Don’t Mock (Tuna) Me: When “From Scratch” Disappoints

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a ”from scratch” kind of gal.  I mean, when you’ve been told you can’t eat anything processed, anything with additives, anything with coloring, anything with refined sweeteners or flours–basically, anything that’s not fresh from the vine or the ground–you learn to cook from scratch. Baptism by (Gas Mark 7) fire, and all that.

As a child, I thought ”homemade” was synonymous with “bland and boring.”  (Actually, I was onto something there: my mother’s cooking actually was bland and boring).  For my sisters and me, the most exciting foods we could imagine came in a box, a jar, or a can. Perfectly round, single-serve “layer cakes” coated in crunchy, ”chocolatey” shellac and packaged in individual cellophane bags; McDonald’s large fries and chocolatey “milk” shakes; soft, mushy, impossibly orange and slightly gooey Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Alphagetti; and–the best possible treat my mother could ever offer, the holy grail of convenience foods–Swanson TV Dinners.  How we loved that Salisbury Steak with the little square of blueberry cake baked into the center of the aluminum dish!

But such rewards were few and far between.  What seemed like a rare and elusive jackpot in our kitchen was common fare for my two best friends, the Gemini twins; all the glamorous, esoteric items that were verboten at our house made regular appearances on their dinner table. I recall many a meal at their place when we kids were served a heaping portion of Hamburger Helper (with added sautéed onions for that homemade touch), along with canned chocolate pudding topped with a dollop of jam and sprinkle of walnuts (to lend some individual flair) for dessert. I loved it–and was entirely envious of their good fortune!

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and began to cook for myself that I truly appreciated the home cooked dishes I’d been served throughout my youth, despite their insipid flavors. Subsequently, in my 30s, I began to realize how infinitely superior real food was to synthetic (much as SanDeE appreciates this difference in response to Steve Martin’s confused inquiry in LA Story).  Since my Great Diet Shift in 2000, I’ve been cooking about 95% from scratch.  It’s become a reflex to simply make things myself.

So it never occurred to me to do otherwise when I encountered the famous Mock Tuna recipe for the first time. At first I wondered, how had I missed itWhere had I been living all this time?  Mashed, cooked chickpeas, mayo, chopped bits of this and thata perfect replica of that classic fishy salad, both in appearance and taste.  It looked fabulous. Sounded terrific.  With an impressive nutritional profile, too:  very high protein (11 g per 1 cup serving), high iron, 6% daily calcium–really, how could one go wrong? I knew I had to try it.

First on the ingredient list was ”one can of chick peas.” Well, of course I ignored that part.  Why would I use canned anything if I could help it?  So I soaked my beans overnight, then drained, rinsed, refilled with fresh water, and boiled away.  And boiled.  The recipe instructed me to mash with a potato masher or fork, but somehow, my beans were still too hard to accomplish such a feat.  Instead, I opted for the food processor and blended the entire mound into a pulp. I ended up with little pebble-like pieces of chickpea, nothing like a “mash” at all.  I mean, they were TASTY pebble-like pieces, mind you, but pebble-like pieces nonetheless.  I liked the mock tuna well enough (even though–sorry, folks–it tastes nothing like tuna) and even made it a few more times. But let’s just say it would never achieve the same iconic status as Hamburger Helper at the Geminis’.

Then, last week while grocery shopping, right there in the canned goods aisle, I was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming urge, one that was completely out of character (no, nothing like that, you pervs!  Shame on you!). I had an urge to buy a CAN of chickpeas.  A can!  “Maybe, just maybe, using canned chickpeas will make a difference,” I thought.  Hard to believe, but in all my 40+ years of eating I had NEVER TASTED CANNED CHICKPEAS. Well, dear readers, the result was truly humbling. In fact, it left me feeling quite sheepish.  I’d even venture to say I was cowed (though not to be confused with “resembling a cow.”). Now, I must admit it: sometimes, convenience foods are superior.  Truly, the dish was phenomenal.  I couldn’t stop eating the stuff!

Imagine this scene:  Dinnertime at the DDD household.  The HH sits on one side of the table, munching a slice of bison loaf (purchased at the extortionary Planet Organic, because (a) at least it’s organic; (b) the HH demands his meat; (c) the store is 80% empty most of the time and I’m afraid it’s going to go bankrupt before it’s even open a year; and (d) who feels like cooking for the HH when I’ve already mixed up a chickpea spread for myself?).  I’m on the other side, eating my delectable mock tuna on a rice cake.

