Tuna salad – hold the mayo

A different take on a longtime summer favorite.

Ann Hermes

Cooks in Tuscany have long considered tuna, cannellini beans, and garlic as partners in the kitchen. This set me to wondering if a new version of tuna salad could be created using this time-honored combination of ingredients.

So I took some cannellini beans and gave them a swirl in the food processor with a bit of olive oil and garlic. Voilà! I had a creamy and savory binder for tuna salad.

I dumped this in a bowl and added tuna, chopped hard-boiled egg, onion, capers, green olives, and parsley. What a fine sandwich filling it made stuffed into a hard roll along with a handful of spinach.

Besides being a flavor booster, the cannellini beans mixed with olive oil are a stable substitute for mayonnaise. Sandwiches can be toted to school or on picnics without refrigeration being required.

Mix fresh and zesty seasonings with the starter recipe of tuna, cannellini beans, garlic, and oil, and the result is a tuna salad far superior to the mayonnaise-laden kind Americans are accustomed to.

Cannellini beans and tuna pair well with a variety of bold and pungent flavors such as cilantro, capers, olives, and fennel.

My general rule is to add something tart (such as lemon juice, lemon zest, or chutney) and something crunchy (such as celery, pickles, or red pepper), along with herbs and other pantry staples.

I've provided a few of my family's favorite variations. No doubt you'll come up with more ideas of your own.

The starter recipe can also be the basis for converting most tuna-salad recipes into richer versions. No more soggy, limp sandwiches when the time comes to unpack your brown bag or picnic basket.

Tuna Salad Starter

1 cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed well and drained at least 15 minutes (see note)

1 clove garlic, minced

1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 (6 ounce) can albacore tuna packed in water, drained well

Combine beans, garlic, and olive oil in the bowl of food processor and pulse until mixture starts to become creamy. (If beans are really soft you can mash them with a fork.)

Scrape bean mixture into a medium bowl and add tuna. Break up tuna with a fork and mix all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Use as the base for any of the recipes below.

NOTE: Great Northern or navy beans may be substituted for cannellini beans.

Tuna Salad with Boiled Egg, Capers, and Green Olives

My sister used to make a tuna salad similar to this one when I was a child. I especially liked the addition of olives.

Tuna Salad Starter (see recipe)

1 chopped, hard-boiled egg

2 tablespoons capers, drained

1/4 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon lemon zest, or to taste (see note)

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

Rolls (for serving)

Spinach leaves (for serving), optional

Add egg, capers, olives, onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, and oregano to the bowl of Tuna Salad Starter and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If desired, serve on a hard roll with spinach leaves. Serves 4 to 5.

NOTE: Remove zest from lemon, and then squeeze for juice.

Tuna-Lime Salad with Green Onion and Celery

Tuna Salad Starter (see recipe)

1/4 teaspoon lime zest

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/3 cup sliced celery

1/4 cup chopped green onion

Salt and pepper to taste

French bread or dense white bread, for serving (see note)

Add lime zest, lime juice, celery, and green onion to the bowl of tuna mixture and mix well. Add salt and pepper. Serves 4.

NOTE: Hearty, whole-wheat bread is not recommended for this combination because it overwhelms the subtle flavors.

Best choice for the environment

• Yellowfin from the US Atlantic caught by troll/pole

• Albacore from US or Canada

'OK' choice

• Canned light tuna

• Imported bigeye/yellowfin caught by troll/pole

• Canned white/albacore

Worst choice

• Bluefin tuna

• Imported bigeye/yellowfin tuna caught by long line

Source: Environmental Defense Fund (

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