Working from a Cubical
As most of you may know, I have a regular day job as a Chemist. Sounds exciting right? Not really. I spend most of my time in a cubical on the phone or participating in internet based meetings. Life in a cube can become a bit monotonous, so I’m always glad when lunch time rolls around. It’s a break in my day where I can hopefully clear my head and ease the pangs of hunger for a few hours.
I’m notorious for being a brown bagger. Rarely do I venture forth from my place of employment to satisfy my need for sustenance. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s much more cost effective than eating out every day. And second, the variety of locations to eat that are within driving distance is sadly lacking.
I’m regularly asked by my cube mates what’s for lunch today. This is especially true if it’s something fragrant like Thai or Indian food. I’ve even had some coworkers ask me for the recipes.
Cooking in the breakroom
If your place of employment is like mine (assuming you don’t work in a restaurant), the company breakroom is pretty sparse on kitchen gear. You are lucky to find a spoon if you didn’t bring one from home. There is probably a coffee pot, a water cooler, a refrigerator if you are lucky and the ever faithful microwave; not exactly conducive to cooking a quick gourmet lunch.
Many of my colleagues have resorted to frozen meals or soup as the standard fair of the day. I say Nay! You can cook with the limited items available in the breakroom if you have a bit of imagination.
How many of you have eaten instant ramen noodles (aka cup o’ noodles) during your college days? The package is pretty standard with the noodles and some flavoring package. Just add hot water and in a few minutes you have lunch and I use that term loosely. But with a bit of imagination and some additional ingredients, you can make Pho in the office.
What is Pho you might ask? Well it’s a Vietnamese noodle soup that contains fresh vegetables and thinly sliced beef or chicken in a stock. Traditional Pho takes time to make most of which is in the preparation of the stock. But you can get around that with a bit of seasoning and maybe one of those stock cubes.
Just Add Hot Water
There are some things to remember when preparing this type of meal. Your source of heat is hot water only. If you are using a protein in the Pho, I would recommend using something that is precooked like a bit of leftover chicken or steak but slice it thin. You can easily make this vegetarian as well.
The same is true for any vegetables you might want to add. Peel or slice them very thinly. They will cook with the hot water and all those wonderful flavors will incorporate in the broth. Use crisp vegetables that are in season like carrots, spinach, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts, green onions, red or yellow bell pepper, leeks, or mushrooms. The broth can also be enhanced by adding fresh lime, fresh chilies, minced ginger, Thai basil, mint and even stock or bouillon cubes. Add whatever you like.
Remember that this recipe is using boiling, or near boiling, hot water. Use a container that is heat safe. I love clamp top jars but not all are created equal and you don’t need one to crack on you the minute you put in your hot water. I hope this gives you an option besides opening a can of soup at your desk or going out for that burger down the street. Eat well!
Southeast Asian Pho
- 1 tsp fresh ginger minced
- ½ red chili pepper, finely chopped or to taste
- 3 scallions (green onions)
- ½ a yellow bell pepper thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls of baby spinach, cleaned and destemmed
- 2 oz vermicelli rice noodles (or a package of instant ramen noodles)
- ½ chicken or vegetable stock cube (or salt to taste, I like Better than Base but must refrigerate)
- 1 lime
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro and basil (I like Thai basil if available)
You can prepare this up to 48 hours in advance and store in the refrigerator. In a large heatproof jar or container with a sealable lid, add the ginger and chili pepper (remove the seeds for less spice). Chop the white part of the scallions and them and the bell pepper to the container. Then add the spinach, noodles and stock cube to the jar. Finely chop the herbs and place on top. Slice the lime in half and lay in on top of the other ingredients (to be squeezed later).
At lunch time, open the container and remove the lime. Add boiling water from a kettle or microwave until everything is covered. Use a fork to mix the ingredients to help dissolve the stock cube. Close the lid and give the soup a good shake. Careful the jar may already be hot to the touch. Let the soup stand a few minutes then squeeze the lime over the top. You can also add soy sauce or sesame oil if you have any for additional flavor.
Feel free to add a protein to this but I recommend that it be precooked and sliced thin. Use a stock appropriate for the protein you are using.