Crowd-Sourced Tuna Salad

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FIRST, LET ME SAY THIS: when it comes to making tuna salad, a lot of you have lost your damn minds. And I absolutely love you for it.

I think it’s safe to say that the classic lunchbox/tearoom/diner version of tuna salad usually goes something like this: tuna, mayo, celery, sweet pickle, hard-cooked egg, maybe a little lemon juice. And we explored my favorite variations on the classic here and here.

But because I wanted to hear about your versions, I conducted an extremely casual poll, to crowd source the ultimate Tuna Salads. In all, I sent out a query four times, here and on Twitter, where Charlie Tuna got in on the action.

The main reason I ended up asking more than once was because it seemed like some of you were pranking me (or trying to kill me). 

What I mean is: I discovered from these polls that some of you put Miracle Whip in your tuna salad, which should be illegal. I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings. But this is not food snobbery—it’s science. 

The Miracle Whip thing jangled my nerves so much that while perusing the other hundreds of tuna salad formulas I received I had a bad reaction to quite a few of them. I am sorry!

For instance, some of you put canned corn in your tuna salad. My initial thought was: Get out of town. But I quickly learned that it’s a common addition among the Irish. And when another friend told me his Vietnamese dad adds corn relish to his tuna salad (and to his barbecue burgers), corn started to make more sense to me and sound rather delicious.

In fact, each time I grabbed my pearls, I almost always let them go right away.

I balked at the French’s yellow mustard more than a couple of people insisted upon. Potato chips seemed particularly extraneous. Parmesan cheese? Chili-lime seasoning? Hot sesame oil? Havarti cheese? Carrots and ginger? Cottage cheese? What the hell was going on here?

The truth is I was more upset by the lackluster suggestions (“Tuna and mayo, salt and pepper! Done!”), which I began to call the I Give Up Tuna Salad. In the opposite direction, some of you added so many extra ingredients I felt it no longer qualified as Tuna Salad. I mean, if you put pasta in it, that’s no longer tuna salad, that’s pasta salad.

But I was in the wrong, in every single instance, and here’s why: If I can ask people to open their minds about what a salad in general can be, I should be able to open my mind to what other people have decided their tuna salad is going to be. Right?

So let’s move on, because my job here is not to cast aspersions on anyone (except the makers of Miracle Whip; I will insult them until I am in the grave). It’s to get more salads into the lives of humans all over the planet.

I’m proud to report that after I got over some of my shock, I was quite intrigued. One man told me he used the oil his tuna was packed in to make homemade mayonnaise for his tuna salad! This seems both completely brilliant, and, possibly, a food safety issue. But I loved it.

And I was utterly fascinated by suggestions like this one this one with cabbage, which alarmed me at first and then drew me in. I’m going to try it.

It was by no means the only cabbage contraption. Another, which sounds quite delicious, came from Arie Knutson (“Greek yogurt + green cabbage + chives”), the features director at the great website The Kitchen. The crisp vegetable-heavy recipe, by Faith Durand, is one I’ll definitely try.

But when I wasn’t having my mind blown, I noticed that the rest of the recipes I was receiving were falling into a few clear categories, all of which I found extremely appealing: the Mediterranean Version, the Curry Version, and the Hippie Version.

So I have culled my favorite elements from those categories and added some ideas of my own to bring you the Three Nontraditional Tuna Salad Archetypes.

NOTE: I used water-packed tuna. I love oil-packed tuna. Use either!

The Curry Version

I was making this one while I was visiting my cousin Toni in Atlanta, and when she and her daughter Mariah and I tasted the final product, we quickly devoured it. It was so delicious I never got to take a photo of it, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Tuna Salad usually looks pretty awful, anyway.

Serves 4

  • 2 5-ounce cans water packed tuna, well drained

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped toasted almonds

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • Squeeze of lime

  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or a bit more depending on your taste; start small)

  • 1 1/2  tablespoons jarred chutney (I used Trader Joe’s mango ginger)

  • Pinch of salt 

  • Freshly ground pepper

In a medium size bowl, thoroughly break apart the tuna then mix in the raisins, onions, almonds and cilantro. Thoroughly mix together the remaining ingredients, add to the tuna mixture, and adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, at least.

The Mediterranean Version

Mariah and Toni both dislike/hate white beans (weirdos!), so this one was not their favorite. But for me, it’s a super-delicious, harmonious balance of strong signature flavors. Think of it as a guide; start here, and if you’d like more capers, throw a few more in. More olives? Hell, yes! But try not to get carried away. I especially like the fact that this recipe produces something fantastic just by opening cans—sometimes that’s just the thing.

Serves 4

  • 2 5-ounce cans water-packed tuna, well drained

  • 3 tablespoons chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

  • 3/4 cup drained and rinsed Cannellini beans (you may substitute chickpeas; use 1/2 cup roughly chopped)

  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (about 1, from a jar of whole peppers) 

  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped black olives (I used Kalamata)

  • 2 teaspoons basil pesto (from a jar; a bit more to taste at the end, if you like)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons capers, roughly chopped

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • Squeeze of lemon

  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

  • Salt and pepper to taste.

  • (Optional: 1/2 teaspoon crushed Calabrian chilis in oil; spicy!)

In a medium size bowl, thoroughly break apart the tuna; gently mix in the sun-dried tomatoes, beans, roasted peppers, olives, pesto, and capers. Sprinkle with the olive oil, lemon juice, and zest and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, at least.

The Hippie Version

Serves 4

This one reminds me of something we might have served at the Bluebird Cafe, where I worked as a college student in the 1980s in Athens, Georgia. Plates of tofu and stir-fried vegetables covered in nutritional yeast flew out of the kitchen, and you topped your whole wheat biscuits with a big spoonful of homemade apple butter at the table. It felt like everything I ate back then had apples, tons of parsley, and yogurt in it, and I loved it. The healthy hit of green flavor from the parsley is important; crunchiness comes from both the nuts and the apple, but some of you will want celery—so I made that optional.

  • 2 5-ounce cans water-packed tuna

  • 3/4 of a tart apple, peeled or unpeeled, and chopped (small dice)

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

  • 1/3 scant cup roughly chopped toasted almonds (I used unsalted; if you use salted adjust overall salt in recipe)

  • 1/4 cup golden raisins (you can use regular raisins; you can also use dried cranberries, but they seem to be a bigger sweet bomb)

  • 3/4 to 1 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley (I like a lot)

  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • squeeze of lemon or lime 

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • touch of honey, if desired

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • freshly ground black pepper

  1. There’s no need to be prissy about this: break up the tuna in a large bowl; add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, at least. Overnight is best.

  2. But here are prissy instructions: combine the broken-down tuna with the apple onion, almonds, raisins, parsley, and celery in a large bowl. In a separate bowl mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over the tuna mixture, stirring well to combine.

  3. Either way you do it, taste it after you’re finished and adjust the seasonings; if it needs a little more lemon/lime or mustard, add a bit of that. Very adjustable! Refrigerate for a couple of hours, at least.

That’s it! We’re finished here. Midweek, for our paid subscribers, we’ll have another crowd-sourcing experiment, so start thinking about nostalgia or restaurant salads you wish you had the recipe for! We’ll do an open thread and eventually an entire newsletter based on some of your desires/requests. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share the Department of Salad: Official Bulletin with your friends and loved ones who deserve it.

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