Taking the full measure of life

Learning to love new foods (and a tuna melt recipe made healthier)

January 21st, 2008 · 15 Comments

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I didn’t grow up eating much fish or shellfish. I don’t even remember eating breaded fish sticks except on rare occasions, perhaps only at other people’s houses. I ate fried catfish at some informal political fundraisers and such parties–which seemed constant, since I grew up with a politician father. (The catfish grew in local lakes and were second only to bbq for large group gatherings.) At the beach every summer on vacation, my family would boil or grill fresh shrimp. But that was pretty much it for fish and shellfish. I’m sure it was hard to get good fish several hours inland, especially in a small town that was an hour from a big city. And I think neither of my parents are big fish fans, in general; neither of them seem to opt for it in restaurants, and they didn’t seek out sources of fish around our home. Thus the proclivities of parents are passed down to children.

But these days, I’ve come to love many foods that my parents never liked or served: brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage, parsnips, collard greens, celery root, and beets, to name a few. The love for these healthy foods developed largely because I joined a CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture program, that gave me a load of fresh, locally grown vegetables each week. (To find a CSA in your area of the U.S., check out Local Harvest.) With this load of vegetables rolling in each week, I could either learn to cook and serve the unfamiliar ones, or I could let the farmers’ work, and my money, result in sad, saggy rot in plastic bags in my fridge. So I harnessed my Google skills and learned to try and love many new foods (and found some great food blogs in the process)!

Dan and I are looking at moving to the Pacific Northwest in a year. As I’ve been reading about that area of our continent, and especially as we visited restaurants in Seattle and Vancouver that serve locally sourced food, I’ve realized that if we continue to eat meat when we move, seafood will necessarily be playing a bigger role in what we consume. Thus, it’s time to begin dabbling in how to prepare tasty fish dishes. (Of course, it matters what kinds of fish you buy and eat; some types of fish have been heavily overfished and are in danger of having their populations collapse as a result. That’s a scary idea, since the ocean food chains are complex, and the death of one fish population could result in a chain reaction of collapses. Fortunately, the Oceans Alive program of the Environmental Defense Fund has an online guide and a printable pocket guide that I keep in my wallet. And it’s important to be aware of the possibility of mercury poisoning, resulting from environmental degradation, from certain fish, as well.)

I decided to start with an easy fish dish: tuna salad. After searching some of my favorite recipe sites and blogs, I settled on trying to convert Elise’s tarragon tuna melt into a version with no mayonnaise (since I can’t have eggs or even vegan soy-based mayo). If you have never tried tarragon, it adds a delicious note of flavor to creamy dishes that utilize chicken, turkey, and spinach, among other things. (I did not like it added to a beef dish, though; you win some and you lose some, right?) In my gluten-ful, casein-ful days, I used to make a tarragon veggie pot pie that I loved. I was excited to have a new potential use for my dried tarragon.

I found the fishy smell of canned tuna positively horrifying as a child. I was pleased to open a can of Trader Joe’s albacore (also known as ‘white’) tuna for my salad and discover that I now find it only mildly pungent. I created my healthy mayo substitute in the blender (though it works better to mix it in the food processor), chopped my veggies, threw in my dried tarragon, and mixed my tuna salad together. Then I sliced up (casein-free) goat cheddar and put it and the salad on the eggless millet bread I was using. Per Elise’s instructions, I added a slice of tomato to my sandwich. I grilled the sandwiches—using olive oil instead of the butter the recipe calls for—while I heated up some boxed organic tomato soup. (I added a bit of olive oil and oat milk to the soup to make it creamier.) Within 25 minutes of beginning my prep work, the meal was ready to serve.

I must admit I let my husband take the first bite of his tuna melt while I just watched. When he said, “Mmmm” and closed his eyes as he chewed, I felt more brave. I took a bite, and, really, it wasn’t overpoweringly fishy at all! Instead, it was a very flavorful mix of the spices and green onions with the fish providing a hearty basis. And the cheese complimented the salad flavors extremely well. What was perhaps the best news, besides me actually liking the salad, was that I didn’t miss the mayo at all; my subsitute may have made for a lighter flavor, but it was really tasty, and the avocado flavor was a great addition.

The only sour note (quite literally) was the tomato slice. The tomato was grown in a hothouse in a neighboring state; I was hoping since the tomato was grown nearby, it would avoid the mushy, sour flavor of winter tomatoes from other parts. Unfortunately, even though this was a tomato grown fairly close by in a hothouse, it was still a winter tomato. And tomatoes are—it’s just true—summer food.

Altogether, though: Yum. The sandwich was crunchy on the outside, a big gooey on the inside. The smooth, slightly acidic tomato soup was a great accompaniment.


