Food & Drink

10 easy and delicious meals you can make from a can of tuna

Tuna, Kale and White Bean Soup plays off a classic Italian combination.
Tuna, Kale and White Bean Soup plays off a classic Italian combination. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

We come here today not to mock canned tuna, but to praise it.

Yes, it’s the butt of jokes. It reminds some people of cat food. It’s the source of those gloppy tuna noodle casseroles and soggy sandwiches your mom made.

But canned tuna deserves more respect, especially if you’re trying to cook conveniently, economically or healthfully.

Supermarkets today have a huge variety of tuna, from the basic water-packed can for less than a dollar to high-quality imported jars for nearly $8. Tuna in pouches, tuna in single-serve poptops – more forms of tuna than our mothers ever imagined.

My turning point in learning to respect canned tuna came when I was a young cook exploring French food. I stumbled on the classic Nicoise Salad: A pile of potatoes, green beans and cooked eggs topped with chunks of canned tuna.

I loved it, but I wanted to fancy it up. Surely grilled fresh tuna would be better than canned? Eventually, though, I learned that canned tuna is exactly how it’s made in France. Fresh tuna may be great for sushi, but oil-packed tuna is best for a Nicoise.

That brings us to the issue of oil-packed tuna. Yes, water-packed is lower in fat. But if you add a bunch of mayonnaise to keep it from being dry, you haven’t saved any fat.

Instead, pick your tunas. Use water-packed when you’re mixing it into something that has plenty of moisture. Splurge on oil-packed when it takes a starring role. For all of these, use a 5- to 7-ounce can.

1. Tuna Zucchini Fritters: Drain a can of water-packed chunk white tuna and flake it into a mixing bowl. Shred 1 medium zucchini into the bowl using the large holes on a box grater. Stir in 2/3 cup self-rising flour, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water. Heat 1 tablespoon oil (coconut or vegetable) in a skillet over medium heat. Spoon in about 4 mounds of batter. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until brown. Flip and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with soy sauce. Makes 8 to 12 fritters, depending on size. From “Lean In 15: 15-Minute Meals,” by Joe Wicks (William Morrow, 2016).

2. Tuna Deviled Eggs: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Lower in 6 large eggs (straight from the refrigerator is fine), cook 1 minute, then cover and let stand for 18 minutes. Rinse under cold water, peel and cut in half. Place the yolks in a food processor. Drain 1 can water-packed chunk light tuna and add to the yolks with 1/4 cup Italian salad dressing, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Puree and spoon into egg halves.

3. Canned Tuna Ceviche: Drain 1 can water- or oil-packed chunk light tuna and place in a bowl. Fold in 1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced (about 1 tablespoon), 1/4 cup minced red onion, 1 tomato, seeded and diced, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and 1/4 cup fresh lime juice. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Serve on lettuce leaves and drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil. Adapted from food.com.

4. Green Apple Tuna Melts: Drain 1 can water- or oil-packed chunk light tuna. Divide between 4 English muffin halves. Core a green apple and cut into thin slices. Place several slices on top of tuna on each muffin half and top with 1/3 cup shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, until cheese is melted.

5. Tuna Chickpea Bruschetta: Heat a skillet over high and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and cook briefly until fragrant. Add 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/4 cup water and 1/2 cup chopped pitted green olives. Simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 can oil-packed tuna, drained. Toast slices of crusty bread, brush lightly with olive oil and pile with chickpea mixture. Adapted from marthastewart.com.

6. Tuna, White Bean and Kale Soup: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan and add 1 diced onion, 3 cloves minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until onion is soft. Add 4 cups chicken stock, 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 2 cans water-packed chunk light tuna, drained, and 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in 1 bunch kale, stemmed and chopped, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, just until wilted. Serve topped with grated Parmesan. Adapted from www.closetcooking.com.

7. Tuna Tapenade (see recipe). Serve it as part of a platter with hard-cooked egg quarters, cold roasted vegetables, mild cheese and crusty bread.

8. Tuna Chowder (see recipe). This tastes so much better than it sounds, and it takes less than 30 minutes.

9. Tuna Meatballs (see recipe). Toss them with marinara and serve over spaghetti, or use them as a hoagie filling.

10. Tuna Noodle Casserole (see recipe). Of course we had to include it – it’s a classic.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

Pick your fish

Chunk light vs. albacore: Most canned tuna comes from albacore or the smaller skipjack tuna, usually used in light tuna. We prefer chunk light, which is actually darker pink and has a stronger flavor. Albacore, sometimes called solid white, is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids but also higher in mercury.

Italian-style: Sometimes called tonno and packed in a number of Mediterranean countries, it’s always packed in oil, from olive to vegetable. It’s usually cooked once, instead of cooked twice like American canned tunas, so it can have a meatier texture and more assertive flavor.

Tuna Tapenade

Adapted from “Crazy Water Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes From the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, 2016).

1 (5- to 6-ounce) can tuna in olive oil, drained

1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets, drained and rinsed

About 3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon brandy

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until chunky or blend until smooth. Serve as part of a platter with crusty bread, cold roasted vegetables and aioli or good-quality mayonnaise.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups.

Tuna Meatballs

This recipe is very popular on British cooking sites. It makes crusty, lemony balls that are good as a hot appetizer, tossed with marinara on spaghetti or tucked into a roll as a hot sandwich. Adapted from bbcgoodfood.com.com.

2 (5- to 6-ounce) cans oil-packed tuna

1/4 cup pine nuts

Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

Drain the tuna, reserving the oil. Flake the tuna into a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix together with your hands, then roll into 15 to 16 walnut-size balls. Place on a plate and refrigerate about 20 minutes.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil from the tuna cans in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, add the tuna balls and fry about 5 minutes, turning every minute or so, until browned on all sides. (Before you put the balls in the skillet, reroll them a little so they don’t crumble.) Add more of the tuna oil as you go along.

Drain on paper towels. Add to heated marinara sauce and serve over cooked spaghetti.

Yield: About 4 servings.

Tuna Chowder

Adapted from themakeyourownzone.com.

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup each chopped onion, celery and carrot

1 russet potato, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

3 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried dillweed

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 (15-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

2 (5- to 6-ounce) cans water-packed chunk light tuna, drained

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot. Cover and cook about 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is starting to soften. Uncover and add the potato. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken stock, garlic powder, salt, dillweed and paprika. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer about 15 minutes, until the potato is tender.

Add the corn, evaporated milk and tuna and heat through.

Yield: About 4 servings.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

8 ounces bow-tie pasta (farfelle)

1 cup frozen peas

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 (8-ounce) package fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

2 (5- to 6-ounce) cans water-packed chunk light tuna, drained

2 cups crushed kettle-style potato chips

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, for 11 minutes. Place the frozen peas in a large, heatproof mixing bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and a sprinkle of salt. Saute, stirring often, until the mushrooms are softened. Add to the bowl with the peas.

Return the skillet to the stove over medium-high heat, add the butter and heat until melted. Stir in the flour, making sure it all gets coated with butter. Cook about 1 minute, then whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring, until sauce thickens. Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta and add to the bowl with the peas and mushrooms. Add the white sauce and the drained tuna, stirring to mix completely. Turn into a 2- to 3-quart baking dish. Cover the top with a thick layer of crushed potato chips.

Place in a 350-degree oven and bake about 30 minutes, until topping is lightly browned and casserole is bubbling hot.

Yield: About 6 servings.

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