March 11, 2014

Tuna & White Bean Salad

Spring has sprung! At home that means that we have entered our thaw period. There's still frost in the ground (and snow forecasted for tomorrow), but the ice is gradually receding as the days lengthen. It's amazing how refreshing and spring-like the high 30s and even 40s can feel after enduring months below freezing. With seasonal rejuvenation in mind, a tuna and white bean salad seems just right for this transitional weather.

I didn't know what to expect the first time I made a tuna and white bean salad. The only tuna salad I had known growing up was loaded with Miracle Whip, onion and garlic powder. I'd either eat that concoction alone on bread or slap it on a hamburger bun to bake with a slice of processed cheese on top. None of that invokes what you'd call "fresh" or "wholesome". So, given my limited experience with tuna salads, I was a bit apprehensive my first go-around with this recipe. After trying tuna and white bean salad, however, I was quickly won over. 

For starters, the recipe is so simple that I readily have all the ingredients on hand. With one quick sweep of the pantry and fridge, I can whip together an easy lunch. What's more, the nutrition profile packs a big punch: heart-healthy tuna combined with high-fiber legumes and flavorful, antioxidant-packed seasonings, and all of that for under 300 calories per serving. Yes, please! And thanks to the bright flavors of fresh lemons and herbs, your taste buds needn't worry that what you're eating is good for you; they'll be satisfied, too.

The way that I prefer to go with this salad is to stick with tuna packed in oil. I've tried using tuna packed in water as well, but something about the oil packing does a lot for me in taste. (And I'm not talking fancy here. My tuna packed in oil came from Aldi, and I loved it.) For full disclosure you can compare nutrition facts between Starkist's 5 ounce cans of oil- and water-packed tuna below. The oil-packed tuna (left) is higher in calories, fat, and sodium compared to the water-packed. I'll leave the decision up to you, but know that I don't take the swap very lightly!

Another preference of mine is Great Northern beans over cannelini. Cannelinis seem to be a bit longer and narrower than Great Northern, but it's not their appearance that concerns me. I didn't even have cannelini on hand the first time I made it, so I innocently substituted Great Nothern beans, not realizing the improvement I had done to the dish. When I later tried cannelini (as pictured throughout this post) instead, I was disappointed. The flavor tasted off to me as compared with the Great Northerns. At least it didn't ruin the pictures.

Either way you go, a must is the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Dried or powdered seasoning isn't gonna cut it here. You really need the brightness of fresh herbs to complement the flavors of the tuna and beans. Besides, the fresh flavor goes a long way in making healthful food more immediately enjoyable. In the recipe I only list basil, but you could easily add freshly chopped curly parsley, green onions, or any other green thing that suits your fancy. As for lemon juice, since I call for freshly squeezing it I'd recommend only 1-1/2 tablespoons. More than that, and it tastes tart to me.

Once you throw this together, enjoy your lunch with cucumber slices, crackers, or crostinis. Here's to spring!

Tuna & White Bean Salad

I call for tuna packed in oil, but if you go with tuna packed in water you may want to add and extra tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil. Taste as you go and adjust the amounts as you see fit.

      1 (5 ounce) can tuna (preferably packed in oil), drained
      1 (15-1/2 ounce) can Great Northern beans, drained 
      2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
   1/4 red onion, chopped
      1 medium clove garlic, pressed or minced
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
       1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Drain tuna and transfer to a small bowl. Drain beans and set aside. Chop herb(s), onion, and garlic and add to tuna. Carefully fold in beans. Stir in lemon juice and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Yield: 4 (1 cup) servings.

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