With a new school year on the horizon, it's time to think about what's for lunch. Brown bagging it is plenty economical, but a steady diet of sandwiches becomes boring pretty quickly, to say nothing of the fact that all those servings of refined carbs simply don't provide the energy necessary to power you through a long afternoon.
So here is an alternative to the typical sandwich — colorful veggie/protein rolls that are light, yet still substantial. I modeled it on a sushi roll, but swapped out the rice for quinoa, and the fish for turkey.
By now, most folks have heard of quinoa, an ancient grain-like seed. It's not only a protein-rich food, it's also gluten-free and a terrific source of many nutrients, including fiber. But flavor-wise, quinoa isn't exactly a powerhouse. So I add a little lemon juice and olive oil, which makes it quite tasty.
Another of quinoa's charms is that it's quick to cook, unlike most grains. White quinoa is the most common variety, but you're welcome to substitute black or red in this recipe (though the end result will not be as pleasing to the eye). Be sure to check the back of the package to make sure the quinoa has been pre-washed. If not, rinse it well yourself before cooking. It can be bitter otherwise.
This lunch roll is formed with a double layer of sliced turkey breast, which ensures that it won't fall apart. Lean roast beef would perform the same task, if that's more your style. I've filled it with carrots and red peppers, but any vegetables cut into thin strips will do. Likewise, you can substitute the lettuce of your choice for the spinach I specify. This recipe is very adaptable.
Quinoa Lunch Box Rollups
Start to finish: 45 minutes (20 active)
Makes 4 rollups
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 deli slices (about 8 ounces) fresh or smoked turkey
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons light mayonnaise
1 cup (1/2 ounce ) baby spinach
1/2 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1 small carrot, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the quinoa, return to a boil, cover and cook over medium heat until the quinoa has absorbed all of the broth, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and olive oil, then fluff with a fork. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before assembling the rolls.
On a cutting board lay out 4 of the turkey slices. Top each one with a second turkey slice to make a double layer. Spread 2 teaspoons of the mayonnaise on the top of each double layer, then spread a quarter of the spinach on top of the mayonnaise. Mound a quarter of the quinoa on top of the spinach, spreading it to within 1/2 inch of the edges.
Arrange several red pepper and carrot slices crosswise down the middle of the roll. Starting with the short side of each turkey stack, roll up the turkey tightly to enclose the filling. Cut each roll crosswise into 4 rounds and arrange the slices, cut sides up, in a lunch container.
Nutrition information per rollup: 190 calories; 90 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein; 700 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."