HH:  What is that stuff?

Me: Mock tuna.  It’s made from chick peas.

HH: Chickpeas? Are you kidding me?

Me: Nope.  [chomp, chomp, lip-smack, lick fingertips]

HH: [Hesitantly] Can I try a little?

Me: Sure. [pushes bowl across table]

HH:  [Chewing]: Hmm.  [Chomp] That’s not too bad.  [Chomp].  Tastes sort of like potato salad. [Lip-smack]. Actually, that’s pretty good stuff. [Licks fingertips. Turns back to bison].

Me: Yeah, I see what you mean, it is sort of like potato salad. Mmmnnnmm!

HH: Hmmn. Yeah, like a very good, creamy, delicious potato salad. [reaches over to take another forkful].

Me: [clears throat] Help yourself.

HH: Thanks! [scoops half the mixture onto his plate.]

Me: Guess you like it.

HH: Yeah, this is great stuff! [Chomp, chomp, lip-smack, licks fingertips.]

In the end, the HH did finish his bison, but he also finished up the mock tuna (which was actually a good thing, as I would have scarfed it all up otherwise). He cleared the plate and asked if I could make it again sometime, because “Wow, that’s amazing stuff!”

Lesson learned: Sometimes, it’s okay to use a can for something you could also make from scratch. Oh, and you should always follow the recipe’s instructions.

Good lesson, Mum.  And if Dad ever doesn’t want to finish his bison, you know where to find us.”

And while it may not taste exactly like chick peas, those legumes in this dish make it an ideal entry to My Legume Love Affair, the event created by Susan, and this month hosted by Lucy at Nourish Me.

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Comments

  1. Cute title :o). I’ve yet to try chickpea-tuna salad (or any vegan tuna salad, for that matter), but yours looks great.

    Oh, and I would love to send you birthday cupcakes… in return for some of that butterscotch pie you posted a few months back. That dessert was one of the most amazing creations, vegan or not, I’ve ever seen!

  2. i’ve never heard of a mock tuna salad but it looks great! thanks for sharing this recipe… i’ll definitely have to try it.

  3. while on the subject of confessions: I have no trouble eating a whole can of chickpeas by myself. too much good stuff!
    <3

  4. Hooray for being a “made from scratch” girl – I am too :-)

    That mock tuna salad looks quite authentic!

  5. I’d love your homemade vegan mayo recipe — esp if it is soy-free. Is it on your blog?

  6. This looks so lovely and even better I have almost all the ingredients in my pantry. Never had mock tuna or any mock seafood for that matter. If I make it to the store for some vegan mayo today, it’s tuna salad for dinner tonight!

  7. What a great idea! I have a can of chickpeas in the pantry, I think I pay experiment for lunch…

  8. Hahaha–I used to *love* to eat at my friend’s houses growing up for the same reason–all of the processed/boxed/canned food! What a treat compared to all of the home cooked, home grown organic stuff I got at home :o) I used to get so excited over the boxed, dehydrated au gratin potatoes…what was I thinking?!

    Your chickpea/tuna salad looks great! While I have seen the recipe on the web many times before, I have yet to try it. I think you have inspired me–your version with the jalapeno sounds yummy!

    Courtney

  9. sounds interesting! I can’t believe the kind of junk food that I adored growing up. It seems like another lifetime at this point. Kudos to you for finding something you can make your own while using the convenience of canned stuff, too!

  10. Oh my goodness, Ricki, WHAT a good idea!! I didn’t have all those ingredients on hand, so I threw in a bit of dijon and topped it with sriracha. If I weren’t so lazy I would have boiled and egg to chop up and throw in, too. Awesome — I think I have a new staple for my lunch menus.

  11. stilllifeinbuenosaires says:

    Like the Geminis, my mom made us all of those processed foods like Shake n’ Bake pork chops, Chef Boyardee, Velveeta concoctions, and Hamburger Helper. She worked full-time, and I guess she felt that’s all she had time for.

    Although she hates that I admit it, she usually used canned and frozen veggies. I had no idea how to make fresh veggies when I moved out on my own. I also didn’t know that you could slice fresh garlic rather than use it from a jar. (I am sooo thankful for fresh fruit and veggies now.)