To look at the actual tuna melt recipe, I’ll send you on to Elise’s post about it. However, here is my healthier, egg-free, soy-free substitute for the mayo:

Egg-free, Soy-free, Dairy-free Mayonnaise Substitute
(Based on a recipe in the excellent Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook)

meat of 1 avocado, sliced or cut in chunks
juice of one half of a lemon
1-2 heaping teaspoons Dijon mustard (I use the grainy kind)
2 tsp.-1 T milk alternative (rice milk, hemp milk, etc.)
a couple of dashes of paprika
a pinch of salt
a pinch of sugar, if you like your mayo a bit sweeter

Combine all ingredients—using the lower ends of the amounts—in a food processor or blender. (It works better in a food processor.) Pulse to combine. Taste, and add additional bits of any ingredients to get the mayo sub to your flavor preference.

Stir into the tuna salad in place of the mayonnaise.

Because avocados and tomatoes are an antioxidant rich foods, I’ve entered this meal into Sweetnicks Food & Life’s Antioxidant Rich Foods (ARF) 5-A-Day Round-Up. You can check out the current and previous round-ups here.

Tags: allergen-free recipes

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marianne // Jan 21, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    That mayo substitute sounds delish! I find commercial mayo doesn’t sit well with me, though I’m not sensitive to any of the ingredients. This might fit my creamy-sandwich-condiment needs better, so I’ll be sure to try it.

    If you do end up in Vancouver again, to visit or live, check out the Ocean Wise program. It’s an Aquarium-sponsored sustainable seafood program.

  • 2 Sarah // Jan 21, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    I love my CSA! And I have you to thank for it. I am still debating about joining for the summer. I am not sure I will be here all summer (Hopefully moving to Seattle!) and I would hate to not be able to utilize it completely.

  • 3 Betsy // Jan 21, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    What a great mayonnaise substitute–I’m often inspired by your ability to handle your allergies creatively.

    Lately I’ve been trying to eliminate cow dairy because of my sinus problems but have been getting tripped up–primarily by hot chocolate (I find soy hot chocolate a sad disappointment). But, I remind myself, if Sally can cut out 3/4 of the foods I normally eat and still have delicious meals, should getting rid of cow dairy really be so challenging? Surely not.

    Also, I love the Pacific Northwest; I currently live in NYC but would give my eyeteeth to move there. It’s just so varied, with ocean, rainforest, and mountains all in one region, not to mention that the summers there are not nearly as oppressive as they are in New York or must be in Atlanta. My husband and I were visiting Seattle one summer and all the weather forecasters were issuing warnings about the heat wave–it got into the mid 80s!–and we couldn’t help but laugh. And feel a bit jealous of the locals . . .

  • 4 Ricki // Jan 21, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    What a gorgeous photo–that sandwich looks totally amazing! The mayo sub also sounds delicious. I’m a huge fan of avocado, so I’ll definitely be trying this one out.

  • 5 Mary Frances // Jan 22, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Thanks for the encouraging note you left on my blog. And thanks for the avocado mayo recipe. I was rehorrified a few weeks ago, when I made mayo from scratch, to remember that it’s only an egg and 3/4 c. olive oil. 3/4 cup!!! So I’ve been pondering what I could use instead.

  • 6 Skinny Guy // Jan 22, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks for getting me thinking about joining a CSA. Who knew there was one only a few miles from my house. I wrote about it on my blog. Thanks!

  • 7 ARF/5-A-Day #104 | Food & Life // Feb 6, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    […] Sally from Aprovechar joins us for the first time this week with her Avocado-based mayonnaise substitute for a scrumptious-looking Tuna Melt […]

  • 8 Fairly Quick & Healthy Meals for a Busy Week // Apr 14, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    […] Tuna melt (no tomato this time) and boxed veggie […]

  • 9 Manda // Apr 18, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Because of this picture, I knew I had to go out, buy tuna and the fixings and make this for lunch – yum!

    Never had tuna this way before but it’s, apparently, my new favorite way.

  • 10 All-Dairy-Free Week 2: My Meal Plan // May 5, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    […] Tarragon tuna salad sandwiches (alas, no cheese this time) topped with Romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes with a side of garlicky […]

  • 11 Leslie // Apr 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

    My daughter is allergic to eggs and I don’t have much luck with her liking Nayonaise. I’m excited about using avocado instead because she loves avocado. Great solution for us. Thanks!

  • 12 Sarah Schatz - Allergy-Free & GAPS Menu Planners // Sep 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

    This recipe looks fabulous! I love avocados and it’s hard to find a good egg-free mayo!

  • 13 Linda // Jan 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    This sounds like a great recipe for avocado mayo but I’m wondering how you can subtract 1 T from 2 tsp…? The recipe says: 2 tsp.-1 T milk alternative (rice milk, hemp milk, etc.)
    Looks like something has gone awry with the recipe. Can someone explain it? THANKS!

  • 14 sally // Jan 10, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Linda, it’s not subtraction–it’s a range: 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon, depending on your taste preferences.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  • 15 Linda // Jan 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Duh… Thanks, Sally! I made some of this earlier today and used 2 tsp of rice milk. It was fabulous!

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