Many Americans, ourselves included, begin a new year with a focus on eating healthier, either as a means to lose weight, improve overall health or just to detox from the excesses of the holiday season. If you're like us, you initially welcome this post-holiday opportunity with gusto, but may find your enthusiasm waning after a week or two.
The best way to stay on track is to find recipes that are not only healthy, but also delicious, visually appealing and easy to prepare. Our Albacore Chopped Salad meets all of those criteria, and is a great recipe to add to your healthy-eating repertoire.
We prefer the albacore variety of canned tuna for this salad, as it has a milder flavor, firmer texture and lighter color than the more commonly used light tuna. You can find it in the same grocery aisle as light tuna, labeled as solid or chunk white albacore tuna. Albacore tuna is a staple in our pantry, but it's a little more expensive than light tuna so we watch for specials when it's time to restock.
Albacore shares many of the same nutritional properties as light tuna, making it a great addition to a healthy diet. Not only is it a robust source of complete protein, selenium and vitamin B12, albacore is also a better source of omega-3 fatty acids than other tuna varieties. However, albacore has a higher mercury content than light tuna, and the FDA recommends that pregnant women and children limit their intake to less than 6 ounces (about one can) per week.
With albacore tuna as its star, this salad features a wonderful cast of supporting ingredients, including cannellini beans, sun-dried tomatoes, celery, red onion, parsley, avocado and romaine lettuce. With its mild flavor, albacore is best when combined with other mild ingredients so as not to be overpowered.
The beans, celery, parsley and avocado naturally present this way, while stronger components like the sun-dried tomatoes and red onion require a bit of tweaking to tone down their intensity. For this reason, we recommend that the sun-dried tomatoes be finely chopped, and the red onions are best when sliced as thinly as possible.
A lovely lemon garlic vinaigrette rounds out the dish and brings a luscious creaminess to the mix. We use an egg yolk to achieve this rich texture, but if you're not comfortable using a raw egg, a tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard or real mayonnaise would be good substitutes. The dressing can be made two to three days in advance, and even earlier if you omit the egg yolk.
Avocado wasn't originally featured in this recipe, and was added for its lovely green color and mild, creamy flavor. There can never be too much avocado, in our opinion, and the addition of this one ingredient lets us have a bit of fun with the presentation of the dish.
For an easy, light lunch, I love to mash up a bit of avocado, spread it on a piece of thin toast, and top it with the albacore salad, leaving out the romaine lettuce. Tony, preferring a less rustic presentation, will slice an avocado in half, peel it, and fill it with the salad. Or, you can simply toss all the ingredients together and enjoy it on a plate or in a bowl.
Our albacore chopped salad not only packs a powerful nutritional punch, but it tastes so good that we find ourselves craving it. What an excellent and delicious way to welcome a healthy new year.
Albacore Chopped Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as an entree
1 can cannelini beans, drained (about 15 ounces) ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/3 cup celery, sliced (half-moon shape) ¼ red onion, thinly sliced (the thinner, the better) 1½ tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped 2 5-ounce cans solid Albacore tuna (drained) or 1 12-ounce can 1 avocado, medium-diced 1 bag of chopped, clean romaine lettuce
Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette ingredients 1 egg yolk Juice of 1 lemon 1 teaspoon garlic, minced Pinch of sugar ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black pepper ½ cup olive oil
To make vinaigrette, combine egg yolk, lemon, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl. While whisking slowly, add olive oil in a thin stream, always whisking to emulsify. Incorporate all oil, taste, and adjust seasoning as desired.
Add salad ingredients to the dressing and stir so that vegetables and tuna are evenly coated. If making in advance, add the lettuce just before serving and toss to mix.
Tips from Tony and Sarah
• Vinaigrette can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.
• A tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard or real mayonnaise can be used instead of the egg yolk and will extend the life of the dressing up to one week.
• For a light lunch, mash up plain avocado to spread on thin toast and top with albacore salad.
• For an elegant presentation, peel half an avocado and fill with albacore salad.
• To speed up the ripening process, place avocado in a paper bag with a ripe banana or apple for 24 hours.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.