This month my lunchbox got out of town, stowed in my carry-on bag, and headed south to a tiny island off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula.
I left Jackson on a crisp -5 degree morning at 7 a.m. Sixteen hours later — after three rerouted flights, a two-hour bus ride, a very slow ferry, and a brief jaunt in a golf cart taxi — I arrived at my tropical destination as the moon rose above the coconut palms. It was a hectic trip that left no time for grabbing a nice meal along the way.
Airport and airplane food always make me feel heavy and tired, and wishing I hadn’t eaten at all. Packing my own food for a big travel day is much better. All it takes is a bit of pre-vacation food planning, and I don’t have to worry if there’s an inflight meal.
For my travel lunch, I chose to make a whole grain salad whose flavor improves as it soaks in its lemony vinaigrette. My farro salad was chewy and filling, packed with sweet dates and toasted almonds. I always bring an orange along when I travel, but never seem to get around to peeling and eating it. So this time I sectioned the orange at home, and placed it in the tiffin alongside the farro salad.
Why farro? Farro is a satisfying, versatile grain that can be cooked up to four days before leaving on a trip. It is soaked overnight, then cooked in fresh water for about 45 minutes. Once drained, it is the basis for a hearty and filling salad that soaks up any dressing, rendering it fragrant and chewy. Important for long travel days, farro sticks with you as you trudge from airport to bus to ferry to taxi.
I tossed the farro in olive oil and lemon juice the night before I left, and it was perfect when I ate it more than 12 hours later. But sometimes I’ll bring along 100 milliliter bottles of olive oil and vinegar from Vom Foss, and dress it on the road. Vom Foss has dozens of travel-friendly choices, and it’s nice to have good extra virgin olive oil stashed in your purse, wherever you may go.
My tiffin, purchased at Jackson Hole Grocer, is a lightweight stainless steel lunch box that’s easy to pack and easy to clean. It always flies through security without a problem, and is less bulky than my usual lunch box.
I packed enough farro for a satisfying lunch and a late afternoon snack. I filled the rest of the day with my favorite nibbles: Cocolove chocolate bars, olive oil and pecorino crackers, roasted and salted cashews and homemade maple syrup olive oil granola with ginger and figs (I never fly without it).
When I’m up in the air, I decline the inflight drinks, no matter how tempting a Diet Coke or a blood mary sounds. I fill up a water bottle at the Jackson Hole Airport, and drink as much water as I can get my hands on en route. I do stash a few packs of Starbucks Via instant coffee in my lunch box, just for emergencies, so that I am never without a decent cup of coffee if I need it.
Instead of arriving at my destination frazzled and full, wishing I hadn’t eaten that airport pizza, I felt satiated and hydrated. That Moroccan farro salad kept my stomach happy all the way to the southernmost tip of mainland Mexico. I didn’t even need to eat supper before I flopped into bed.
Recipe: Farro Salad with Dates and Almonds
- 1 ½ cups cooked farro (1 cup dry)
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- 2 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- ½ cup almonds, toasted until light brown
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Soak 1 cup of farro overnight in 4 cups of water, and drain well in the morning.
- Bring 4 cups of fresh water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil, then add the drained farro and reduce heat to a simmer.
- Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the farro is cooked through but still chewy. Drain.
- Scoop as much farro as you’d like into a bowl; for my travel salad, I used 1 ½ cups cooked farro. (You can freeze the rest in an airtight baggie.) Add the lemon zest, dates, almonds, cardamon and cilantro, and mix well.
- Whisk the juice from the lemon together with 3 tablespoons olive oil, and drizzle over the salad. Toss well.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Chill before traveling.
- Serve with fresh orange segments.