You Can Take It With You: Raisin Bread and Sushi

Lunchtime: unequivocally the best part of the day. But could it be better? Yes sir, it can. You don’t have to spend gobs of money going out, but you also shouldn’t be packing the same peanut butter sandwich year in and year out; there is a middle way. The path to becoming a lunch box buddha isn’t so hard. All you need is a good balance of inspiration and  improvisation. Every week, we’ll make one or two packable recipes so that you have something new to fill your lunch box and your stomach. 

Spain has lots of things going for it. It’s got every kind of beach you could ever want, siesta, and gobs of beautiful women. One thing I’m not so crazy about: the food. I spent the first few weeks at my job politely try to rearrange the food on my plate using everything my mom had every taught me about eating dinner at other people’s houses. When my first paycheck came, though, and I discovered I’d been paying €3.21 every day I’d “eaten,” I decided to take matters into my own hands.

After getting permission (and being assured that he hated American food just as much as I couldn’t tolerate Spanish food) from a co-worker to bring my own lunch, I started realizing it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought to feed myself. Working at a place with no microwave or kitchen, having to get up early and working in a town whose only grocery had no fresh produce meant I was going to have to start planning. So I did. I’m four weeks into bringing my own food every day and things are finally how they should be: Lunch is my favorite time of the work day again.

Since I’ll be making new recipes every week, I thought we could do this together. I made a list of six things that keep me happy while I’m making the food and when I’m eating it. Think about what you aim for in terms of a lunch and decide if there’s anything special you need to maximize your lunching pleasure.

My rules and/or goals for lunch
+ The food has to be able to be eaten cold
+ It must be able to last a week (both in terms of life-span and in tolerability)
+ My lunch and/or breakfast has to contain some form of protein (I aim for general all-around healthiness, but protein gets extra attention because I don’t like to take meat for lunch.)
+ The total cost of lunch and breakfast for the week has to be less than €20
+ I have to be able to make my lunch in less than 2 active hours, including cleaning up. That means something can rise, boil, or cook for 48 hours, as long as I don’t have to be there watching it.
+ The food doesn’t necessarily have to go together. It’s just lunch. I can eat tabbouleh and pumpkin muffins if I want to.

This week’s menu:

Raisin and Walnut Boule

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Having never made bread before, I was a little daunted by this recipe. Actually, recipes plural, since I couldn’t find one that was exactly what I was looking for. Some of them called for starters (where am I supposed to get one of those?), others wanted me to add gluten (huh?), another had nothing sweet for the yeast to eat and the last involved a complex baking process that required a dutch oven and a spray bottle. So using everything I know about bread (absolutely nothing, except that I like eating it), I created my own recipe. And you know what? It turned out beautifully.

3 cups of flour
1 1/4 t of table salt
1/4 t of instant yeast (or normal yeast if you can’t find it)
3/4 cup of crasins or raisins
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups of very warm but not hot water
2 T of honey


1. Mix all the dry ingredients together, including the yeast if it’s instant.

2. Mix the water and the honey together.

2a. If the yeast isn’t instant, add it to the honey and water mixture and wait 10 minutes for it to grow.

3. Add the water mixture to the dry mixture and combine everything until you have a shaggy dough.

4. Let it rise twice for at least an hour each time and up to 9 hours each time (2-18 hours total). The recipe I adapted this from suggested 12 hours at the very least but I only let it rise for 3 and my bread was amazing.

5. Punch the dough down and form it into a ball. Cover the ball in flour and then place it on parchment paper or aluminum foil on a pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes in a 450° oven. It’s going to get dark and that’s okay; take it out when it’s completely cooked through.



Despite living 30 minutes away from the world’s second largest port (Tokyo takes the gold in that department), sushi here is hard to come by and expensive. After going out for dinner with a few of my friends the other night, I decided that sushi was going to be next on my list of things to try making for lunch. I’m absolutely not an expert in this department so I’m open to any and all tips that y’all might have.

