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We asked some of our favourite South African chefs for recipes for out-of-the box lunches that will have the children tucking in enthusiastically.

Versatile food,  fabulous flavour combinations, and some novel salads are what our chefs recommended when we asked them for some inspiring lunches to include in children’s snack boxes.

Bonello’s Biltong, Leek and Asparagus Quiche

Justin Bonello chose to share his quiche recipe because it’s so versatile and there are literally no rules. Almost any filling will do, and you can give it a twist by adapting this recipe to mini quiches, which can be made in muffin tins. These are perfect for children’s lunches and are an attractive way to get your children to tuck into their lunchbox grub. Also,this particular flavour combo will double up as a clever coax to get them to eat their veggies.

The principle behind a quiche is simple: pastry crust filled with an egg custard, flavoured with whatever you have in the fridge.

Ingredients for the pastry crust
  • 300g flour
  • 4ml salt
  • 100g butter
  • A splash of water
Method
  • Mix it all up until you have a stiff dough. For an extra boost in protein, add half a cup of grated Parmesan to the mix.
  • Once your dough is ready, grease a round baking tin with butter. Take a ball of the dough and press it down with your fingers until you have an even base all round and up the edges of the baking tin.
  • Blind bake for 5 minutes at 180°C to set the pastry. This will prevent the pastry from going soggy when you add the custard mixture. To stop the pastry from rising while you’re blind baking it, weigh it down with dried beans. I didn’t have any, so I just used a couple of baby potatoes – so much of my cooking life is ’n boer maak ’n plan.
Ingredients for the filling
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 250ml cream
  • 250ml milk
  • Pecorino cheese – grated
  • A bunch of asparagus
  • A couple of leeks – chopped
  • A handful of moist biltong – torn into pieces
  • Crushed salt and black pepper to taste
Method
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl, pour in the cream and milk, and whisk it up until you’ve got a rich custard. Grate in a handful of pecorino cheese and mix it around loosely. (The pecorino has a lovely dark and salty flavour that goes well with the biltong, but if your children don’t enjoy strong flavoured cheese, substitute it for one they’ll prefer.)
  • Trim the asparagus stalks and cook for a couple of minutes in salted water. Drain off the hot water, and refresh the asparagus in iced water for a minute or two to stop them cooking before chopping them up. Add the asparagus and chopped leeks to the custard and then take a handful of moist biltong and sprinkle on top.
  • Pour the custard into the blind-baked pastry case and bake it in the oven at 180°C for half an hour or until golden on top.
  • When you think it’s cooked, you can do the wobble test to check if the custard has set. Take the quiche out of the oven with oven gloves and give it a gentle shake. If the centre wobbles, it needs more time in the oven. The quiche is ready when the custard is firm but not dry.
  • This is delicious served warm or cold with a dollop of chutney.

This recipe is from Justin’s cookbook Justin Bonello Cooks… for Friends (Penguin Books).

Reuben’s Ricotta Fritters

Reuben Riffel’s contribution is great for children’s lunches as they’re picky bite-sized finger foods. It’s also a fantastic way to introduce them to the strong, exotic flavours of parmesan and chives.

Ingredients
  • 500g fresh ricotta
  • ¼ cup (20g) finely grated parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra, for dusting
  • ¼ cup chopped chives
  • 1 egg
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Tomato, mint and onion salad, to serve
Method
  • Place the ricotta, parmesan, flour, chives, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well to combine.
  • Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold through the ricotta mixture. Shape ¼-cupfuls of the mixture into fritters and dust with the extra flour.
  • Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Cook the fritters, in batches, for 2–3 minutes on each side or until browned.
  • Serve with a tomato, mint and onion salad.

Reuben recently released his second cookbook Reuben Cooks Local (Quivertree Publications). Reuben has three outlets for his restaurant Reuben’s: Franschhoek, Cape Town and Robertson.

The Giggling Gourmet’s Lamb Wraps

Jenny Morris has come up with the ultimate in leftovers for lunch. You can take lamb out especially for a few lunches, or you can use leftovers from a roast lamb after Sunday lunch. Scoop up the lamb remnants, create, wrap and pack into lunchboxes. Then pop in the fridge overnight.

