Some folks welcome the routine that back to school generates, not just for the kids, but for adults as well.
As parents again step into the school lunch-making routine, I look forward to my own annual upgrade of take-to-work lunches. This year, my inspiration stems from a summertime visit to The Great Northern Food Hall in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Amazing rye bread and a stunning selection of smorrebrod propelled me into my own kitchen.
Smorrebrod, literally butter and bread, an open-face sandwich tradition from Denmark, deserves attention. One slice of bread with brilliant toppings just works — especially in an era when many of us are reducing our bread consumption.
The smorrebrod in the Northern Food Hall are made on moist, dense, slightly sweet whole-grain rye bread spread with an incredible butter. At home, I look for super-dense whole grain rye or pumpernickel bread. Then I buy the best butter I can afford — these days there are butter choices everywhere — Kerrygold Irish butter never disappoints. I like unsalted butter, but use salted if that’s your thing. The butter does more than add flavor and calories — it acts like a moisture barrier between the bread and the topping, effectively preventing soggy bread.
There’s no doubt that the artful arrangement of toppings on the buttered bread makes them irresistible. At home, I select top quality meats and cheese, cooked fish, interesting vegetables and crunchy fruit. I also make rich protein salads, like the salmon salad and the egg salad that follow. They hold up well in the refrigerator for most of the workweek. Then I add contrasting textural components just before serving.
True, closed sandwiches are easier to transport (so feel free to add a top layer of bread). When serving them open face, offer a knife and fork, and spend time on some garnishes. Fresh herbs, sliced small tomatoes and shavings of carrot make easy garnishes. So do slices of pickle or radish.
To pack, consider investing in reusable, attractive to-go containers. Separate compartments prove ideal for toting moist fillings, such as egg salad, apart from the bread and lettuce.
I’m so pleased that deviled eggs are back in style — they never left our family. Now, jazzy gourmet versions are offered at all manner of restaurants. I season mayonnaise with a spoonful of dry mustard for zing and capers to help cut richness. For lunch, I skip the fuss of spooning filling into cooked whites and simply chop the eggs and mix everything together. Serve this combination open face on buttered hearty rye. Or tuck it into a ciabatta roll with peppery fresh watercress or baby arugula.
The salmon salad proves super flexible. Thanks to a tangy dairy base, most any cooked or smoked salmon works well. Canned salmon is a fast option, as is canned tuna or shredded cooked chicken.
For those forgoing bread (it’s my kryptonite), I must say that both the salmon mixture and the deviled egg salad taste great tucked into romaine lettuce leaves or spread on Belgian endive spears.
To round out my take-along lunch, I make another traditional recipe: Gazpacho – Spain’s cold, refreshing soup usually reliant upon tomatoes. For variety, I use herbs and cucumber for a green gazpacho that enlivens any day. Make the vegetable base in advance, and then blend in avocado for a creamy texture. The soup keeps in the refrigerator for a few days; I pack it in jars with tight-fitting lids to transport easily.
Soup and sandwich — updated — from timeless traditions.
Double Salmon And Chives On Rye
This salmon spread also tastes great on a toasted pumpernickel bagel.
1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
Finely grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 dashes red pepper hot sauce, optional
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh fennel bulb (or celery)
1/4 cup finely diced roasted red bell pepper (homemade or jarred)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
4 ounces smoked salmon, such as Nova salmon pieces, chopped, about 1 cup
1 can (6 ounces) wild Alaskan red or pink salmon, drained, flaked
Soft butter, optional
6 to 12 slices hearty rye bread
Garnishes: Fresh fennel fronds, shaved fresh fennel bulb, sliced tomato, thin apple slices
1. Stir softened cream cheese and sour cream together in medium bowl until smooth. Stir in lemon zest, salt, pepper and hot sauce until well mixed. Stir in fennel, red pepper and chives. Fold in smoked and canned salmons. Refrigerate covered up to 3 or 4 days.
2. To assemble sandwiches, spread a thin layer of soft butter (if using) over one side of a slice of bread. Top with a 1/2-inch thick smear of the salmon mixture. Garnish as desired. Serve with a knife and fork. (Or top with a second slice of buttered bread, and skip the utensils).
Nutrition information per serving: 249 calories, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 57 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 18 g protein, 733 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Makes: about 3 cups, 6 servings
Deviled Egg Salad Sandwiches
This salad also tastes great on slices of toasted baguette, ciabatta rolls or whole wheat bread.
8 large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely minced fresh onion, rinsed well before using
1 small rib celery, finely minced
1 to 2 teaspoons drained capers, chopped (or use cornichons or dill pickle)
4 to 8 slices hearty rye bread
Chopped fresh chives
1. To hard-cook eggs, put them in a single layer in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Heat over high heat to a boil. (Watch closely.) Boil for 1 minute – use a timer. Immediately turn off heat and set the timer for 14 minutes. When the timer rings, carefully pour off the hot water and fill the pan with cold water and a couple of handfuls of ice cubes to chill the eggs fast. Let stand until eggs feel cool. Remove from water, and refrigerate covered for several days.
2. Mix mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in onion, celery and capers. Peel eggs. Put 6 on a cutting board; chop roughly with a large knife. Add the chopped egg to the mayonnaise mixture; fold together gently. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Thinly slice the remaining 2 eggs.
3. To assemble sandwiches, spread a thin layer of soft butter (if using) over one side of a slice of bread. Top with a 1/2-inch thick schmear of the egg mixture. Top with sliced egg, a sprinkle of paprika and fresh chives. Serve with a knife and fork. (Or top with a second slice of buttered bread.)
Nutrition information per serving: 412 calories, 31 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 384 mg cholesterol, 16 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 15 g protein, 811 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Makes: 4 servings
Cucumber and Avocado Gazpacho with Grapes
1 large seedless cucumber, 14 to 15 ounces, ends removed
1 cup vegetable broth
4 green onions, trimmed, chopped (or 1/4 cup roughly chopped chives)
1/2 small jalapeno, halved, seeded
Leaves from 1 large sprig mint, about 1 tablespoon roughly chopped
1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted
Juice of 1/2 lime, or more to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Seedless red grapes, cut in half
Diced ripe avocado
1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove and discard half of the cucumber peel. (This helps prevent bitterness.) Roughly chop the cucumber. You should have 3 loosely packed cups.
2. Put cucumber, broth, onions, jalapeno and mint leaves into a blender. Process until very smooth. Refrigerate in the blender jar, covered, about 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
3. Scoop avocado pulp into the soup base in the blender. Add lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Puree smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt as desired. Refrigerate up to 1 day.
4 To serve, pour into soup bowls. Garnish with grapes, diced avocado and chives.
Nutrition information per 1 cup serving: 101 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 2 g protein, 334 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Makes: 4 cups