How to make the perfect packed lunch

Three expert recipes for health and taste on the go

Sick of pre-packed sandwiches? Time Out quizzed a few UAE experts on how to make a great packed lunch.

Packed lunch is for school kids, right? Wrong. Not if you have a selection of healthy and accessible lunchtime recipes, shared by UAE chefs who feed the country’s hungry midday hoards. That January zest and joie de vivre is fading, and it is right about now that we’re all starting to flag with those zealous new year’s resolutions. Maybe 2014 was meant to be the year you finally saved some dough? Or started eating more healthily? To give those resolutions another jump start, we’ve put together recipes that may help you eat more healthily as well as save money.

The veggie option

Australian chef patron Tom Arnel, from buzzing new café in Al Quoz Tom & Serg in Dubai, shares a recipe for a veggie-friendly, Mediterranean-style wrap. It uses piadina, an Italian-style flatbread, but you can use Indian or Arabic flatbread if you can’t find this variety.

Toasted piadina with roast pumpkin
1 piadina
15g basil pesto
100g roast pumpkin
30g feta cheese
10g Kalamata olives, sliced
1g salt and pepper mix
10g rocket
20g fresh mixed greens
2g salad dressing


• Spread the basil pesto on half of the piadina.

• Evenly crumble the feta cheese on top of the basil pesto.

• Place the roast pumpkin on top of the feta cheese.

• Add seasoning to taste.

• Sprinkle the sliced Kalamata olives on top of the roast pumpkin.

• Place the rocket on top of the Kalamata olives.

• Fold the piadina in half and place in a sandwich press for three minutes or until toasted and heated through.

• In a mixing bowl, lightly toss the fresh mixed greens and the salad dressing.

• Cut the toasted piadina in half and add the dressed fresh greens on the side.

The Bento Box

Chef Renato Matcastro from Sushi Central in Abu Dhabi whip us up a Japanese bento-box style lunch, with fresh salad, shrimp and vegetable tempura and salmon with rice balls inside.

Shrimp and vegetable tempura

3 large shrimps, tail-on, headless and de-veined
3 pieces of vegetables cut into two-inch thick pieces (such as sweet potatoes, carrots or aubergine)
1 egg
1 cup All-purpose flour
1 cup Ice water
Vegetable oil for frying
Flour for dusting


• Take the shrimps and make two or three incisions on the stomach side to straighten them. Lightly press the back of the shrimps to straighten.

• Remove the dirt from the tails of the shrimps, using a knife.

• Dry shrimps on paper towels.

• Beat an egg in a bowl. Add ice water to the bowl. Add sifted flour to the bowl and mix lightly.

• Heat the oil to 180 degrees celsius.

• Lightly flour shrimps. Pick up the tails and dip them in the tempura batter. Once the shrimps are dropped into the oil, dip a hand in the tempura batter and sprinkle the batter over the shrimps in the oil to form a flaky coat over the shrimps. Fry until golden brown.

• Likewise, vegetables can be lightly floured, dipped into the tempura batter and deep-fried until crisp. (Different oil can be used to fry the vegetables to retain the flavour.)

Soy and honey salmon with rice balls
2 cups rice (sushi short grain rice)
4 cups water
Sesame seeds for garnish
1 salmon steak
Soy honey dressing for marinating
Sesame oil for frying

• In a bowl or pot, under a faucet, rinse the rice with cold water, changing the rinsing water several times until the water is almost clear.

• Drain the water and let the rice sit in the strainer for ten to 30 minutes.

• Combine the rice and water and cook it in the rice cooker for about an hour.

• Marinate the salmon in soy sauce and honey for an hour.

• Heat the flat grill pan and once the oil is hot, sear the marinated salmon on both sides for two minutes until done.

• Take 100g of the prepared rice and make into two inch flat balls and garnish it with sesame seeds and serve it with the salmon.

Fresh salad

30g shredded carrots
50g mixed lettuce
30g walnuts
1 tsp sesame honey dressing

• Mix the shredded carrots, mixed lettuce and chopped walnuts in the sesame honey dressing.

The low calorie option

Chef Daniel Gamble from Easy Bites in Abu Dhabi constructs a low-calorie lunch that will keep you satiated through the day, for only 312 calories.

Steamed salmon, fennel, watercress and dill salad

100g organic salmon fillet (filleted and de-boned by a fishmonger)
75g watercress, washed and dried (you can use wild rocket if you have trouble finding watercress)
75g fennel bulb (washed)
½ medium Red onion
2 un-waxed lemons
A good handful of fresh dill (washed, picked and dried, reserve the stalks)
15ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

• First of all you need to prepare the lemon pickled red onion. This should be done a few hours ahead of time.

• Peel the onion and cut it in half then cut out the root part. Slice it as thinly as possible along the grain. Put it in a small bowl and sprinkle with a little salt to draw out the moisture.

• Leave the onions, covered with plastic wrap, for a couple of hours. They should look soft and pink. Strain them in a sieve and allow to drain before putting them back in the bowl and adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.

• Now comes the main bit of the salad, the salmon. If you have a steaming basket you can cook the salmon with a few slices of lemon and some dill to line the basket. It should take about 15 minutes depending on the thickness of your salmon fillet. (If you do not have a steaming basket you can easily cook the salmon in simmering water for 15 minutes with dill sprigs, a few black peppercorns and half a lemon.)

• When the salmon is cooked it should flake easily when pressed with a fork.

• Allow the salmon to cool, then flake it between thumb and forefinger into a bowl.

• Next, remove the top portion of the fennel so you are left only with the main bulbous part.

• Cut this in two lengthways and cut out the thick white root section. Slice as thinly as possible along the grain.

• In your bowl, or container place a layer of the watercress, followed by half of the fennel.

• Now add a little of the lemon pickled red onion and top this off with some of the flaked salmon and a good sprinkling of chopped dill. Grind some black pepper and a little sea salt, then repeat the layer again.

• For the dressing measure 5ml of lemon juice and add this to the olive oil. Add a little ground salt and pepper and pour it into a sealable plastic container small enough to fit in with your salad (you can get these by ordering salads and saving the dressing cups). You can add as much of the dressing as you like or let the pickled red onions do the talking.

Ordering in...?

Picnic Basket Middle East
If you’re planning a lunch for the entire team, this new lunch delivery service specialises in making deliveries to groups of desk-bound but hungry office workers. Choose from a selection of classic sandwiches, wraps and salads. Large orders should ideally be placed the day before. (050 150 9273).

This JLT-based fast-food spot brings a healthy and delicious twist to the average order in lunch, with a selection of excellent salads and soups. You can even choose to create your own salad from a huge list of potential ingredients. (800 742 497).

Urban Bistro
This popular Dubai Media City café, with a sustainable and local ethos, has recently launched a delivery service. Aside from the list of sandwiches and salads on the lunchtime options, you can even get your breakfast delivered from here. (04 425 9333).

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