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.