Nori (sheets of seaweed)
Sushi rice (or whatever short grain white rice you can get your hands on)
5 T of Rice vinegar (or 3 T of white wine vinegar + 2 T of water if you can’t find rice vinegar)
5 t of Sugar
1 1/4 t of Salt
Fillings (we used red pepper, green pepper, fried tofu, zucchini and avocado but stayed away from fish since we’re not eating it right away)


1. Cook the rice. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups of water and 2 1/2 cups of rice. Ideally you should rinse your rice and sing to it and take it out to dinner, but I am not a sushi chef (who, by the way, spend 3 out of 7 years learning how to make rice the right way. Thanks Wikipedia!) so I just cooked it. I let it come to a boil over high heat and then put on a lid and turned the heat down to very very low. After about 15 minutes, it was sticky but not mushy, so I turned the heat of and let it sit with the lid on for 10 more minutes while we finished…

2. …Chopping the vegetables. You want these puppies to be matchstick-sized.

3. Make your vinegar dressing by mixing the vinegar, sugar and salt together. If, like me, you couldn’t find rice vinegar, using the white wine and water mixture will work just fine. Rice vinegar is less acidic than white wine vinegar, so water cuts down on the acidity. It won’t taste exactly the same, but it’s a good substitute if you’re just cooking for yourself. When the rice is cool, stir it in, being careful not to overdo it.

4. We didn’t have bamboo mats so we used pieces of magazine as our rolling mats. To make a regular Makizushi roll, cut a piece of nori in half and place one half on your mat. Dip to fingers in water to keep the rice from sticking to your hands, and then scoop some rice onto the nori. You want to keep this layer pretty thin or it’ll be hard to close. Place your fillings along one side and then, using the mat, roll the sushi into a strip, wetting the end of the nori to make it stay shut. Since you’re not eating it right away, wrap the long cylinder tightly in saran wrap. You’ll cut it the morning before you eat it with scissors or a knife if you’re lucky enough to have a good set of knives.

To make an inside-out Uramaki roll, start the same way. After covering the nori with rice, flip the sheet over and place your fillings on the nori. Roll so that the rice ends on on the outside and then wrap it in saran wrap.

5. I found little dipping containers at a dollar store that fit inside a bigger piece of tupperware. I put soy sauce in the dipping container, smear a dab of (fake) wasabi on the inside of the lid so that I can mix it in later, and then put my sliced up sushi rolls in the big tupperware. Ta da! You have lunch for the whole week.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. I misread the first recipe as “raisin and walnut brownie”. Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty tasty too.

  2. Neato! My wife and I live in Hungary, and I’m certainly on the same page as Laura regarding the local food – here it’s all based upon a deeply held philosophy of sour cream and head cheese (made of pig brain), to which my soul is violently allergic (although I devoutly follow the Hungarian ethic of wine). We get by ’cause we like to cook and this cool Burundian dude actually just opened a sushi bar.
    We have made our own sushi, too, and it was delicious, but I think Laura did it far better, since I mostly made little seaweed burritos.

    • we’re living parallel lives! except that in my case it’s not sour cream and head cheese, it’s every form of pig you could imagine (today they served pig’s ears at lunch) and potatoes. but yes, they know what they’re doing with their alcohol =)

  3. i taught myself to make sushi the year i lived in israel, because i love it so much and it was so expensive to buy at restaurants there! also stayed away from fish because i didn’t trust myself to buy the freshest/best stuff and was worried i’d accidentally make myself sick, but i’ve been meaning to try it again since getting back to the usa (though it’s now been a year and a half and i haven’t done it yet so i really need to be better at motivating myself, apparently). maybe this post is just what i need to kick my butt into gear. thank you laura!

    i am also working on learning how to bring myself lunch every day, because buying lunch daily in midtown manhattan is the quickest way to go broke. we have a microwave so i’ve been doing soup a lot. this week i did pizza. i’m also a fan of lettuce wraps and if i can make a really perfect salad i am happy, though salads in general are not my favorite. also this obviously doesn’t apply to laura right now but anyone who has access to trader joe’s, oh my god — their turkey “meatballs” and their veggie burgers are amazing, and if you just throw those in the microwave with a bunch of frozen veggies you will be so so so happy.

    and thus concludes vanessa’s Feelings about sushi and office lunches.

