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School lunches packed with flavor

It doesn't have to be the same-old PBJ; try these ethnic recipes on for size

August 28, 2012|By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun

3/4 cup queso fresco or cotija cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons canola oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the shredded chicken with the crumbled cheese until evenly mixed.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a medium saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Fry the tortillas in the oil, one at a time, for 2-3 seconds per side. When done, place each tortilla on the foil-lined baking sheet, making two rows of four.

Evenly divide the chicken and cheese mixture between the tortillas, placing the mixture in a vertical line down the center of each tortilla.

Roll the tortillas tightly, placing them seam-down on the sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the flautas are crispy and a golden brown color.

Let cool before packing for lunch. Send with salsa or guacamole for dipping.

Lamb and potato dolma

These easy-to-eat roll-ups, developed by Whole Foods, are fun. Plus, they're full of flavor and nutrients — especially when paired with Greek yogurt for dipping.

Makes: 6-8 servings

1 pound ground lamb

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup dried currants

1 tablespoon chopped oregano

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large red potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and chopped

2 bunches chard, thick stems trimmed

Brown lamb in a large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully tip the skillet to pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat that has accumulated in the pan. Return to heat, add onion and salt and cook until onions are soft and golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes more. Lower heat to medium and stir in currants, oregano, garlic, potatoes and 3 tablespoons water. Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes more. Remove from heat and mash potato into lamb mixture with a fork. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, add chard leaves a few at a time, stirring gently until wilted and just tender, about 30 seconds. Carefully transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and pat dry. Spoon some of the lamb mixture into the center of each chard leaf and roll up snugly, tucking in the ends. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Courtesy of Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic

California rolls

Rolling sushi at home sounds daunting, but it doesn't have to be. This recipe is simple, straightforward, and lunchbox-friendly.

Makes: 4 servings

4 sheets toasted nori sea vegetable (seaweed, available at specialty stores and many grocery stores), cut into 5-by-8-inch pieces

3/4 cup cooked jasmine rice

1/8 cup wasabi mixed with enough water to make a paste (optional)

1/2 cup crab meat, cooked and chilled

1/2 cup shredded cucumber

4 slices avocado

4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Place one nori sheet on a flat surface with shiny side down and coarse side up. Place rice 1/2 inch from the bottom, 2 inches from the top, 1/2 inch thick and completely covering nori from side to side.

If using, spread some wasabi paste across the center of rice, from side to side. Spread crab, cucumber and sesame seeds across wasabi.

Fold bottom of nori toward the center, just so the ingredients are covered. Roll. Seal the roll by placing 4 grains of rice along the top edge of the nori and press together.

Slice roll into 4 pieces.

Adapted from recipe by Whole Foods Market Mid-Atlantic

Get packing

There's more to international cuisines than just great flavor. Get creative with ethnic-inspired packaging, too.

In India, office workers eat lunches packed in stackable containers called tiffin tins. The lunches are packed at home but delivered to offices by couriers called dabba wallas, who use a complex but highly effective system of organization to get the tins to their destinations. Happy Tiffin (www.happytiffin.com) sells tiffin tins in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Japanese bento boxes are rectangular boxes in which meals are elegantly, and tightly, organized. Bento boxes traditionally contain rice, fish or meat and pickled or cooked vegetables. However, some parents use the boxes to creatively pack traditional American lunches, like sandwiches and fruit. Check out Wendy Copley's blog (www.wendolonia.com) for inspiration.

Just Bento (www.justbento.com) carries a large selection of bento boxes.

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