, millet has been grown world-wide since pre-historic times as both a cereal crop for humans and livestock feed. Several different types of millet continue to be an important food staple in parts of Africa and Asia, where it is made into porridge or ground into flour to make bread.
Since millet is a grain that doesn’t contain gluten, its consumption in the U.S. is on the uptick among those with gluten intolerance. Rich in fiber, iron, and B vitamins, this grain is also easy to digest. It is relatively inexpensive, and I found it easily in the bulk bin section at the local Winco.
This salad turned out to be tasty, filling and definitely hearty enough to survive the voyage from home to wherever lunch was that day. Maybe I do need to order those bento boxes from Amazon, after all.
Millet Salad with Sweet Corn and Avocado
3 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 ears)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 to 4 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 cups chopped tomato
1 diced peeled avocado
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add millet; cook 10 minutes or until fragrant and toasted, stirring frequently. Add water and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until water is almost absorbed. Stir in corn kernels. Remove millet mixture from pan, and cool to room temperature. Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, cilantro and next five ingredients (cilantro through jalapeño). Add cilantro mixture to millet mixture, tossing to combine. Gently stir in tomato and avocado. Cover and chill 30 minutes.