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Let's do lunch! But a little different, and in a bag


Packing a lunch for work or school can be a challenge. A steady stream of sandwiches becomes tedious and frozen microwave entrees even more so. But many people still resort to brown bag lunches several times a week as a respite from fast-food or costly restaurant visits. And it is easier to control the quality of foods that you assemble at home.

Here are three unconventional recipes that you won't often find in brown bags. But they fill the requisites: They're easy to make, they pack well and they're simple to heat in a microwave oven. As an alternate, the chili can be sealed in a vacuum bottle so it stays hot. The salad, of course, is eaten chilled.

! Chicken chili

Makes 5 cups

teaspoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes with chilies

1 can (16 ounces) ranch-style beans, see note

1 can (16 ounces) pinto beans, rinsed, drained

1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, chili powder

2 cups leftover cooked chicken

1 tomato, seeded, diced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and cook gently until soft, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add diced tomatoes, ranch-style beans, pinto beans, cumin and chili powder. Heat to a boil and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Add chicken and tomato; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Note: Ranch-style beans are pinto beans that are cooked with Mexican chorizo sausage and seasonings.

They are available in most supermarkets.

( Acorn squash stuffed with couscous 2 servings

1 small acorn squash

2 slices bacon, diced

1 small leek, trimmed, diced

Crushed red pepper flakes

1 small roasted red pepper, diced

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup couscous

1 tablespoon each: olive oil, chutney

Salt, pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half crosswise and scoop out seeds. Place on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Bake until tender, 45 to 55 minutes. Squash can be cooked 2 days in advance and refrigerated.

Fry the bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon fat. Add the leek and pepper flakes; cook over high heat, stirring often, until leek is browned at the edges, 5 minutes. Add the roasted red pepper and cook 1 minute. Set aside, off the heat.

Heat water and 1 tablespoon oil to a boil. Put couscous in a bowl, pourwater over and stir in chutney. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.

Stir the bacon mixture into the couscous; add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the couscous mixture into the squash halves. To reheat in the microwave oven, cover loosely and heat one portion on high power for 50 to 60 seconds.

This can be served in lettuce cups, hollowed out tomatoes or on toast as an open-faced sandwich.

) Tuna/white bean salad 3 to 4 servings

1 can (15 ounces) white or Great Northern beans, rinsed, drained

1 can (6 1/2 ounces) solid white tuna in water, drained

2 green onions, sliced

1 tomato, cored, seeded, diced

2 tablespoons each: mayonnaise, yogurt

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon each: dried sage, dried basil

Salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix gently. Keep chilled unti serving time.

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