Step one: Forget the school cafeteria tuna salad of your youth. 

By Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé
April 27, 2020
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If tuna salad calls to mind soggy sandwiches with little flavor and even less texture, it’s time to revisit this easy, classic meal. With just a couple of pantry and refrigerator basics, you can make a tuna salad you’ll actually want to eat.

For vegetarians and adamant tuna-haters, a can of chickpeas is an easy substitute. Simply drain and rinse your canned chickpeas - for an extra level of texture and flavor quickly sauté them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then season with a little salt. This extra step removes that weird tin flavor from canned chickpeas, giving you a more delicious base to start with. 

Now here’s what you need to make your canned protein taste incredible. (Note: These same techniques also work with leftover chicken for chicken salad.)

Something creamy

Classic tuna salad is made from a mayonnaise base, which has a tendency to taste greasy and heavy. Combining mayonnaise with sour cream or yogurt and touch of dijon mustard gives you that creamy texture without weighing it down. For a single can of tuna, do about a tablespoon of each, stir together, then add more to your preferences.

Something salty

You can go super-simple with straight up salt, but there are plenty of other sources of salt that will add extra layers of flavor to your snack. Try chopped up capers, crumbles of feta cheese, or chopped green olives to vary the flavor and the texture, in addition to adding salt. If you’re going with straight-up salt, wait until the end to finish seasoning.

Something fresh

What do you have in your fridge? Celery? Fennel? Some dill? Mint? Parsley? Basically any kind of fresh herby item is going to be delicious in here, adding a little flavor to balance out the fishiness of the tuna and make your tuna salad feel more like a salad. Simply wash and chop whatever you have into bite-sized bits, then stir into your tuna or chickpeas.

Something crunchy

Celery and fennel fall into this category, but so do pickles—anything from a chopped up sandwich pickle to a cauliflower or spicy pickled jalapeño. Start out small, chopping whatever you’re adding into manageable pieces so the flavor is well-distributed throughout the salad.

Something acidic

Lacking acid has ruined many great dishes, but the creaminess from your base alongside the oily fish (or starchy chickpeas) give this salad a richness that benefits from a good hit of acid. A squeeze of lemon juice is a great option, but if you’re out of fresh lemons, try a drizzle of white or red wine vinegar. If you’ve added pickles or hot sauce, you may find you need less acid, which is why this is the last step. You’re adjusting the seasoning, so feel free to add salt here if you need it. Keep adding, stirring and tasting until the flavors begin to taste less muted. Serve on toast, crackers or wrapped in lettuce or enjoy by the spoonful.