It’s as easy as one, two, three (cans)!
Canned food
Credit: Getty / CatLane

Spring is a great season, but it's a struggle one in my kitchen. Here's the problem: I'm trying to spring-clean all those winter stockpile canned goods in my pantry, but those items tend to lend themselves to heavier food like soups and stews. I want to be eating lighter, springlike meals. 

Then, I realized I could create a pantry-cleaning, canned-good-loving, spring dish: what I like to call my pantry orphan salad. 

What is a pantry orphan salad and why is it so great?

A combination of canned vegetables and beans with canned tuna and a bright, simple vinaigrette, my pantry orphan salad makes for an easy lunch or light supper with minimal effort and maximum flavor. You can make a batch with 3 cans that will be a hearty lunch or supper for one, or multiply the cans to make a meal for your family. You can serve the salad as is, or over chopped lettuce or other greens to extend it even further.

How to make pantry orphan salad

Start with 1 can of any beans, drained. Add 1 can of tuna, preferably one canned in olive oil. Add 1-2 cans of vegetable (my favorites are artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, petite peas, sweet corn niblets, carrots, and diced tomatoes). Be sure to drain all your ingredients well before adding to your salad.

Next, make a simple dressing with 1 part vinegar or citrus juice to 3 parts oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Add any herbs, spices, or other flavorings you like to your dressing. For every 3 cans of ingredients, you will want ¼ cup of dressing. (You can always make a larger batch of dressing and use it on other salads later.)

Now you can customize if you're in the mood. Here are some easy combos I like to do, depending on what I have around: 

  • If I have black beans and canned corn, I might go a bit Southwestern, with a lime dressing enlivened with a pinch of cumin.
  • If I have white beans and canned hearts of palm, I might think a bit Provençal, adding other pantry heroes like olives and capers, and maybe an anchovy Dijon dressing.
  • Canned diced tomatoes, chickpeas, and canned artichoke hearts will send me in a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern direction, and I might sneak a bit of harissa paste into a white wine vinaigrette.

While these simple salads are great as is, consider checking your fridge for anything else you might have to perk them up. Sliced hard-boiled egg, crumbled or grated cheeses, and chopped fresh herbs are all wonderful additions. You can also use up leftover cooked rice, pasta, or potatoes. Finally, think about serving this salad on top of a large slab of toasted sourdough bread for an open-faced tartine-style sandwich.

Best yet? These salads can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to four days, making them terrific to make on a Sunday for easy lunches during the week.