Now that spring has finally arrived in Poughkeepsie, there is only one thing on my mind: picnics.
Where I grew up in Cranbury, N.J., picnics were an age-related ritual. When you reached a certain age, you suddenly had the right to picnic in a certain location. The most desirable picnic location was in the gazebo, but that location was only accessible after years of picnicking on the dock on Brainerd Lake, in the graveyard, in a cornfield, in the three parks and in your best friends’ backyards (if you have not already guessed, Cranbury is a ridiculously small town with no attractions).
For me, the first picnic of the season is a highly anticipated event that involves slathering on layers of sunscreen, trying to avoid getting various insect bites and making an absurd amount of food. Unfortunately, I have not yet picnicked at Vassar this semester, but when I do, I will certainly be making a tuna salad.
Tuna salad is a picnic staple. It is good with chips, in a sandwich or simply by itself with a spoon . However, my tuna salad has been absent from my picnic repertoire since I stopped consuming fish. But, six months ago, as I was flipping through a cookbook, I discovered that chickpeas apparently serve as a great substitute for tuna.
If you are confused by this substitution, I was initially right there with you. After reading the mock tuna salad recipe I chose not to make it for two months, even though the recipe photo made my mouth water. It was not until I was eating chickpeas in a different recipe that I noticed that these beans do indeed have a remarkably fishy taste.
So one day in my SoCo kitchen I set out to make a mock tuna salad. Halfway through the recipe, I realized that I was supposed to add both fresh dill and dill pickles. While dill is not my favorite herb, I do use it occasionally, but pickles, on the other hand, are a fear of mine. Just watching someone eat a pickle is enough to send me fleeing from a room.
At this point in the recipe process, I am cursing myself because I did not fully read the ingredients list before starting, but I decided to continue with the recipe by just omitting both the dill and the pickle. The final product was incredibly bland, and the taste of vegenaise, a vegan mayonnaise alternative, dominated the salad. I tried to salvage the recipe by any means thinkable, but everything failed. For the next three days, I unhappily ate the leftovers for lunch. With my first attempt a failure, I feared that maybe mock tuna and I were not going to happen.
However, while at home over spring break, a trip to my happy place, also known as Whole Foods, finally gave me a much needed push in the right direction. I was picking up a new bottle of Sriracha when I noticed a couple shelves above a little container of kelp granules. The packaging claimed that the granules imparted the flavors of the sea—it even has a picture of the ocean on the bottle—and since it was inexpensive, I decided to give it a try.
As a result of my impulsive decision to buy kelp, I now have a mock tuna salad recipe that I look forward to making, because it is simple, versatile and tastes amazing. My favorite way to eat the salad is as a sandwich with extra mustard, sliced tomatoes, sprouts and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds to add a crunch element. The next time you are dining al fresco, consider packing this easy mock tuna salad to share with your friends.
Directions (Makes four mock tuna sandwiches)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2 stalks celery and 2 green onions, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp vegenaise
1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1.5-2 tsp. kelp granules
1. Smash with fork or pulse with food processor until almost no whole chickpeas remain.
2. Mix in prepped veggies plus vegenaise and mustard with the chickpeas until combined.
3. Season to taste with kelp, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
4. Serve as a sandwich, with a side of chips, or dig in with a spoon!