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Candice Kumai’s weekday lunch recipes will energize you until dinner

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Photo: Candice Kumai

This January, as part of Well+Good’s (Re)New Year, famed classically trained, plant-based chef Candice Kumai is providing five weeks of healthy recipes to help not only transform your eating habits, but set you up for year-long success. Last week, she curated a slate of recipes specifically to clean your gut. This week, it’s all about power and energy—AKA meals that are as packed with protein as they are flavor. 

No one is a stranger to the 4 p.m. work slump. And 4 p.m. is generous—sometimes it hits much earlier in the day. Sure, you can get through it with matcha or handfuls of nuts, but wouldn’t it be great if you just never had to deal with it in the first place? That’s exactly where these weekday lunch recipes come in.

Instead of carb-based lunches that can make you want to take an afternoon nap, Candice Kumai goes heavy on protein sources like edamame, hummus, tofu, and salads spruced up with squash, Brussels sprouts, and pear. As much as everyone loves a good Caesar, it’s time to switch it up. Get ready to transform your lunch routine.

Your snack drawer is going to get awfully dusty.

Scroll down for a week’s worth of power lunches from Candice Kumai.

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Photo: Candice Kumai

Monday: Smoked tofu & edamame bites

Serves 2 (16 bites)

For the marinade
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup reduced-sodium Tamari soy sauce
1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
1 tsp smoked paprika

For the tofu
*You may also use regular savory tofu, if you do not have an at-home smoker
1 block firm tofu, preferably organic, halved
Hickory or cedar wood chips

For the edamame hummus
2 cups shelled edamame
1 Tbsp tahini paste
1 Tbsp reduced-sodium Tamari soy sauce
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 toasted slices whole wheat bread

To make the marinade:
1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the marinade.

To make the tofu:
1. Wrap the tofu in paper towels and press firmly to remove excess moisture.

2. Place the tofu in the marinade bowl, ensuring that it is completely submerged. Marinate for at least three hours, or overnight.

3. Remove the tofu from the marinade and slice each half in half, creating quarters of tofu.

4. Assemble a stove top smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Place the wood chips in the base of the smoker. Arrange the tofu on a rack and smoke it over medium heat for one hour. Set aside to cool.

To make the hummus:
1. Combine all the hummus ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

To assemble the bites:
1. Slice the smoked tofu into approximately one  to one-and-a-half-inch pieces. Spread one tablespoon of edamame hummus on each slice of bread. Lay two slices of tofu on four slices of the bread, and cover with the remaining four slices.

2. Cut the sandwiches into quarters, using a serrated knife to trim off the crusts, if desired.

Candice Kumai roasted tomatoes
Photo: Candice Kumai

Tuesday: Roasted tomatoes with barley

Serves 2

For the roasted tomatoes
1 cup cherry tomatoes on the vine
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup barley, quinoa, farro, or your choice of grain
3 cups water
1 cup mizuna, dandelion greens, or arugula
1/2 cup thinly shaved fennel
1 Tbsp cheese or vegan cheese of your choice

For the dijon vinaigrette
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

To make the roasted tomatoes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the tomatoes on the vine in a 13-inch-x 9-inch roasting pan. Coat with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast for 45 minutes.

2. While the tomatoes are in the oven, begin to cook the barley. Put the water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook the barley until it is fully cooked and slightly firm to the tooth.

To make the dijon vinaigrette:
1. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

2. In a large salad bowl, combine the cooked barley, greens, and fennel. Toss gently with half of the vinaigrette. Place in a large serving bowl.

3. Serve the salad topped with the roasted tomatoes on the vine and crumbled chèvre. Serve with additional vinaigrette as needed.

Candice Kumai squash salad
Photo: Candice Kumai

Wednesday: Roasted kabocha squash salad

If you’ve been following along, you’ll already have whipped this one up for dinner on Monday, so all you have to do is get the leftovers out of the fridge!

Serves 3

For the salad
1/2 kabocha squash, halved, quartered and thinly sliced into 1/2-inch moons
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup curly kale leaves, tough stems removed, finely chopped
1/2 Honeycrisp or Fuji apple, cored and sliced into 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup raw pepitas

For the apple cider vinaigrette
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp manuka honey

For the salad:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 ̊F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the olive oil until well coated. Spread the squash out in an even layer across the baking sheet, making sure each piece is touching the surface of the pan to ensure even browning. Sprinkle with the sea salt. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, then flip the squash and roast for another 20 minutes on the opposite sides. When the squash is fork-tender, remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

For the apple cider vinaigrette:
1. In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients together for the vinaigrette.

2. Add the apple cider vinaigrette, quinoa, and kale to a large bowl and toss gently to coat. Add the slightly cooled squash, apple slices, and pepitas to finish. Toss well to coat and serve immediately at room temperature.

Photo: Candice Kumai

Thursday: Brussels sprouts salad

Serves 2

For the salad
1 1/4 lb Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cored, halved, and thinly sliced Bartlett pear
1/4 cup raw walnut pieces
1 Tbsp cheese or vegan cheese of your choice

For the honey mustard dressing
1 tsp manuka honey
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt

For the salad:
1. Wash the Brussels sprouts and pat dry.

2. Thinly slice the sprouts on a mandoline to a thickness of one-eighth inch. If you do not have a mandoline, use a sharp knife.

For the honey mustard dressing:
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, and salt.

2. Add the sliced Brussels sprouts and toss to coat with the dressing.

3. Add the pear slices, walnuts, and cheese. Serve immediately.

Candice Kumai tofu salad
Photo: Candice Kumai

Friday: Tofu and curry greens salad

For the salad
6-7 oz baked savory organic tofu, cubed
3 celery stalks with leaves, leaves reserved, stalks finely diced
1/4 red onion, finely diced
2 3/4 cups lacinato kale leaves, finely shredded, or mizuna leaves, torn
1/4 cup dried cranberries 
1/4 cup raw walnuts, crushed
1⁄8 tsp sea salt (optional)

For the curry dressing
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil mayonnaise
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp curry powder

1. First, make the dressing: In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and curry powder until well combined.

2. Add the cubed tofu and toss in dressing to coat.

3. Fold diced celery, red onion, and kale into the curry tofu mixture. Add in the dried cranberries, walnuts, and sea salt, if using. Top with the reserved celery leaves and serve.

Round out your (Re)New Year with more amazing tips, including how to sustain your habits year-round.