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.
September 13, 2013
1 of 18Photo: Oxmoor House
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.