meatless mondays (sorta): curried tuna salad ( a bite)

Tuna is not technically the best food to choose for Meatless Mondays.

So sue me.

Seriously. This girl cannot live on vegetables alone. Besides, I started this Meatless Mondays series to document ideas for my Friday LENTEN meals and for Catholics, Lent means no meat as in no moo-moo's here, bok-bok's there, here an oink, there an oink -- well you get the picture. Fish is definitely on the Lenten menu though. 

Fridays during Lent when I was young meant fresh beans, Mexican rice and fresh homemade flour tortillas or it was breakfast for dinner (still a favorite midweek meal!) or it was tuna. And if Dad got home early enough to cook, it would be tuna patties and potato patties and those patties swam in ranchero sauce. Yes. Fond foodie memories here.

A tale of two tunas

I've always made my tuna salad like my family made it: cilantro, onions, tomatoes, celery, pickles, black olives, chopped iceberg lettuce, mayo and mustard. The only difference I've made to the recipe is that I like solid white albacore in water and my folks use chunk light in oil.

The first time I saw my Auntie eating her tuna salad, she was spreading it on a store bought tostada shell. The salad was a mustard yellow, smelled more like curry than tuna and the crunch from the tostada every time she took a bite made me want to taste. It was like nothing I had ever had before and it's become a new favorite. Her tuna salad has lots of protein both from the tuna and the addition of bulgar wheat. It also has pepitas and sunflower seeds which are a nice surprise.

When I was brainstorming ideas for this Meatless Monday series, I casually tossed her tuna salad into the mix to see how she'd react.

She paused, looked at me, and asked, "What will you call it?" 

"Syl's Tuna Salad" 

"Well, OK then."

A pinch of this and a dash of that

We are a family of intuitive cooks. We taste while we're cooking and adjust on the fly. Why do I bring this up? Because like every other time I try to get a recipe from a family member, it's a list of ingredients. Quantity? A sprinkle, a dash, a pinch, a heaping tablespoon, about a cup (and that's usually a tea cup -- or mug -- and not necessarily a measuring cup). Makes writing family recipes a challenge.

I should talk. I do the same thing. Unless I'm creating a dish that I plan to share here with you. Then it's carefully measured and chronicled and tested more than a few times to make sure the measurements were spot on and the results repeatable.

Auntie told me the dressing she uses is actually my father's version ofJack in the Box's "secret sauce" that used to dress their Bonus Jack's (discontinued years ago and recently brought back but I believe it was for a limited time). I remember him making it when I lived at home but I never paid attention. So I was happy to learn it. My dad's version calls for equal parts: mayonnaise, yellow mustard, ketchup and sweet relish with a bit of Worcestershire sauce. Auntie doesn't like how sweet the ketchup and the sweet relish makes it so she drastically reduces the ketchup and uses dill relish in place of the sweet relish. It's a great sauce to have on hand for sandwiches. We've even dipped french fries in it and I've put it on a salad. It's similar in taste to Thousand Island dressing just more mustardy.

Bulgar wheat is not all created equal. First time I got it, I picked it up at Fresh & Easy, which is what I have pictured above. On average, it's roughly the same size as long grain brown rice. It was heavenly. When I ran out, I happened to be at Sprouts and bought it from their bulk area. Theirs is finer, more the size of couscous and it doesn't come out like rice at all. I'd use that one if I were baking but as a side dish/rice stand-in, go for the coarser grind.
One of the best investments I ever made were two restaurant grade rimmed baking sheets. They're great for cooling (like above) or baking, roasting, catching messes when drizzling chocolate onto anything and a must have for food photo shoots to organize condiments, garnishes and tools of the trade. I tossed my cheaper, easily warped and rusting Walmart pans away the moment I brought these new babies home. 

Without further ado… Here it is:

Auntie Syl's Curried Tuna Salad
with Pepitas and Sunflower Seeds on Ciabatta

Serves 6

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup bulgar wheat (medium to coarse variety; see photo caption)
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon Maggi or Knorr's chicken bouillon
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter

6 tablespoons mayonaise
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ketchup
2 tablespoons dill relish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper to taste

10 ounces drained albacore (2 small cans in water not oil)
1/4 cup finely chopped radish (about 1 large radish)
1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped black olives
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickles
1 cup cooked curried bulgar wheat, cooled
1/4 cup salted pepitas
1/4 cup salted sunflower seeds
prepared dressing
kosher salt to taste

6 Ciabatta rolls
6 leaves green or red leaf lettuce

Maggi on the left is the 
brand of chicken bouillon that 
my grandmother uses.
My folks use Knorr which 

is what I use have mostly used.
To make the bulgar wheat: Add the chicken stock, curry powder, onion powder, bouillon and some freshly ground black pepper to small saucepan (you want one with a tight-fitting lid) on medium heat. Stir and let warm for a minute or two. Taste broth and adjust seasonings to taste. Add butter. Turn heat to high and bring to a rapid boil. Add bulgar wheat, cover and bring to a boil for two minutes then reduce heat to lowest setting and set your clock timer to 15 minutes. As when cooking all rice and most grains, resist the urge to lift the lid to stir or peek. Rice and most grains get fluffy from the steam and if you lift the lid to stir or peek, you're letting out the steam. The result? Starchy, sticky, clumpy mess. Leave it alone. When the timer goes off, do not lift the lid. Steaming still in progress. Turn off the heat and set your clock timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off the second time, lift the lid and fluff the wheat with a fork. Spread the wheat out onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool faster.

To make the dressing: Add all ingredients for the dressing into a small bowl. Stir well to combine and set aside.

To make the salad: Place the tuna into a mixing bowl. Flake the tuna as finely as possible by using two forks to break apart the chunks of tuna. Add the chopped radish, carrot, celery, black olives, pickles, and both seeds. Stir to combine well. Add one cup of the cooled bulgar wheat. Stir well. Add the dressing and mix to combine well. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste (you probably won't need to add salt but you might want to add a bit more ground black pepper).

To assemble: Place a large skillet on medium heat (or heat up a paninni press). Slice the ciabatta rolls in horizontally through the center. Place on skillet or paninni press and toast until golden. Remove to a platter. Place a lettuce leaf on each bottom and spoon the salad on to the leaf. Cover with top and enjoy.

Until next time …
¡Buen Provecho!

Me (left) with Auntie Syl who is only 5 years older. Even way back then, I was mimicking her.
Check out that 70s fashion!

Your turn: Do you have a family recipe for tuna salad or are you the "just lemon, salt and pepper" kind of person?


  1. My mom's recipe wasn't measured either, but it was what I've come to think of as the "traditional" recipe. (Doesn't everyone make things exactly like my family does?) It called for mayo, lemon juice, and chopped dill pickle. I got lazy as an adult and started using dill relish, but gradually have started adding capers, shallot or chives, maybe some seasoning in the mayo... small deviations from the original. This sounds amazing though. Must try!


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