Though I eat vegan a lot of the time, thanks to my experiment with VB6 back in March, until recently, the world of meat substitutes was largely foreign to me. During rare and coveted pilgrimages to Whole Foods in college, I used to buy boxes of microwavable soy nuggets, which would mysteriously vanish from my side of the freezer after my housemates had a particularly wild night, much to my lunchtime h-anger the next day. But as a flexitarian who sometimes indulges in the real thing, a dish like vegan tuna salad never held much appeal.
Partly because of my recent work with Gardein, a plant-based frozen foods company whose products taste wonderfully and scarily like actual carnivorous favorites (i.e. much better than those long forgotten soy nuggets), I’ve begun experimenting a little more with vegan alternatives. So when I got my hands on Rich Roll and Julie Piatt’s new cookbook The Plant Power Way, after having the pleasure of meeting them at Mind Body Green Revitalize, I was very intrigued to try their take on Portabella Parmesana, Fettuccini Alfredo, and Strawberry Mint Cacao Cheesecake.
A lot of the recipes call for specialty ingredients like nutritional yeast, which gives the chessy flavor to the faux Parmesan topping along with ground walnut for crumble. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually worked with this powder before, though I’ve eaten it tossed with corn kernels in a kicked up healthy version of Smart Food popcorn.
To start in more familiar territory, I decided to give the UnTuna Wraps a spin. I hoped that even if the vegan tuna salad tasted like my childhood lunch, they might still have the added benefit of not being smelly enough to alienating a room full of people if I decided to eat it in public.
Piatt, who’s the culinary force behind the cookbook, uses walnuts again here for texture, along with a group of very pungent ingredients—Kalamata olives, relish, and seaweed—to get that briny, fabulously funky tuna salad taste. I had to add a little warm water to the food processor to get the mixture to form a paste, but once it did, the spread looked remarkably like my brown bag cafeteria tuna salad.
I didn’t have any relish so I used a little sauerkraut instead, which seemed to add the necessary acidity and tang. The walnuts created a nice creamy consistency, no vegan mayo necessary. And the seaweed gave the mixture that signature fishy scent, without being overwhelming enough to envelope an entire open plan office.
I created some lunchtime wraps out of collard greens, inspired by these, and loaded them with juicy heirloom tomatoes and a little extra celery for crunch. Unlike the original, the vegan tuna salad kept well for a few weeks in the fridge, and I ate the remainder as a spread for gluten-free Udi’s to give my usual avocado toast routine a little pizzazz.
Even if you’re not trying to actively eat more plants, this healthy, savory spread is worth making on deliciousness alone. And if you are making the transition into more animal-free territory, I highly recommend picking up The Plant Power Way cookbook for more creative combinations and inspiration.
Vegan Tuna Salad in Collard Green Wraps
- 1 1/2 cups raw walnuts
- 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- ¼ cup seaweed or sea veggies (I used dried wakame)
- 2 celery stalks coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Bubbie’s relish (I used sauerkraut, since it’s what I had)
- 16 collard green leaves stems removed
- 2 heirloom tomatoes thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives optional
In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until mealy. Add the olives, sea veggies, and relish (or kraut). Process again until a coarse paste. (You might have to add a tablespoon or two of water to get it smooth).
Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl and fold in the chopped celery.
Stack two collard green leaves on a work surface so that there are no holes (one lengthwise and the other widthwise). Place ¼ cup of the untuna mixture in the center, followed by a tomato slice. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and the chives (if using). Fold in the bottom, followed by the sides and secure with a toothpick or bamboo skewer and serve!