This recipe is brought to you by cabin fever. For the past few weeks, I’ve been without a car during the workday, and my beloved bicycle has developed persistent brake problems. That leaves me relying on (slow, infrequent) public transit to get around, which turns grocery shopping from a quick errand into a multi-hour production. True to form, I’ve reacted by holing up hermit-style instead, working long hours and making a lot of pantry meals.
This tasty little salad is one I keep coming back to. It’s based on a mix of fresh and shelf-stable ingredients I always have around: olive oil, canned tuna, canned beans, a lemon or some vinegar, an onion or a couple scallions, dried herbs, dijon mustard, and capers. You soak the alliums in seasoned lemon juice, whisk in the oil to make a dressing, and then toss in the tuna, beans, and capers. The combination of flaky fish, firm beans and spiky, pungent dressing is so much tastier than something this easy and quick has any right to be. And it’s pretty darn cheap, too.
I make this slightly differently every time, based on what’s around and what needs using. I like chickpeas, but Sam prefers white beans, so we usually have both on hand–the salad is great with either. We try to keep fresh lemons in the fridge, but I’ve also used white wine vinegar and even tarragon vinegar to great effect. The recipe below is just a template; I can imagine so many ways to vary this and fancy it up. Use shallot or chives instead of onion or scallions. Add finely diced celery or chard stems for crunch. Use oil-packed tuna and include its oil in the dressing. Use a fancier vinegar, like champagne or white balsamic. Use fresh herbs instead of dried, adding them in at the end to keep their flavor perky.
The only real requirement here is refrigerating the salad for a little while before serving it, so the flavors can meld and the beans and tuna can soak up the salty-sour-oniony dressing. Just an hour in the fridge makes a huge difference; a few hours is ideal; overnight is fine. As far as serving, you could plop the salad on top of greens or pile it inside lettuce leaves. You could eat it open-faced on toast or a bagel, or make a sandwich with it. Honestly, I usually just grab a fork and eat straight from the bowl.
Pantry Tuna and Bean Salad (serves 2 as an entree, or 4 as an appetizer)
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp) OR 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried dill and/or tarragon
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced OR 2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 (5 oz) can tuna, drained and flaked with a fork
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, cannellini beans, or small white beans, thoroughly drained
1 tbsp drained capers
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together lemon juice or vinegar, mustard, dried parsley or dill, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Add onion or scallion and toss to coat, then let stand for a few minutes to let the onion mellow and the herbs rehydrate a bit in the liquid.
Add olive oil and whisk until everything is more or less combined (it doesn’t need to be perfect). Add tuna, beans, and capers, and toss to coat. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. Serve cold or at room temperature.