I became a vegetarian at the age of 5, and at the time there weren’t many meat-substitutes available (or maybe there were- I wouldtn’t know, I was 5). One of the last meats I gave up was tuna fish- there was something about it that no amount of egg-salad sandwiches could replace, and although I eventually got over it, it took a while for me to stop missing tuna. Now, years later, with egg-salad completely off the table and my knowledge of vegan meat substitutes having been significantly expanded, I decided to give my old friend the tuna salad sandwich another shot. But this time without the tuna death, and unintended dolphin deaths.
Many of the vegan tuna salads out there are made with chickpeas, lightly smashed and dressed like tuna. And these are totally delicious- but they do taste more or less like chickpeas. I decided to take a different approach, and use jackfruit as my tuna base. This tropical fruit has gained a lot of popularity as a meat substitute- when it’s ripe, it has a sweet, fruity taste like you’d imagine, but when it’s still green it is almost tasteless. That’s nice, because it gives you the chance to dress it up, and flavor it to mimic whatever dish you had in mind. However jackfruit’s greatest appeal as a meat substitute comes not from it’s taste (or lack of) but from its texture. It’s stringy, and can be easily pulled apart. It’s a little tough and chewy. The texture is most commonly referenced as being similar to pulled pork, but to me they screamed tuna.
Along with the perfectly textured tuna, you mix in some savory flavors (soy sauce, garlic, onion) as well as that special touch that gives it a little taste of the ocean. There are two things you can do to turn your food into a good fish substitution. You can spice it the way fish is, using something like Old Bay (this works better on more mild seafood), or you can add a little of the ocean directly to your dish in the form of seaweed. I’ve spent a good amount of time writing about my love of dulse in the past, so I’ll keep it bare-bones this time- dulse is a spice made from dried seaweed, and it is essential towards making this vegan tuna salad more than just a jackfruit salad.
The process itself two-fold- first you cook the jackfruit, using onions and garlic to build a base flavor and then adding the jackfruit. Cooking the fruit will do two things- it will allow it to absorb some of the more savory tuna flavors, and it also will soften the larger chunks of fruit. With the fruit cooked it will make it easier to use a potato masher to smash the jackfruit until it has reached a point where it is looser and the large, central spines in each piece of fruit are broken up. The second part of the process begins after you’ve let the jackfruit cool a while, and from here it’s just like making tuna salad- mix in your vegan mayo, mustard, and scallions, or mix up the recipe to your tastes. Try adding some miso, pickles, paprika or capers- anything that gives you that happy “tuna” salad feeling.
Vegan Tuna Salad (with Jackfruit, not Chickpeas!)
- 2 cans of green jackfruit (20 oz, in brine not syrup)
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Oil, for cooking
- 2 TBSP. soy sauce
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 1 TBSP. dulse flakes
- Juice from 1 small lemon
- ½ cup vegan mayonnaise
- 1 TBSP. whole grain mustard
- 2-3 scallions, chopped
1. Open the jackfruit cans and drain the brine. Use your fingers to pick apart the harder end pieces a little before cooking (you’ll do this more after you’ve cooked them). Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
2. Heat a little oil in a skillet and add the onion and garlic. Cook for around 2 minutes before adding the jackfruit, soy sauce and pepper. Continue cooking the jackfruit for approximately 8 more minutes, stirring frequently. Once you’re done the jackfruit should have softened slightly- take off the heat and mix in the lemon juice and dulse.
3. Move the jackfruit to a large bowl, and use a potato masher to separate any large chunks. Allow to cool before adding vegan mayo, mustard and green onions (or any other ingredients you prefer in tuna salad) and mixing well to combine.