Like many of you, I have probably for most of my life made tuna salad pretty much like my mother did. A can of tuna, a few spoons of mayo, one chopped hard cooked egg, a little onion, pickle and celery and — Fanny’s your aunt — hot weather lunch was served with little or no stove time. Over the years, though, as my cooking developed, so did my tuna salad. One year I was shocked to see that a happy little bit of lemon zest had slipped into the mixing bowl by “mistake.” Whoa! Another time a dab of perky horseradish became a sudden, but happy addition. Soon, though not always, cucumbers/fennel/carrots/bell peppers joined the party along with a good healthy spoonful of Dijon-style mustard, cornichons leftover from a wine and cheese event I catered, and —wait for it — a big splash of red wine vinegar. The biggest change was the consistent use of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, along with the occasional herbs, no matter what else I dumped in. Why didn’t I ever season my tuna salad before? (Mom, you didn’t tell me.) Of course I often ate it on toast, but sometimes I went with the old school ladies’ lunch counter lower-carb style: spooned into the middle of a quartered tomato, hopefully ripe. Other weeks, I thinned it out and ate it scooped up with potato chips or Triscuits (HELLO, TUNA DIP!!) — Triscuits being one of my most unknown addictions. (The rye were the best, but they discontinued them–sob, sob. Now I’m even more stuck on the organic thin variety. Try them and see. Nope, I’m not on Nabisco’s payroll.) After a while, my tuna salad was never the same twice in a row. Who knew what would happen next to my trusty, inexpensive summer fun food? And, by the way, how did we come to eat so much tuna fish??
I do believe this: People, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you can call up when you’re in deep distress.* If you’re dying, they will comfort you. *If you are lonely, they’ll talk to you.* And if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad.Garrison Keillor on Methodists
There is perhaps nothing as comforting as a tuna sandwich. With potato chips, please. Even if I’m Presbyterian and not Methodist. (Unless I’ve done the stuffed tomato and saltines thing, that is. Or even if I did.) Maybe it’s because so many folks have stirred up this homey dish for so many Saturday lunches over the years. Dinners, too. (I have to admit here that while I LIKE tuna salad, my sister Helen could live on it and my husband would eat it 3 times a week with nary a complaint.) Kids just leaving home with few cooking skills have no problem whipping up a bowl of inexpensive tuna salad to fill their tummies because it’s easy. Young parents, wondering what in the world to feed their kiddos now that they all want to eat 365 days a year, turn to a short list of favorite sandwiches for quick meals. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Grilled Cheese. Turkey. BLTs. Egg Salad. Fried Egg. And. Yes, you guessed it: Tuna Salad.
Well, we all know you could shove it in with a fork as is; spread it onto a sandwich (served hot or cold); stuff it into vegetables such as tomatoes or bell peppers; or spoon it into a big bowl of cooked pasta or rice to stretch that baby and feed a bunch more people. Already your mind is picking out the ways YOU do NOT eat your tuna salad. I know. That’s the way it is. It’s a very personal thing. I’m here to bend your spoon a little with a few ideas outside the breadbox, so to speak. You might not even make tuna salad, per se, because canned tuna (fresh tuna is another post, heh) can do one whole heck of a lot of things besides get stirred up with a little Hellman’s. (I include a few ideas here from More Time–scroll way down.) Ok, Miracle Whip. No, it must be Duke’s? Homemade, you think? Whatever. That’s one discussion I’m skipping. Read this and weep:
BELOW: What if you made your TUNA salad, but used it as a base for a Tuna BLT? (My friend Linda Ditch says egg salad is good, too. I have to try that!)
Oil or Water? Tuna packed in oil is typically considered tastier than tuna packed in water, but you make that call. What you might not think of is adding some of the liquid from the can to your salad. There’s flavor there.
Just consider nudging your very own tuna salad in a tiny new direction. See what ya think. What about different bread or crackers or greens/other vegetables? A “tuna melt” on a bun, wrapped in foil and heated in the oven or on the grill? Peruse the top graphic on this post, UPPING YOUR TUNA SALAD GAME, and let your mind run, ok, not wild — but you get the idea. What about about tweaking Dad’s tuna salad by adding a little lemon zest? Upgrading grandma’s favorite with a few pickled vegetables ? Take the kids’ most-loved recipe and stir in toasted chopped almonds and diced fresh apple or raisins. There is no end to what you might accomplish here. The ocean’s your limit! You could create a whole new tuna salad every time for the next couple of months and come up with a new favorite — or a few favorites. Here are a few easy ways to ramp up your own (or my) basic version with small changes and/or additions. Don’t forget to add a little of something new and do a taste test before throwing in the whole kit and caboodle. I include suggestions for bread or other accompaniments just for fun.
