Canned tuna is underrated. Sure, we keep a can or two on hand for the occasional tuna salad sandwich, but most of us don't stray far from the sandwich for this tasty and versatile protein.
Canned tuna can be used as a protein swap in many recipes (tuna tacos are amazing!), and it's shelf-stable, inexpensive and chock-full of protein. One cup of drained canned tuna packs in about 40 grams of protein, so it's a filling enough for either lunch or dinner.
Budget cooks take note: Tuna is easy to nab on sale for a buck or so a can, even for name brands, so load up when it's on sale since it has an incredibly long shelf life.
Most tuna seems to be packed in water these days to save calories. But I personally like the flavor better of oil-packed fish — it tastes more like fresh fish — so I usually keep a couple of oil-packed cans around for some recipes where I want a richer flavor, and I just drain the oil away.
Also, I always keep a can (or jar) of high-end tuna in my pantry — a quality tuna packed in good olive oil will turn your tuna dishes into restaurant quality, but you'll definitely pay several dollars more. Your call.
Once you have a nice stock of canned tuna in the pantry, get creative. Consider almost any recipe where you use chicken or fish, and see if you can't substitute tuna.
Tip: the more sophisticated the dish, the higher end the tuna should be. Mixing up some tuna patties? Chunk light tuna on sale is perfect for the task. Sauteeing up tuna in olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and chili flakes to toss with pasta for company? You'll want to spend a little more.
If you are worried about having taste flashbacks to your childhood of eating pink-spiky tuna-flecked mayo slathered between slices of white fluffy bread, my suggestion is to think about ethnic flavor profiles to redirect your tastebuds — Italian (mix tuna into spicy tomato sauces), Thai, Chinese, and Mexican dishes made with canned tuna are some of my favorites.
Chopped albacore salad with Asian dressing
Start to finish: 15 minutes
4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
3/4 cup chopped green beans
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped red sweet pepper
1/4 cup quartered grape tomatoes
1/2 avocado, cubed
1/4 cup chopped almonds (or cashews)
2 scallions, chopped
3 5-ounce cans albacore tuna, drained
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, finely minced (or 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic)
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sriracha, or other hot sauce (or more if desired)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
Place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together the dressing ingredients. Spoon about half of the dressing onto the salad and toss to coat. Taste, and add more dressing as desired. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 300 calories; 150 calories from fat; 17 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 47 mg cholesterol; 379 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 28 g protein
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy." Online: http://www.melissadarabian.net