Tuna Salad Three Ways

Like so many culinary “aha” moments, the idea for the base of this recipe came to me during what I like to call a “college kitchen” day. I needed something for lunch but hadn’t gone grocery shopping in more than a week. My ingredient options were either in can form or sitting in the freezer in unmarked plastic bags (with an ominous layer of ice, I might add).

I opted out of rediscovering the frozen tundra of past cooking adventures and stood in the pantry, staring at the shelves, willing something to jump into my hands and reveal a brilliant plan. After several scans, I settled on a can of garbanzo beans, thinking I’d whip up some hummus. Then I remembered our food processor went kaput earlier that week. Drat.

Undeterred, I decided it was nothing my good ol’ potato masher couldn’t handle, so I set to work draining the beans and adding some salt, pepper, garlic powder and olive oil to get things going. About halfway through the mashing process, I realized I had the beginning of tuna salad. The texture was spot-on: a mix between mushy and half-mashed beans. It didn’t quite taste like tuna, but it sure was tasty. Besides, at that point, my arms were tired and my stomach was growling so loud it could’ve been my dog barking at the mailman.

I went to the fridge for bread, finding only the two butts left in the bag (Note to self: Butt-less bread would surely be the next thing since sliced.). I spread my bean mixture on top and called it lunchtime. Perhaps not one of my finer culinary moments, but I was satiated. And I’ve been playing with ways to tweak these beans into tuna-like submission ever since.

The first half of the solution came with the addition of cannellini beans. A bit softer than garbanzos, cannellinis provide a creamier texture, so I don’t have to mash up the mixture as much. The second half, much like fish, came from the sea. Used in small doses, kelp powder gave my tuna salad that slightly “fishy” flavor it’d been missing, especially when combined with black pepper and onion. Throw in some celery, a little mayo and some pickle relish, and it was just like mom used to make.

Problem is, my mom isn’t the only one who made tuna salad. Like many Vegetize It columns before, I was faced with a classic, somewhat nostalgic dish that could benefit from any number of add-ins. So I shot for the moon and ended up with three I couldn’t choose between: a classic combination, a Mediterranean-inspired version and one that touts the flavors of wine country. All of them taste wonderful on toasted sourdough rye. Pick up a loaf at Black Bear Bakery on Cherokee Street.