One of the things I missed most after going vegan was canned tuna. It was such an easy thing to add to sandwiches, casseroles, and pasta – I would even eat it on its own on crackers or in salads. However, being at the top of the aquatic food chain, tuna is highly contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals (not to mention the fact that the fishing industry is an environmental disaster), so we decided that we just had to say “nah” to having tuna on our plate.
I’ve tried several vegetarian chickpea tuna recipes over the years, and while they were great substitutes when I felt like a tuna sandwich, I was still craving something that I could use on its own as straight-up tuna in appie platters and other kinds of dishes.
When I recently bought a bottle of Ume Plum Vinegar for a Mississippi Vegan recipe, it had such a distinct flavour that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use a whole bottle of it. Then one day it hit me – its salty punch might just be the thing to make chickpeas taste like actual tuna – and wouldn’t you know it, it was! Finally, the savory, briny taste I’d been fishing for!
This “tu-nah” gets its slightly ocean-y flavour from toasted nori (which we often have on hand for snacking – it’s readily available at Costco and most grocery stores). This kind of nori is more heavily seasoned than the kind that is used to make sushi, though you could probably make do if that’s all you have on hand (you might just need a little more salt). The dark flecks of the seaweed make the final product look somewhat like canned salmon with the skin on.
A smidge of tahini adds richness, as does the olive oil (tuna is a fatty fish). Feel free to leave out the oil, if you prefer, especially if you’ll be adding mayo to it.
There’s not really a substitute for the plum vinegar, so I highly recommend finding it, or this won’t taste right at all. Most Asian markets and natural foods stores should carry it. I’ve also seen it on Amazon and other online stores.
To make a delicious tuna salad, add roughly 2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion, as well as 1/4 cup each of mayo and chopped celery to your tu-nah (adjust these up or down depending on your taste). Season it with salt and pepper, and spread it on toasted bread with a little more mayo, lettuce, sliced cucumber, and/or tomato. Serve it to a friend and see if they can tell they’re not actually eating tuna!
I always make a double batch of this when I make it, even though it comes together quickly. It’s so nice to have on hand, and is the perfect thing to throw in a picnic basket with bread, olives, and a good vegan cheese. The possibilities are endless!
A quick and easy tuna replacement made from chickpeas. Perfect on its own, or in any recipe that would normally call for tuna.
- 1 can chickpeas, drained (1 1/2 cups, cooked)
- 1 sheet roasted nori, roughly a 6 x 7" sheet (use multiple small sheets if necessary)
- 1 tbsp ume plum vinegar
- 1 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp olive oil (optional)
- 1/8 tsp salt (or to taste)
Crumble nori sheet(s) into the bowl of a food processor. Process until as fine as you can get it.
Add chickpeas, vinegar, tahini, olive oil, and salt. Process briefly. Stir to ensure an even distribution of ingredients, and pulse again until coarsely chopped, but well mixed. You want to chickpeas to still have some texture, we're not making hummus here.
Remove from the bowl of the food processor, stir to mix.
Use as desired.