The first rule of Lunch Club is: You don’t talk about Lunch Club. The second rule of Lunch Club is: Ignore the first rule and tell everyone you know about how great Lunch Club is because it’s really pretty awesome.
Lunch Club is what we’ve come to call lunch hour at the subtitling and translation company where I spend three days per week slinging snappy two-liners up on a screen. Everyone at the office is responsible for cooking lunch for the rest of the office once a week. It’s a tradition started long ago when there were only two of us, and has continued to this day, when sometimes, there are four or five of us busily typing away as we slurp up cup after cup of French press.
We each have our gold standards – meals we like to keep on regular rotation and meals that continually get requests. One of my favorites is a Syrian fattoush – a softly warm salad of roasted eggplant, parsley, pomegranate, garlic, and cherry tomatoes served with buttery toasted pita chips. But when winter hits, Shaun puts in his request for hearty bowls of gumbo with chicken, shrimp, and okra I have to scrounge out of the deep-freeze bin at the Asian grocery store. Germany is not an okra-eating nation.
Won-ton soup is another of our favorites, a dish whose parts we often divvy up. Shaun makes the broth, clear and flavorful and dotted with mushrooms, julienned carrots, and baby bok choy. I make the won-tons stuffed with pork and scallions, and seasoned with dark soy sauce and brown sugar.
At one point during a summer in which we were obsessed with low-carb lunches, we even invented oat-crust pizza. We ground oats into a fine flour, mixed it with a little water and salt, spread it out on a baking tray, and baked it into a crisp crust, then topped it with tomato sauce, cheese, arugula, bacon, and peppers.
Though she’s no longer at the office, we’ll always remember Ellen for her mean taco pie, and Shaun is regaled for his spicy spinach and chickpea pitas as well as his Thai pork salad lettuce wraps. Claire’s eggplant parmesan, we all agree, is bound to be a regular favorite.
Desserts also make frequent appearances. There are slices of leftover angel food cake and key lime pie, banana bread, cupcakes, cookies. And when winter hits, it’s hot toddy season. We even have our own house blend – spicy ginger (to ward off colds), warm cinnamon and cloves, lemon, and plenty of bourbon.
One of my favorite lunches, though, is one of Shaun’s classics: a Thai red curry made with butternut squash, tofu, and mango. It’s spicy and sweet, fills you up without leaving you sluggish, and is incredibly addictive. If there are leftovers on the stovetop after lunch, I can’t help but pluck out a drop of squash like it’s a bite of candy. It’s a dish that’s too good not to share – and it’s easy to make, which is another of Lunch Club’s rules.
It’s also one of my favorite Lunch Club meals because, in addition to belonging to Lunch Club, we at the office have also all been longtime members of the infamous Clone Club. When Orphan Black is in full-swing, our water cooler talk revolves around intrigues and plot twists and how much we all absolutely adore Tatiana-Maslany-the-greatest-actress-of-all-time-who-can-do-no-wrong-even-if-she-wasn’t-that-good-in-Woman-in-Gold-but-that’s-just-because-keeping-up-with-the-German-was-stressing-her-out. So when this butternut Thai red curry comes up in rotation, we find ourselves quoting Helena and asking, “Where are these mangoes?”
Though where this curry is concerned, the answer isn’t too hard to find: We’ve eaten these mangoes. And they were delicious.
Mango Red Curry with Tofu and Squash
Traditionally, in Lunch Club, this is made with butternut squash. After scouring not one, but two grocery stores this morning and finding exactly zero butternut squash, I decided to make this curry with a black futsu pumpkin I’d picked up at a pumpkin festival a few weeks ago instead. I’m completely enamored with this heirloom gourd – its flavor is sweetly mild, with creamy flesh and a distinct hint of chestnut. But you can use any of your favorite squash in this dish. Also traditionally, it’s made with coconut milk – but I was fresh out. I’d recommend adding it if you have some! Serves 3.
Half of a medium-sized pumpkin or 1 small butternut squash (about 4 cups cubed/600 g)
1 tsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 medium-sized red onions, quartered
1 cup (200 g) cubed tofu
1 can mango pieces in juice
2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
Basmati rice, to serve
Slice pumpkin into palm-sized pieces (or halve butternut squash), drizzle with olive oil and salt, and roast at 250 ºC for 20 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Remove from oven and when cool, cut into bite-size chunks.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onion quarters and sauté until the onions begin to soften. Add tofu and cook until browned on all sides. Add pumpkin pieces and mangoes (you may need to slice the mangoes into strips if they are not sliced already). Whisk red curry paste into the mango juice left in the can, then add to the curry. Turn heat to medium, and cook covered for about 15 minutes until vegetables have softened. Serve with basmati rice.