Brown bag it
One day a few weeks ago, entirely without prompting, Brandon packed me a lunch for work. Just like that. I opened the fridge, and there it was: a Tupperware containing one of his trademark concoctions, soba noodles with a peanut-citrus sauce, with my name on it.
“Oh yeah,” he said nonchalantly, “I thought you might like some for your lunch tomorrow.”
With no explanation, just like that, he packed my lunch. I may be crazy, but it made me feel a little faint. I guess the conventional way to woo a woman would involve roses, or chocolates in a frilly box, or fancy dinners set to a soundtrack of Marvin Gaye. But personally, I think “make her a brown-bag lunch” should be added to the list, right up there with love poems, candlelight, and bearskin rugs. Oh baby.
It’s not as though he never does nice things for me, because he does plenty. For example, he has single-handedly grown my collection of vintage Pyrex dishes from two pieces to sixteen in the span of only six months. [Our local Goodwill loves him.] He regularly fixes our dinner, keeps me plied with pickles, and helps me eat the sweets that I feel strangely compelled to bake each week. [The waistband of my pants loves him too.] But let me tell you, there’s nothing quite so fine as this new brown-bag-lunch business of his. Not so long ago, I used to stand in front of the fridge at a few minutes to midnight, alone, cursing, trying to cobble or cram together something for lunch the next day. Now I feel so loved. As long as he doesn’t start cutting shapes out of my sandwiches with cookie cutters or sending me off with Fruit Roll-Ups, I am so marrying this man next July.
Anyway, since that soba noodle excitement a few weeks ago, Brandon has shared with me another of his favorite standby lunch items, and today I want to share it with you too. It’s a dead-simple chickpea salad, a little something he started making when he was a teenager in a program called “Jazz for Teens” – he’s a saxophonist – and needed a midday meal that he could tote along to his sessions. Back then, he was deep in what I like to call The Garlic Period – those bygone days when he would mix minced raw garlic with salt and spread it on buttered toast – so the original incarnation of this salad was brimming with the stuff. But in the intervening years, he has tweaked and honed his formula, deciding, even, that with a good olive oil and a grating of good cheese, it didn’t need garlic at all. What he’s been feeding me lately is a lovely, mellow salad that I’d be happy to eat every week from here on out. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it’s the best five-minute, five-ingredient meal I know.
It starts with a can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed and dumped into a bowl. Into the mix goes a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a slip of grassy olive oil, a pinch of salt, and some Parmigiano Reggiano. Stirred together and chilled, it tastes like the sum of its parts – only about 200% percent better. The lemon brightens the légumes, lifting their earthy flavor to something lighter and sweeter, while the olive oil makes them taste richer and more savory, as though they’d been cooked in stock. And the parmesan plays deliciously, as it loves to do, with both the lemon and the oil, binding the whole bowl together with its creamy, resonant charm. All told, it’s tasty enough to make my colleagues chirp jealously, and to make me chase every last chickpea from the container – and then scrape up the nubs and dribbles with a hunk of bread.
It’s such a simple recipe that I’m almost embarrassed to post it here, but because we all need instructions sometimes – especially late at night, when facing a nearly-empty fridge – I will anyway. You might consider eating these chickpeas atop some plump-leafed baby greens, or nestled alongside nearly any vegetable. I’ve also been known to eat them with some sliced radishes and crusty bread on the side, or, um, sometimes, peanut butter and Wasa crackers. Even when I no longer have a job that requires a brown-bag lunch – a week from Thursday, to be precise; whew! – you can bet, come noon, that I’ll still be sitting down to a bowl of this. Maybe with peanut butter and crackers. Some habits die hard, you know.
Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
This little salad only has five ingredients, so make sure that they’re all of good quality. There’s no room for second-rate pantry closet cast-offs here, so don’t even think about it, missie. First of all, be sure to use a good brand of chickpeas. I would never have thought about this sort of thing prior to meeting Brandon, Mr. Chana Masala Man, but he’s got me convinced: the best canned chickpeas are produced by Goya, Bush, and Trader Joe’s. Other brands, such as generic supermarket ones, can be mealy, bland, and / or mushy, rather than firm, fat, and earthy-sweet. Also, get out your best olive oil – one you’d want to eat from a spoon, if you’re into that sort of thing. We like to use a dash of this luscious brand, to which we were introduced by the lovely Tea. It really seals the deal.
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
A pinch of salt
¼ cup loosely packed shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir gently to mix. Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve immediately, or chill, covered, until serving.
Note: This salad keeps well in the fridge and is, in my humble opinion, best eaten cold.
Yield: 2 servings