Lost Italian: Tuna Melt Reset puts a nutritious twist on classic sandwich

This low-calorie take on a tuna melt is made with plain Greek yogurt and broiled with sharp cheddar cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
This low-calorie take on a tuna melt is made with plain Greek yogurt and broiled with sharp cheddar cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

This month’s series on healthy recipes wraps up with a nutritious twist to one of America’s classic sandwich favorites with my Tuna Melt Reset.

While mayonnaise forms the base of the tuna salad mix that is traditionally used in tuna melts, to give this take on the sandwich a healthier profile, I’m returning to my favorite mayo alternative: nonfat, plain Greek yogurt.

While it may seem like blasphemy to forego the mayo in a tuna melt, consider that there are only 65 calories in a half-cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt, versus about 720 in a half-cup of real mayonnaise. Even better, the low-calorie nature of this tuna salad means you can indulge in the bread and cheese that defines a tuna melt sandwich and keep a single serving under 350 calories.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — when following a healthy diet, low-calorie, nutritious ingredients and simple recipes aren’t enough to guarantee success. When it comes to eating, healthy or otherwise, flavor is the key to keep cravings for other foods at bay.

Fresh chives and dill are added to plain Greek yogurt for the dressing. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Fresh chives and dill are added to plain Greek yogurt for the dressing. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Instead of simply adding the yogurt as a binding agent, like you would with mayo, I’ve chosen to create a flavorful dressing that includes a healthy dose of fresh dill and chives, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and Tabasco. Both dill and chives pair well together and with tuna, and these herbs give the salad a wonderful, fresh quality. The mustard, lemon juice and vinegar bring a zesty touch of acid to brighten up all the flavors.

For best results, refrigerate the dressing for at least 30 minutes before using to allow all the ingredients to meld together. For the salad mix, I use solid white albacore tuna, which has a firmer texture and milder flavor than other varieties of canned tuna. Look for the kind that is packed in water as it is lower in fat and calories than tuna packed in oil.

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This recipe calls for two 5-ounce cans, which yields enough salad to make four to six open-faced sandwiches. In addition to the tuna and yogurt, my salad mix also includes chopped celery, cucumbers and shallots for crunch and flavor.

Avocado is squeezed over shallots, cucumber and celery for low-calorie tuna melts. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Avocado is squeezed over shallots, cucumber and celery for low-calorie tuna melts. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

To take this salad to the next level, I also add one avocado, freshly squeezed into the salad. Even when eating light, fat is still important as the body needs it to help it absorb the nutrients in our food, and the avocado is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, aka the “good” fat. Not only does the addition of avocado improve the nutritional value of our tuna melt, but its smooth and creamy texture brings a delicious richness to the tuna salad.

The salad will keep in the refrigerator for three to five days, but mine never lasts that long. I serve my tuna melt sandwiches open-faced, using dark rye or whole-grain bread, slices of a good dill pickle (Claussen is my favorite), thinly sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Low-calorie tuna melts are topped with sharp cheddar cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Low-calorie tuna melts are topped with sharp cheddar cheese. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the flavor and quality of your food, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of healthy recipes featuring Creamy Broccoli Salad, Warm-Spice Chicken Soup, Sicilian Pork Tenderloin and this week’s Tuna Melt Reset.

Sarah’s Tuna Melt Reset

Serves: 2 to 4

Ingredients:

Two 5-ounce cans white albacore tuna in water, drained

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped

½ cup cucumber, small dice

1 avocado, halved and pitted

Fresh herb yogurt dressing

Sandwich-style dill pickle slices

1 medium tomato, thinly sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper

Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Thinly sliced rye or whole grain bread

Fresh Herb Yogurt Dressing:

½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh chives, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Dash of hot sauce (Tabasco, Sriracha, etc.)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Prepare the dressing by vigorously stirring together all ingredients until combined, taste and add more herbs, seasoning or lemon juice as desired. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days in advance.

Preheat the oven to the broil setting and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, use a fork to break up the tuna into pieces. Add the celery, shallots and cucumber and stir with a large spoon to combine. Squeeze each half of the avocado into the bowl and mix to combine. Stir in the dressing until evenly distributed.

Lightly butter each slice of bread and place on baking sheet. Broil for about 1 minute until lightly toasted and crisp to the touch. Remove from oven.

To assemble the melts, place a layer of sliced pickles on each piece of toasted bread. Top with a heaping mound (about 1/3 cup) of tuna salad and gently press and spread the salad until it covers the toast. Top with a layer of sliced tomatoes followed by a sprinkling of cheese to cover the top.

Broil for 3 to 5 minutes until the sandwich is hot throughout and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and serve immediately. Leftover salad may be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.