Several years ago, I used to buy a vegan tuna product called Tuno. It was apparently available in cans, which I never saw anywhere, but the kind I bought came frozen in a little tube. I had recently gone vegan, and this was a good replacement for canned tuna fish, which I used to eat a lot of. However, Tuno suddenly disappeared from the frozen food section, and then I sort of forgot about tuna and fake tuna altogether.
But when a friend of mine asked if I could come up with a new version of this chickpea salad, which she and her husband frequently make and eat for quick lunches and light dinners, I began to think about vegan tuna again, and decided to try using hearts of palm to see what would happen. This new-to-me ingredient that I recently used to make vegan crab cakes is fantastic, but I discovered that simply chopping it up and mixing it with vegan mayo creates a mushy canned tuna analog, and the citric acid added to the can imparted a bitter taste that I didn’t really like.
So to get rid of the tang, I chopped the hearts of palm up finely, then soaked them in water to remove some of it. I then drained and gently pressed them before baking them to steam off some of the moisture to prevent any mushy texture. The results were fantastic: this is a nicely textured, flavorful and rich alternative to tuna salad, and is quick and easy to whip up. The chopped celery and celery seed taste amazing together here and are perfectly rounded out with a touch of dried dill, while the kelp granules give it the right amount of faux fishiness and subtle saltiness. This easy, versatile and rich filling won’t fool anybody into thinking it’s actually tuna, but its gently herbed and nicely textured quality makes it a lovely, interesting and viable alternative.
VEGAN TUNA SALAD
Yield 1.5 cups (enough for about 2 sandwiches)
- Finely chop up the hearts of palm, then place into a fine-meshed sieve and gently rinse under cold water. Transfer to a fresh bowl of water and allow to soak for at least 10 minutes.
- While your chopped hearts of palm are soaking, preheat your oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a silpat.
- Once your oven is preheated, gently pour the hearts of palm back into the sieve and drain well. Press down a bit—enough to remove as much water as you can, but not so much that you smash the hearts of palm.
- Spread the drained hearts of palm onto the silpat in an even layer and bake for 20-30 minutes, gently stirring them every 10 minutes to release some of the steam, but taking care not to let them brown.
- Gently smash up about a half of the hearts of palm with a fork, then transfer the entire contents on the silpat to a large bowl and add in the kelp granules, dill and celery seed. Stir gently to combine, then fold in the celery, then the vegan mayo.
- Place the mixture into the refrigerator to chill for an hour or two or overnight to allow all of the flavors to blend, then serve with crackers, or spoon onto a sandwich with a little extra vegan mayo.