    I have a weakness for mayo spreads. I’m definitely trying this one out.

    Cheers!

  12. Pretty funny! I have gone the mock-tuna route with raw foods…I can’t remember exactly but it involved nuts, bean sprouts and almond butter. Remarkably tuna-like and I have no idea why!

  13. this recipe is a bit different than the one i use and it looks great. I have to make it and see if my DH likes it as much as your family. Whoo hooo!!!

  14. I was just thinking I should make some mock tuna! I can’t believe you’d never had canned garbanzo beans! I do make all my beans from dry, but admit to keeping some canned on hand from time to time in case of emergencies (only I never re-stock and so never have any on hand!)

  15. I am so glad you posted this recipe. I have been experimenting with chickpea sandwich spreads and I am looking for new ideas.

    My biggest stumbling block right now is vegan mayonnaise. I have bought 2 kinds from the store (Vegenaise and Spectrum Light Canola Mayo – both just didn’t taste good to me). I tried making my own from a block of tofu and some lemon juice and it was too much like eating paste.

    Do you have any vegan mayo suggestions, or do you possibly share your vegan mayo recipe?

    • Katrice Ross says:

      Zoey,

      Try this;

      1/2 cup soaked almonds
      1/4 cup mellow miso
      1/2 cup filtered water
      1 tbs apple cider vinegar

      OMG! This tastes remarkably like Miracle Whip. I grew up on that stuff as well as the SAD food stilllife mentioned.

      I just made this stuff for lunch. I didn’t have green onions so I put in some onion powder. I used natural spicy pickles so it gives a hint of heat but not too much. I also added some dulse flakes, which gave it a nice “fishy” flavor. OMG! I have been craving tuna salad for awhile. I haven’t had any since before I went vegan which was in 2008. This recipe really hits the spot. In face, I think I’ll make it for dinner too. :)

  16. Oh Wow, that looks good! I like the idea of putting dill pickle in it. I enjoyed the HH story :)

  17. You’re awesome, Ricki! That’s so funny that you’d never had canned garbanzos before. (I hang my canned-garbanzo-loving head in shame.) It’s rare that a homemade version loses out, but sometimes it happens.

    P.S. I am totally in love with faux tuna salad. It’s also great with fresh dill. Yum!

  18. CCV,
    This one is really worth a try, I think. And pie for cupcakes? Sounds like I get the better end of the deal!

    bbg,
    My pleasure! Hope you like it :)

    Celine,
    Chickpeas truly are an awesome food, aren’t they? :)

    VeggieGirl,
    I know–it LOOKS like tuna, anyway! ;)

    Jennconspiracy,
    I use the recipe from Nettie Cronish’s book, Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen. I’ll pull it out and let you know. :)

    Em,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting!
    Do let me know how you like it if you try it!

    Cmoore,
    A worthy experiment, I’d say (though perhaps not as creamy as some of those fancy cheeses you have. . . but lactose free!). Glad you ended up trying and liking it! But I’ve never heard of sriracha (excuse my ignorance. . . .)?

    Courtney,
    Oh–I forgot about the potatoes! LOVED THEM. Yes, we do weird things in our childhoods! :)

    Cheryl,
    I know what you mean. And the opposite is true, too, though: nowadays I love certain things I hated as a kid. Hopefully it all evens out!

    Still Life,
    I, too, was a veggie virgin when I moved out and started cooking. The only veg my mother made was broccoli, and she boiled the life right out of it. Do let me know how you like the spread if you try it!

    Michelle,
    The raw version sounds really good, too. Is it on your blog?

    Sheree,
    There were so many to choose from, I just picked one and played with it a bit. What’s your regular recipe like?

    Shellyfish,
    I love serendipity, don’t you? (As well as psychic connections. . . ). I’ve become a believer, and I’m going to keep at least one can stocked for mock tuna at all times from now on!

    Zoey,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting! I’m wondering what kind of tofu you used for your mayo. . . if you use the boxed silken type (like Mori-Nu), then it always comes out pretty smooth. I’m going to dig up my recipe from Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen and see if I can share.

    Holler,
    Glad you liked the story! That HH is one crazy fella. . . ;)

    Destinyskitchen,
    MMMmmmm I love the dill idea! I’m a huge fan of fresh dill and can’t wait to try this again with some dill–and CANNED chick peas, of course ;)

  19. Oh, I would put dill in there too! I never really cared for the mock tuna salads with seaweed added, so this sounds like something I would really really enjoy. Love the jalapeno in it!

