my favorite tuna salad

Working lunch. #nofilter

I get emails from time to time asking me what I, as someone who works from home mostly, eats for lunch. I can tell you this much: it’s not glamorous. Often, I’m so busy that I barely have time to toast a piece of bread and spread some peanut butter over it, and lots of recipes I test don’t a proper lunch make, unless you want to argue that cake, especially if it includes a vegetable or two, can be justified as lunch.

There have been times, I’ll admit, to heating up Trader Joe’s chana masala, and before you shake your DIY finger at me in judgement, I just would like to say: Trader Joe’s makes a mean chana masala. How? I don’t know, but they do.

Generally, it’s not uncommon for me to be reheating whatever dinner leftovers we have, and unlike my husband, I love leftovers. Of course, as a last resort (or an insanely strong banh mi craving), there’s always take out.

On days when I allow myself to take a wee break to compose my lunch, there’s a fun trip through the pantry. I’m generally good at cobbling together a decent lunch for myself when time allows. Today was one such day. And I decided to make myself my favorite tuna salad.

Tuna and lots of stuff. #nofilter

For a few years, I went through a phase when even the mere smell of canned tuna, no matter the quality, sent me running out of the room, gagging. Recently, I’ve returned to once again liking tuna, and though I eat it infrequently, for sustainability reasons, I treat myself to this salad now and again.

The salad’s premise is quite simple: lots of texture and crunch, and lots of contrasting flavors. I like to add celery, apple, and red onion for crunch; golden raisins for flavor and a softer texture; pine nuts for a firm yet soft feel and a note of sweetness, a pinch of salt, and a generous helping of freshly ground black pepper. Because I’m a lover of acid, I add a bit of sherry vinegar to give the salad a little contrast. I use both excellent extra virgin olive oil (I like the aggressive oils from Sicily like Frantoia), and a bit of mayonnaise to bind everything together. Mayo haters: I’ve used Greek yogurt in the past with much success. Celery haters: I also like a mix of dill and parsley. For the sake of argument, I once tried mint, and didn’t like it, but that’s just my palate. And mostly for beauty, though I really like the taste of them, I like to throw in a few celery leaves on top. It makes for a beautiful plate of something (tuna salad) that’s not normally referred to as beautiful.

And that’s about it. I like to skip the bread here. Not because I’m some kind of a carb hater, but because it tends to make me a little sleepy. This way, I am alert, nourished, and delighted at having just made (and eaten) my own lunch. And that makes me look forward to the rest of my day!

My Favorite Tuna Salad

There’s no hard and fast rule: after all, this is a salad. It’s pretty hard to mess it up. Like I said before, mayo haters can use a nice, tangy Greek yogurt. I’d steer clear of fat free variety as it gets watery. Also, you’re not absorbing any calcium that way. If you don’t have apples on hand, a nice, firm pear will do, but a mushy one will not offer much crunch. Celery can be omitted. And if you prefer shallots to onions, by all means go ahead. Use your best olive oil – a little goes a long way – and I prefer a peppery one from Sicily to a milder one from, say, Tuscany or beyond. Be sure to not forget acid. Lemon juice doesn’t seem to go well here (and this is from a lemon lover), but a nice, bright vinegar (sherry, red wine) will do the trick. Be careful with salt at first: tuna is salty on its own and you can always add more later. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of tuna, try to get the best tuna you are able to, and make sure it’s oil, not water, packed. It makes all the difference.

1 can oil-packed tuna
1/4 apple, chopped
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted, if you like
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
Pinch of fine sea salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Celery leaves for garnish

Toasted bread, optional

In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients and mix until well-combined. Eat immediately, with toast or without.

Serves 1 or 2 depending on hunger level.


  • Carly

    Why oil-packed? I have always bought water packed, but that is just a habit I learned from an ex-boyfriend. I’m curious what your reason is!

  • Maria Tadic

    I love tuna salad. Such a healthy and quick lunch. I love adding cucumbers for a crunch and sundried tomatoes for a little sweetness. So yummy!

  • D

    Yum! This just made me hungry for tuna (which at 8:15a in the morning while sipping on a cup of coffee, is quite a feat). I will have to try the vinegar! Do you think Apple Cider Vinegar would work at all?

  • olga

    D – yes, actually, that is a great idea. It’ll impart a gentle acidity and flavor and will complement the apple in the salad. Also, your comment made me laugh :)

  • Sasha

    Whoa. This is one crazy tuna salad! I like to add a shredded hard boiled egg for creaminess. That way, it’s half tuna salad and half egg salad :)

  • molly

    oooh, goodness, this sounds good. i’m not normally a fan of tuna salad (no mayo for me, thanks), but with apple, and celery, and a hit of vinegar? i can see this. for lunch. tomorrow.

    (for what it’s worth, when i do eat tuna salad, i love it spackled on seedy, thin, crisp ak-mak crackers. sometimes, topped with tomato. or sprouts. or watercress. or all of the above. also? water chestnuts, chopped, add a nice hit of extra crunch. mmmm, now i’m hungry!)

  • olga

    molly – all those options sound fantastic. and i love the ak-mak crackers too! so so good!

  • Karen

    I just made this for dinner, my kids loved it! Thanks, Olga, for another super recipe, and a great new tuna salad for us.

Leave a Comment