THIS RECIPE IS ENDORSED BY MERMAIDS, FISHED NAMED "CHARLIE" AND CHICKENS OF THE SEA EVERYWHERE
During my transition to a plant-based diet, which started 11 years ago while living in Santa Monica, CA, I sometimes suffered withdrawals from certain comfort foods I grew up loving. You know, those foods that get lodged in your head and won't get out until you hunt them down and frickin' destroy 'em!? Never happened to you? Hmmm. Well, I was always a little food-focused as a kid. Especially if there were condiments involved.
As an adult, I knew if I was going to be successful at getting my plant-based diet act together (and later at becoming a vegan chef), I was going to have to figure out a way to satisfy my cravings without feeling deprived. So I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and started rattling my pots and pans (or in this case, my food processor) in the direction of a few of my most formidable hankerings to come up with healthy and clever plant-based stand-ins for meat and dairy.
Now, back in the day, I never liked just ANY tuna sandwich. It had to be big. Like a pound. It had to be thick, moist and tangy with a dill pickle in there somewhere, and even better.... toasted with melted cheese — a sandwich so formidable that it almost required a fork and knife to eat.
I finally faced this comfort-food-do-over down and recreated my version of a sumptuous tuna sandwich filling using chickpeas, raw sunflower seeds, vegetables, copious glorious condiments (some things never change) and a secret ingredient or two for a nearly identical vegan "stunt double" for its fish- and mayo-based counterpart. This recipe also works nicely as party bites on crostini or cucumber wheels, and the best part? It comes with a tiny side of smug — the kind you earn from knowing you haven’t fueled demand for commercial fishing practices that harm our oceans or its residents (I'm like 99% sure mermaids really do exist). The result is pure comfort on a plate. Minus the regret.
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped into 1 ½ inch chunks
1 large rib of celery chopped into 1 ½ inch chunks
15-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise (see note #1) plus more during assembly if desired
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup green onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
Fresh juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh dill, or ¾ teaspoon dried
1 ½ teaspoons dried, ground seaweed (see note #2)
½ teaspoon fine ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sweet or dill pickle slices, tomato slice, alfalfa sprouts, micro greens, arugula
Put the carrot and celery in a food processor fitted with the S-blade and pulse into small pieces, no smaller than a pea and no larger than a chickpea. Transfer the veggies to a medium bowl. Add the chickpeas and sunflower seeds to the food processor and pulse until chopped. The chickpeas should look chunky, not smooth, and it’s okay if a few whole seeds are visible. Transfer the chickpeas and sunflower seeds to the bowl with the veggies. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, green onion, pickle relish, lemon juice, dill, seaweed, salt, and pepper. Using a fork or wooden spoon, mix everything until well combined. If time, cover and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to bloom.
Toast the bread (see note #3) in a toaster or in the oven before assembling. Prep the bread with additional mayo as you like. Add a slice of tomato, sliced sweet or dill pickles and/or some fresh greens. Spoon on a few heaping spoonfuls of the tuna mixture, and top with the second slice of bread. Cut in half diagonally and serve.
For a Tuna Melt: Adjust the oven rack to the highest position. Turn on the broiler and allow the oven to heat for 10 minutes. Toast the bread before assembling. Spread on additional mayo as you like. Add a slice of tomato and/or sliced sweet or dill pickles. Spoon on the tuna mixture, and top with a slice of vegan provolone or cheddar cheese (see note #4). Transfer the open-faced sandwich to a baking sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven, top with fresh greens and the second piece of bread, slice and serve.
1. I like Just Mayo best. If you can’t find it, look for Veganaise, or any brand will do.
2. Dulse, wakame, or nori (torn or coarsely chopped before grinding) are all good options. Many seaweeds come in powdered form already. When I can’t find them, I use a dedicated spice grinder or a very clean coffee grinder to grind up the seaweed to a fine powder, then measure for the recipe. Store the remainder for another use in an airtight container in the refrigerator. A variety of seaweed can be found at most health food stores, Asian markets and even Whole Foods.
3. I prefer an artisan rye, a rustic whole wheat or sourdough.
4. Chao brand makes some delicious vegan cheese slice flavors that melt really well. But find and use your favorite brand!
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