  20. I’ve always been wary of mock tuna, but I do love chickpeas… Maybe I’ll give it a chance, since it does sound pretty good.

  21. Everytime I open a can of chickpeas (which I am trying to do less and less… doing the dried thing now like you), John always makes a comment that it smells like tuna, so I guess it’s not surprising that it would make a good mock dish. Maybe it’s something in the preservatives? Either way, sounds like a delicious, quick meal!

  22. this looks great – I never have been a fan of tuna – can’t stand the smell – but I do like the sound of the ingredients here

    I grew up with a mum who made lots of home made food and so we spent our lives yearning after ‘bought’ food – now I look back I appreciate it a lot more than I did – but I do usually buy canned chickpeas because I don’t get myself organised to soak despite best of intentions

  23. i, too, am 100% from-scratch kinda gal…

    if you’re looking to more closely replicate that tuna-y taste, try adding in a bit of dulse or shredded nori (or other kelp). dulse is one of my best friends, as the only non-vegan things i ever miss are fresh sea foods.

  24. Something I’ve ALWAYS meant to try…but been hitherto afraid of (something about the ‘mock’ and ‘tuna’ combination…thankfully now quashed, darls. This looks grand).

    Now, let me just add that Claudia Roden, doyenne of Middle Eastern eatin’, says that few people in the Middle East cook chickpeas from scratch these days – the tinned kind are so good that they are the one exception to ‘scratch’ cooking that I make.

    Great entry! Lovely. Thanks, darls, for joining in.

  25. Great post and story! I’m convinced I must try this. =)

  26. Fake fish! Fabulous idea.

    I agree about canned beans. I’m not so much of a purest that I will pass on them simply b/c I didn’t have the time to soak and hope for the best with the dried ones. They are a staple in my cupboards.

  27. Hi Ricki!

    I made this a couple nights ago and was quite a fan – even the boyfriend enjoyed it! (Who’d generally prefer meat over beans any day.) I did add a little ketchup for some color, and left out the mayo since we never have it. I wanted to ask – what is the nutritional yeast for (didn’t have that either)?

    Tinker

  28. Hi Tinker!
    So glad you enjoyed this! I think the yeast is partly for color, partly for a slightly salty, slightly “cheesy” taste–basically, to give the dish a little more depth and flavor. I’m sure it would be good without it, too. I’d imagine I’d miss the mayo more than the nutritional yeast!

  29. Hi Ricki, came over through the MLLA round-up – this was a fun read! I usually use a pressure cooker for peas and beans of all kinds but I guess that’s a very Indian thing to do! Provided they’ve been soaked long enough or have enough water, they’re done well, and in a comparatively shorter time.

  30. wow…this still looks great….
    i must try it….
    i have had something similar at this little organic cafe back home but they weren’t creative with the name and just called it chickpea salad…haha…
    thanks for the link :)

  31. yummy! this looks amazing!

  32. Your soaked & cooked chickpeas – you have hard water! They refuse to cook in hard water no matter what you do. I’ve had the same problems until I switched to filtered water and added a bit of salt and a bit of baking soda (the latter I think is added to quite a lot of canned ones too). Try that; homemade ones really taste better than most canned ;)

  33. kittykisser says:

    Oh … my … WOW!

    To be honest, I had my doubts. I just didn’t think it could even come close to resembling tuna. But I gave it a whirl because I need things to feed my carnivorous mate that would fool him into thinking he isn’t missing anything (wink wink nudge nudge lol). I just made it, tried it, was floored, and put it in some sandwiches for him tomorrow. I think he’ll be equally floored! =D

    No, it doesn’t taste like “tuna” tuna. But it’s VERY tuna-esque! It’s the kind of mock meat dealio that doesn’t taste like it’s trying hard to taste like something else. It’s just damn good! ;D

    Thanks!

  34. Just a suggestion, to the person who couldn’t find vegan mayonnaise… if you have a trader joe’s near you, their regular shelf stable mayo is vegan. My meat eating husband cannot tell the difference between it and hellman’s.

  35. LOVE LOVE LOVE this :)

  36. Could you also share the recipe for the vegan mayo? I’ve been on the lookout for a good one for a long time. Thanks! :)

Trackbacks

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