Lighter American Lunches

Lunch can be one of the more exciting meals of the day if you break out of your routine. The recipes here—some old-school lunch counter favorites mixed with more contemporary options—reflect the American mixing bowl of flavors and cultures.

Philly Cheesesteak

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Lighten Up, Lunch!

Don't let lunch become a sad, boring afterthought. These sandwiches, soups, and salads from across the country will take your midday meal for a tasty jaunt.

First stop: the classic Philly Cheesesteak.

It’s meaty, gooey, and delightfully messy—but eating it shouldn’t make you tip the scale in the wrong direction. Keep the Philly in check by using equal parts portobello mushrooms and steak.

View Recipe:  Philly Cheesesteak

Learn the History of the Philly Cheesesteak

Gyros

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Gyros

Widely served in Greek communities across America in the 1970s, gyros have since become a beloved grab-and-go lunch. This homemade variation starts with a loaf of ground lamb and beef. The meat is broiled, thinly sliced, and then tucked into pitas with a lightened-up yogurt sauce.

View Recipe:  Gyros

Waldorf Salad

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Waldorf Salad

There are, of course, many variations on this American classic. This recipe is dressed with a combination of fat-free Greek yogurt and light mayonnaise. Some liberties are taken with the ingredients, adding matchstick-sized pieces of celery root and a bed of mildly peppery arugula.

View Recipe: Waldorf Salad

Bánh Mì

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Bánh Mì

Although the bánh mì may have originated in the markets of Saigon, in bigger cities in the U.S. it is now as much of an American lunchtime staple as the burrito or panini. There are as many variations of the bánh mì as there are cooks who make it. This version combines pork, cucumber, and a pickled slaw of radish, carrot, and onion. 

View Recipe:  Bánh Mì

Reuben Sandwich

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Reuben Sandwich

Some people assume the Reuben was created by the owner of Reuben’s Restaurant, a celebrity hot spot in New York City where the sandwich was popular. But the truth is that it was invented by Reuben Kulakofsky in Omaha, Nebraska, as a late-night snack for poker-playing friends.

View Recipe: Reuben Sandwich

Chimichurri Fish Tacos

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Chimichurri Fish Tacos

In Southern California, fish tacos often feature fillets that are grilled and then flaked into pieces, rather than breaded and fried as in other regional preparations. We prefer grilling—it saves about half the calories and delivers a fresher fish flavor. If wild-caught Alaskan halibut is not available, substitute striped bass or U.S. line-caught cod.

View Recipe:  Chimichurri Fish Tacos

Grilled Vegetable Caprese with Pesto

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Grilled Vegetable Caprese with Pesto

The original Caprese salad consists of mozzarella, tomato, and basil, but our take adds grilled vegetables and homemade pesto for a hearty twist.

View Recipe: Grilled Vegetable Caprese with Pesto

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

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Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

This sandwich is about half the size of the original, because it uses a pork tenderloin rather than the larger cut of pork loin. It is pan-fried instead of deep-fried, but offers the same whole-hearted flavor that has made this sandwich an Iowan classic.

View Recipe:  Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

She-Crab Soup

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She-Crab Soup

This Carolina lowcountry soup gets its name from the generous dollop of crab roe that customarily garnishes the top. Crab roe is available in season (May–August), but this creamy soup is just as delicious without it.

View Recipe: She-Crab Soup

See More of America's Favorite Soups

B.L.A.S.T. Sandwich

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B.L.A.S.T. Sandwich

Classic tomato and mayo win a delicious bronze. Bacon, lettuce, and tomato are a strong silver. But combine bacon, lettuce, avocado, and sweet tomato, and the sandwich becomes a bona fide blue-ribbon winner.

View Recipe:  B.L.A.S.T. Sandwich

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

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Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

Just like Mom used to make, only better. Because the soup doesn’t come out of a can, you can control the sodium. Keep the sandwich old-school with American cheese.

View Recipe: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

Shrimp Po'Boy

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Shrimp Po'Boy

Seasonal gulf shrimp is a natural for this classic New Orleans sandwich. Oysters are another traditional ingredient and often the locals’ choice.

View Recipe: Shrimp Po'Boy

Kentucky Hot Brown

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Kentucky Hot Brown

Hailing from The Brown Hotel in Louisville, this dish was created during the roaring ’20s as a wee-hours-of-the-morning, post-dancing snack. In this lightened version, We've kept the bacon, thick toast, and cheese sauce, which will surely put a smile on your face, any time of the day or night.

View Recipe:  Kentucky Hot Brown

Cobb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

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Cobb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

The fresh herbs in the Green Goddess dressing add another dimension of flavor to this classic lunch salad.

View Recipe: Cobb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing

View Recipe: Green Goddess Dressing

Lobster Rolls

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Lobster Rolls

The key to a perfect lobster roll is to do as little as possible to the lobster meat itself. Have your grocer or fishmonger steam the lobsters for you—most will do it free of charge.

View Recipe: Lobster Rolls

Grinder

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Grinder

The grinder is a specialty served at the Iowa State Fair, home to some of the nation’s richest and most waist-expanding treats. Still a hefty meal-in-one, this rendition takes a lighter approach. We cut the size in half (always a good place to start) and substituted fresh mushrooms for some of the fatty meat.

View Recipe:  Grinder

Shrimp Burger

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Shrimp Burger

This recipe was adapted from Barbara Esposito’s low-fat version of a menu favorite at Provision Company in North Carolina.

View Recipe: Shrimp Burger

Creamy Dandelion Soup

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Creamy Dandelion Soup

Dandelion greens are best during the spring, when the small pale green leaves are most tender. If you can’t find them, substitute an equal amount of any other bitter green. Broccoli rabe is a favorite, but beet greens, arugula, watercress, or baby spinach can also be substituted.

View Recipe: Creamy Dandelion Soup

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