    • i don’t trust myself with fish, either! plus i don’t think raw fish sitting in my frige for a week is an awesome idea.

    • Cooking tiny pasta varieties, adding vegan bouillon to the water rather than draining it, and adding some frozen veggies and TJ’s “meat”-balls near the end of the cooking process became my favorite lazy but filling lunch over break when we were broke and I spent time searching through the cupboards and freezer for meal ideas.

  4. Rice tips!

    Definitely rinse your rice—it’s not really for cleaning as much as to get the starchy stuff off the rice, which will help your rice absorb the rice vinegar better. You don’t have to get ALL the starch out if you feel superugh about it, but a couple passes under the water is a good idea.

    Don’t let the rice cool on its own! Spread it out on a serving dish or bowl or tupperware or something. Put a little of the rice vinegar over it, then gently toss to mix. Keep adding the rice vin to taste. While you do this, you get to fan the rice (or my preferred method, enlist a friend to fan the rice). Fan till nice and cool. Your arm will feel tired. Think of this as a bonus tricep workout!

  5. I think you might be interested in bento making – basically it’s the Japanese version of all the things you’ve listed, especially the fact that it’s served cold etc.

    Just Bento is doing a free online bento-making course at the moment if anyone is interested!

    Also bentos don’t have to be Japanese, you can put whatever cuisine you like in there.

    I try to make my own lunch as much as possible, although I have access to a refrigerator so I feel comfortable bringing meats to work. Things I find that work well:

    – meatballs with tomato sauce served over quinoa or rice
    – yogurt with various fruits and/or vegetables in (for veggies, add something like baharat or za’atar or another seasoning mix that you like)
    – cottage cheese and, well, just about anything (I just really like cottage cheese okay)

    For breakfast, I mix frozen fruit, yogurt and muesli. Make it in the morning if you’re worried about food safety, because the frozen fruit keeps everything nice and cold!


      but also the dairy products in israel are absolutely beyond comparison, and i was so spoiled and now american cottage cheese only tastes “really good” as opposed to “absolute fucking perfection.”

    • Thanks a lot for sharing that link to Just Bento! I have checked out some tutorials on that before, but they were not at all on my wavelength. This one makes me feel super excited to learn the art of nutritionally balanced, sexy, compact lunches.

  6. I’m so impressed by this. In Serbia, I’m kind of having the opposite problem – basically all there is to eat here are various types of delicious pastries and things involving lots of butter, and they are insanely, ridiculously cheap. So I have some sort of buttery thing for nearly every meal. There is, surprisingly, a healthy vegetarian place near my house where I’ve been getting lunch to bring to work, but that doesn’t account for any more than 4 meals a week. And the produce is terrible here too, which unfortunately provides an additional excuse for my unhealthiness and lack of willpower. But I don’t know, maybe this will convince me to try harder.

  7. What area of Spain are you living in? I’ve lived in Madrid and Valencia (lots of grocery options). Buen provecho!!!

  8. Oh oh! Recently at the Japanese school where I work we had temakizushi for lunch; it’s another easy sushi thing, no rolling involed even! Basically you have sushi rice and small squares of nori, plus some canned tuna mixed with mayo+veggies(corn and cucumber in this case), and you just roll them up into a little cone right as you’re eating them.

  9. sushi salad option! mix the rice and chopped veggies with vinegar, sugar, and salt and add the soy sauce and crumbled nori right before you eat

  10. That bread. Never before had I felt like I could manage making delicious sounding bread, but now! Now I will try!

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