- CHEESY TUNA: Basic tuna salad PLUS extra sharp Cheddar cut into tiny cubes, a good spoonful of spicy mustard, and a shake or two of hot sauce on sourdough bread or hamburger/hotdog buns. (You could also try adding cottage cheese.)
- PERKY TUNA: Basic tuna salad with a little less mayo PLUS a little olive oil and red wine vinegar; minced pepperoncini; and a little nice pinch of crushed red pepper on baguette.
- SMOKY TUNA: Basic tuna salad PLUS chopped bacon or minced ham. Serve with sliced ripe, seasoned tomatoes, greens, and a dollop of mayo on rye bread.
- HERBY TUNA: Basic tuna salad PLUS a tablespoon or two of minced fresh herbs (1/2 that amount if using dry herbs). Think parsley, dill, basil, cilantro…on pumpernickel or onion rolls.
- SUE’S TUNA: Basic tuna salad — skip the pickle and add chopped pickled jalapeños. Serve it on greens or with pretzel rolls.
- LOW FAT TUNA: Cut way back on the mayo (or use Miracle Whip) and add plain Greek Yogurt to taste —or use only plain Greek yogurt. Spoon it onto whole grain crackers. You may need to add a bunch of other things to help it along. (Lemon juice? More salt? Vinegar?)
- AVOCADO TUNA: Just a tiny bit of yogurt or mayo. Use smashed avocado instead. Healthy, fiber-full tuna, here we come! Add some tortilla chips to the plate or put it in a wrap.
- HIGHER PROTEIN TUNA: Stir in some canned and drained white (or other) beans. Taste and season/add more mayo or olive oil. Skip bread since you’ve got beans. Serve with some fresh veggies.
- DANIEL BOULUD HOMEMADE MAYO TUNA: Make your own tuna salad, but make your mayo, too. This is the only mayo I make at home and it’s not “light” as we think of “light.” There’s a cup of peanut oil in this baby, but it lets you know what mayo should taste like. If you have leftover mayo, spoon it on top of a green salad or grilled salmon. Use it as a dip for fresh veggies. Eat it off a spoon right out of the fridge. Add this version to a bed of sliced ripe, seasoned tomatoes and sliced crispy cucumbers.
- Try my Tuna Salad Quesadillas instead of a tuna melt. Kids (and adults) love them! Post needs new photos and a recipe, but you’ll get the gist of it.
- SALMON SALAD: Get your salmon in easily and more cheaply using canned salmon for any of the ideas in today’s post. We always think of salmon in terms of its ease of preparation, fine protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins, but it’s sky high in calcium, too, which is a critical nutrient for bone health.
Want to go big? Scroll down a little to TIPS and check out French, Italian, Mexican, and other versions you could consider, try, or riff on. Scroll down more and check out a bunch of other fun ideas from More Time at the Table for using canned tuna. Easy way to cut your grocery bill and to cook from your pantry.
TUNA TIPS, RECIPES, AND MORE:
This is my current favorite tuna: Wild Planet Foods: Sustainable & Healthy Canned Seafood/WILDPLANETFOODS
A FEW OLDER AND NEWER FAVORITE CANNED TUNA RECIPES FROM MORE TIME AT THE TABLE:
SKILLET LENTILS + TUNA:
TUNA STEW ON CHEDDAR DILL BISCUITS: Recipe here
HOT TUNA STUFFED PEPPERS:
TUNA MELT WITH SRIRACHA THOUSAND ISLAND:
Thanks to my good friend Roberta Kagin for the quote from Garrison Keillor and for passing on the suggestion for Curried Tuna Salad from our mutual friend Jan Ekern. When I directed a Methodist choir for a couple of years (they let me in even if I am Presbyterian), Roberta was our organist and Jan was one of our fine sopranos! So good to have friends.
LIFE GOES ON:
BELOW: The monarch butterfly is back at our milkweed. Sigh of happiness!
BELOW: If you don’t live in the west with our omnipresent fire danger, the following video won’t mean much. For those of you who live at altitude or anywhere in the western US, you’re feeling as we do–like opening a bottle of Champagne:
BELOW: Pike’s Peak with cloud shadows at the top, but no snow at all. There’s a brief window of time each summer that the mountain is mostly snow-free and we treasure that moment. It could end next weekend when rain is scheduled for Colorado Springs, but snow could reach “The Peak,” as we call it. We’ll see.
Summer on, my friends. Cook or just throw together cool stuff! Here in Colorado, we’ll blink into August and the weather will begin slowly turning. We’ve even had snow here in town in August a few times. Mostly, though, the summer will slowly ease on out without the edge of heat we’ve come to live with in July. The smoke will hopefully abate (please, God) and we’ll be starting to think about defrosting the freezer before snow flies, all the while enjoying more dinners from the grill or the cutting board.
You are precious to me and I’m grateful you stop in to read what I’m dreaming about,