Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuna salad with tahini

Slate, the online magazine, recently published an article called Mayo-phobia: Why Do Some People Hate Mayonnaise So Much?  Even more compelling was the tagline on their home page:  "Why do Jews have a problem with mayonnaise?  It begins with Milton Berle."  As this article makes clear, aversion to mayonnaise is not confined to Jews.  About 10 years ago, an article in The New Yorker discussing Pret-a-Manger  (subscriber access only) thought it was an American phenomenon, and noted that sandwiches sold in the chains British stores were far more mayo-heavy than what would sell in the US.

Be that as it may, my son, Harry, hates mayonnaise and avoids most foods that contain it.  This meant that he would not eat tuna salad or sandwiches.  While this is not necessarily a great tragedy, given the state of the fisheries and levels of mercury in tuna it is still a convenient quick lunch on occasion.  Fortunately, he discovered an acceptable way to eat tuna while spending much of the winter of 2010-2011 hiking in the Negev -- tahini.  Tahini is relatively indestructible, so it is better and safer to hike with container of tahini than an open jar of mayonnaise.  With canned tuna, some water and lemon, you have a pretty good sandwich filling.  I have adapted it a bit more, and we have it all the time now:

Tuna salad with tahini


  • 1 generous tablespoon tahini paste
  • 1/2 small lemon
  • water, about 1/4 cup
  • 2 cans tuna, preferably packed in olive oil and drained well (or even vegetable oil;  oil packed tuna is less fishy and dry than water packed)
  • optional additions: 1-2 hard boiled eggs, chopped; 1 rib celery,  chopped fine; 1/4 green pepper, chopped fine; chopped scallion or 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion; tablespoon capers well rinsed; 1/2 preserved lemon peel, rinsed well and chopped
  • salt and pepper (white, red or black) to taste 


  1. To make the tahini dressing, put the tahini in a one quart or larger bowl; squeeze the lemon through a sieve or your fingers into the tahini.  Stir together with a fork, and you will notice that the tahini will stiffen.
  2. Begin to dribble in the water very slowly, stirring all the while.  The tahini will continue to stiffen, and will then loosen and turn into a creamy texture.  You will use about 1/4 cup of water, though the quantity varies with the tahini and the solid/oil ratio in what you scooped out.  The texture should be like a thick sauce.  (If you have ever had prepared tahini, you will know what to expect.)  The process will probably take less than a minute.
  3. Mix in the tuna, add whatever optional ingredients you want, bearing in mind that you will need less salt if you use things like capers. We generally make it with eggs, celery, red onion and green pepper.  I also like it with parsley.  The capers and preserved lemon make for a more special salad.
  4. Serves about 4 -- use as you would any standard tuna salad, but you will probably enjoy this a lot more.

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