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AUSTIN, Texas — No matter if you’re eating a vegan diet every day of the year or, taking a cue from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, eating meat-free meals before 6 p.m., it’s good to have some healthful brown-bag lunch recipes in your repertoire.

What’s a brown-bag lunch? I think of brown-bag lunches being packed with foods that don’t have to be refrigerated and can be eaten at room temperature. Without any meat or cheese to keep cool or heat up, vegan meals are brown-bag friendly by nature, says Rachel Zierzow, a chef instructor in Austin who recently taught a class on the subject at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts.

You wouldn’t want to leave a hummus sandwich with cucumber and avocado in your hot car for four hours and then eat it, but you could easily keep these dishes in a bag by your desk and eat them at midday without worry. An ice pack can help keep the food cooler and fresher for a little longer, especially if you won’t be eating until the afternoon, but most offices are cold enough that you might not need it.

If you’re making lunches for school-age children, some of these dishes, like the roasted chickpeas and spring rolls with almond butter dipping sauce, are super kid-friendly, while others can be adapted to suit your children’s tastes with their favorite cooked or raw vegetables and beans.

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Makes 2 cups

No one will think these snackable chickpeas are chips, but they can certainly satisfy that midday craving for something salty, but with a whole lot more protein and nutrients than fried or baked crisps.

1 (14-oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice or brown rice vinegar

2 teaspoons tamari

½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Pinch of sea salt

¼ teaspoon agave or maple syrup

Pinch of cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On the baking sheet, add all ingredients and toss to combine. Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing chickpeas once or twice during baking, until tamari and lemon juice are absorbed (chickpeas will still be tender, not crunchy).

2. For crunchy chickpeas, bake for 45 minutes, until crisp.

Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts


Makes 12 spring rolls

You can make a wrap with a tortilla or flatbread, but if you are avoiding gluten (or are simply looking for a lighter wrap for your salad), consider rice paper. It’s easy to oversoak the dried paper; if you quickly run the paper under warm water from the faucet, the paper will continue to soften while you add the filling ingredients and fold the paper around them. These keep well through the lunch hour if you pack them in a container with a very lightly moistened paper towel placed on top of the spring rolls. One of the best things about spring rolls is that you can fill them with all the ingredients you’d use to make a salad, including pan-fried tofu or tempeh or, if you’re eating meat, shrimp or sliced chicken or pork.

5 oz. rice noodles or mung bean noodles

4 carrots, grated

2 cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds

4 cups spring mix

½ cup organic fresh basil leaves

½ cup organic fresh mint leaves

½ cup organic fresh cilantro leaves

2 avocados, cut into thin, wide strips

12 rice paper spring roll wrappers

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add noodles to boiling water and turn off heat. Let sit for a few minutes until noodles are soft, then drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

2. Lay all ingredients out for assembly: noodles, carrots, cucumbers, spring mix, herbs, avocado slices and spring roll wrappers.

3. Prepare a large bowl or plate with warm water. Water does not need to be hot but warm enough to soften rice paper and the bowl wide enough to fit a sheet of rice paper.

4. Take one sheet of rice paper and soak it in warm water until it is pliable, about 10 seconds. (You can also simply run it under the faucet. The paper will continue to soften after you’ve removed it from the water.) Spread the wrapper on a large plate or other clean surface. Work quickly so rice paper does not fall apart.

5. Place a large basil leaf vertically with three cucumber slices to the right of it (stacked vertically) in the middle of the spring roll wrapper. Place a layer of avocado, noodles, carrots. Sprinkle with spring mix and cilantro and/or mint leaves, making sure that 1 inch of rice paper remains visible on the edge closest to you and on both sides of the ingredients. Be sure not to overfill spring roll.

6. To wrap, bring up the lower lip of the rice wrapper and wrap around the ingredients, tightening slightly as you tuck and roll the wrapper. Fold in the sides to enclose the filling then continue rolling the wrapper. The rice paper will seal itself. Set aside to rest with space in between rolls. Continue wrapping spring rolls until all ingredients are used up. Serve with a dipping sauce such as spicy peanut or almond butter sauce or basil pesto.

— Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts


This dipping sauce calls for using store-bought or homemade almond butter, but also you could use peanut or other nut butters. Ume plum vinegar is a product often used in macrobiotic cooking, and you can find it at health food stores or upscale grocery stores.

½ cup almond butter

½ cup coconut palm sugar

1 cup coconut milk

4 tablespoons lime juice

4 tablespoons spring or filtered water

4 teaspoons tamari

4 teaspoons ume plum vinegar

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium-size bowl until smooth and sugar is dissolved. Serve with raw vegetables, spring rolls or as a dressing for a salad.

— Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts


Serves 4

This easily customizable salad is best served at room temperature, making it ideal for a brown bag lunch. Use your favorite grain, vegetable and bean for a lightly dressed, protein-packed lunch.

For the cilantro vinaigrette:

1 cup fresh cilantro

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

Zest and juice of one lime

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and fresh pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

1 yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise

1 ear of corn, husk removed

1 orange bell pepper

Olive oil, for grilling

2 cups cooked whole grains (brown rice, wheat berries, barley or farro)

1 cup cooked beans of your choice (try cranberry beans or pinto)

½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Salt, to taste

1. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in blender and process until smooth and all ingredients are fully incorporated.

2. Brush zucchini, squash, corn and bell pepper with olive oil and season with salt. Grill over open flame until tender and slightly charred. Place roasted pepper into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Once zucchini and squash have cooled, cut them into a small dice. Remove the peel and seeds from the pepper, cut into small dice. Cut the corn kernels off the cob.

3. Combine all grains, beans, vegetables and tomatoes in a bowl and toss with cilantro vinaigrette. Serve at room temperature.

— Alex Lopez


Serves 4

This light, delicious noodle salad made with a variety of colorful vegetables is the perfect dish to bring for lunch or a picnic. Try black rice soba noodles for a gluten-free version that contrasts well with daikon, carrots and sesame seeds.

8 oz. soba noodles

1 to 2 carrots, diced

½ cup daikon, cut into matchsticks

½ bunch leafy greens

For the ginger vinaigrette:

1/3 cup sesame oil

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced

½ teaspoon shoyu (can substitute soy or tamari sauce)

For garnish:

2 scallions, cut on the diagonal in thin rounds

¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. Cook noodles according to package directions. During last minute of cooking, add carrots and daikon, then greens to lightly blanch them in the boiling noodle cooking water. Drain noodles and vegetables, plunge into bowl of cold water and drain again. Allow noodles to completely cool.

2. To make the vinaigrette, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and toss with the cooled noodles, vegetables, scallions and sesame seeds.

— Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts

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