Ingredients for the lamb
  • 1kg deboned leg of lamb, cut into 6 slices
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 6 tortilla wraps
Ingredients for the salad
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 spring onions with tops, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium English cucumber, cubed
  • Zest of 1 ripe lemon
  • 1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
  • ½ cup freshly chopped mint
  • Coriander, about 1/2 a cup, freshly chopped
  • ½ cup freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt
Method
  • Rub the lamb slices with olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and press into the cumin seeds.
  • Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a little olive oil, sear the lamb slices on both sides, and cook till slightly pink. Rest the meat and slice each of the 6 pieces thinly when the salad is ready.
  • Mix all the salad ingredients together and place onto a platter. Top with sliced lamb.
  • Warm the wraps in a dry pan, place them onto a wooden board and let everyone fill their own with lamb salad.

Serves 6

Jenny is a Food Network host and her show is on DStv channel 185. Her third cookbook, Cooking with Jenny Morris (Sunbird Publishers), is available at all good book stores.

Jane-Anne’s Little Tuna Salads

The hook to Jane-Anne Hobbs’ winning idea is that there is not a single frothing and overwhelming green to be found in this salad. These neat, individual tuna salads convinced her own children to give green stuff a try. You can pack these pretty salad rings with everything from carrot sticks and cheddar cubes to nuts, seeds and any other nutrient-packed food. This is really a novel take on salad lunches.

Ingredients
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1 English cucumber
  • Iceberg lettuce, torn into small pieces
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • A can of tuna, drained of its oil and flaked
  • 8 calamata olives, destoned and halved
  • 75g feta cheese, cubed
  • Chives, finely snipped
For the dressing
  • 4 Tbsp (60ml) olive oil
  • Juice of a lemon
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp (5ml) honey
Method
  • First make the dressing: whisk all the ingredients together and set aside. Slide the eggs into gently boiling water and cook for 9 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and set it under a trickling cold tap for 3 minutes.
  • Rinse the cucumber and cut a 5mm horizontal slice off the long side to expose the flesh. Using a mandolin or sharp knife, cut the cucumber into very thin horizontal slices, each about 1–2mm thick. Cut any leftover cucumber into matchstick-sized pieces, and peel and quarter the eggs.
  • To assemble the first salad, place a large sheet of cling film on a dampened chopping board.
  • On top of the cling film place a metal food ring (if you don’t have one, cut off the bottom of the empty tuna tin and use that).
  • Firmly press the cucumber slice around the inside to form a circle (you may need to use two overlapping slices, depending on the length of your cucumber).
  • Fill the cucumber ring with a mixture of lettuce, feta, cucumber sticks, tomatoes, tuna, olives, egg quarters
    and chives.
  • Now very gently slide the food ring up and off, and pull up the sides of the cling film to make a neat parcel. Repeat with the other three salads.
  • If you’re serving these immediately, assemble the salads on individual plates (without the cling film) and trickle the dressing over them. If you’re sending these to school as lunches, put a little dressing in a small tub so your child can dress the salad just before she eats it.

Makes 4 salads

Jane-Anne is a renowned, independent food blogger and released her first recipe book Scrumptious (Random House Struik Publishers) in July this year. It can be found at all good book stores.

Sandy’s Sports Lunchbox: Fillet Pasta

Sandy Harper came up with a lunch perfect for the active, carbo-loading child. While the pasta is a complex carbohydrate, the addition of the fillet and pesto provides valuable protein. And, the lemon juice renders the fillet easy to digest as it partly breaks down the fibres in the meat.

Ingredients
  • Four or five ( +/- 250g) slices of left-over cold beef fillet – sliced into thin strips and drizzled with some fresh lemon juice, olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
  • +/- 10 Rosa tomatoes sliced in half and marinated in a sprinkling of sugar, olive oil and a few chopped purple spring onions.
  • Cooked penne, al dente, moistened with ready-made basil pesto. (Don’t be shy, the pesto adds huge value in terms of flavour and nutrition.)
  • Parmesan shavings
  • Fresh rocket
Method
  • Combine basil pesto penne, with Rosa tomatoes (use all the juice) and fillet.
  • Top with shavings of Parmesan or feta cheese and fresh rocket.

Tip: This pasta salad is really delicious if the fillet is cooked medium-rare. It is equally great as a warm dish, if preferred.

Sandy authored The Lunchbox Book (New Holland), which is available at amazon.co.uk

Read more: easy lunchbox ideas and packed children’s lunches.

Child magazine 2012