If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a “from scratch” kind of gal. I mean, when you’ve been told you can’t eat anything processed, anything with additives, anything with coloring, anything with refined sweeteners or flours–basically, anything that’s not fresh from the vine or the ground–you learn to cook from scratch. Baptism by (Gas Mark 7) fire, and all that.
As a child, I thought “homemade” was synonymous with “bland and boring.” (Actually, I was onto something there: my mother’s cooking actually was bland and boring). For my sisters and me, the most exciting foods we could imagine came in a box, a jar, or a can. Perfectly round, single-serve “layer cakes” coated in crunchy, “chocolatey” shellac and packaged in individual cellophane bags; McDonald’s large fries and chocolatey “milk” shakes; soft, mushy, impossibly orange and slightly gooey Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Alphagetti; and–the best possible treat my mother could ever offer, the holy grail of convenience foods–Swanson TV Dinners. How we loved that Salisbury Steak with the little square of blueberry cake baked into the center of the aluminum dish!
But such rewards were few and far between. What seemed like a rare and elusive jackpot in our kitchen was common fare for my two best friends, the Gemini twins; all the glamorous, esoteric items that were verboten at our house made regular appearances on their dinner table. I recall many a meal at their place when we kids were served a heaping portion of Hamburger Helper (with added sautéed onions for that homemade touch), along with canned chocolate pudding topped with a dollop of jam and sprinkle of walnuts (to lend some individual flair) for dessert. I loved it–and was entirely envious of their good fortune!
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and began to cook for myself that I truly appreciated the home cooked dishes I’d been served throughout my youth, despite their insipid flavors. Subsequently, in my 30s, I began to realize how infinitely superior real food was to synthetic (much as SanDeE appreciates this difference in response to Steve Martin’s confused inquiry in LA Story). Since my Great Diet Shift in 2000, I’ve been cooking about 95% from scratch. It’s become a reflex to simply make things myself.
So it never occurred to me to do otherwise when I encountered the famous Mock Tuna recipe for the first time. At first I wondered, how had I missed it? Where had I been living all this time? Mashed, cooked chickpeas, mayo, chopped bits of this and that—a perfect replica of that classic fishy salad, both in appearance and taste. It looked fabulous. Sounded terrific. With an impressive nutritional profile, too: very high protein (11 g per 1 cup serving), high iron, 6% daily calcium–really, how could one go wrong? I knew I had to try it.
First on the ingredient list was “one can of chick peas.” Well, of course I ignored that part. Why would I use canned anything if I could help it? So I soaked my beans overnight, then drained, rinsed, refilled with fresh water, and boiled away. And boiled. The recipe instructed me to mash with a potato masher or fork, but somehow, my beans were still too hard to accomplish such a feat. Instead, I opted for the food processor and blended the entire mound into a pulp. I ended up with little pebble-like pieces of chickpea, nothing like a “mash” at all. I mean, they were TASTY pebble-like pieces, mind you, but pebble-like pieces nonetheless. I liked the mock tuna well enough (even though–sorry, folks–it tastes nothing like tuna) and even made it a few more times. But let’s just say it would never achieve the same iconic status as Hamburger Helper at the Geminis’.
Then, last week while grocery shopping, right there in the canned goods aisle, I was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming urge, one that was completely out of character (no, nothing like that, you pervs! Shame on you!). I had an urge to buy a CAN of chickpeas. A can! “Maybe, just maybe, using canned chickpeas will make a difference,” I thought. Hard to believe, but in all my 40+ years of eating I had NEVER TASTED CANNED CHICKPEAS. Well, dear readers, the result was truly humbling. In fact, it left me feeling quite sheepish. I’d even venture to say I was cowed (though not to be confused with “resembling a cow.”). Now, I must admit it: sometimes, convenience foods are superior. Truly, the dish was phenomenal. I couldn’t stop eating the stuff!
Imagine this scene: Dinnertime at the DDD household. The HH sits on one side of the table, munching a slice of bison loaf (purchased at the extortionary Planet Organic, because (a) at least it’s organic; (b) the HH demands his meat; (c) the store is 80% empty most of the time and I’m afraid it’s going to go bankrupt before it’s even open a year; and (d) who feels like cooking for the HH when I’ve already mixed up a chickpea spread for myself?). I’m on the other side, eating my delectable mock tuna on a rice cake.
HH: What is that stuff?
Me: Mock tuna. It’s made from chick peas.
HH: Chickpeas? Are you kidding me?
Me: Nope. [chomp, chomp, lip-smack, lick fingertips]
HH: [Hesitantly] Can I try a little?
Me: Sure. [pushes bowl across table]
HH: [Chewing]: Hmm. [Chomp] That’s not too bad. [Chomp]. Tastes sort of like potato salad. [Lip-smack]. Actually, that’s pretty good stuff. [Licks fingertips. Turns back to bison].
Me: Yeah, I see what you mean, it is sort of like potato salad. Mmmnnnmm!
HH: Hmmn. Yeah, like a very good, creamy, delicious potato salad. [reaches over to take another forkful].
Me: [clears throat] Help yourself.
HH: Thanks! [scoops half the mixture onto his plate.]
Me: Guess you like it.
HH: Yeah, this is great stuff! [Chomp, chomp, lip-smack, licks fingertips.]
In the end, the HH did finish his bison, but he also finished up the mock tuna (which was actually a good thing, as I would have scarfed it all up otherwise). He cleared the plate and asked if I could make it again sometime, because “Wow, that’s amazing stuff!”
Lesson learned: Sometimes, it’s okay to use a can for something you could also make from scratch. Oh, and you should always follow the recipe’s instructions.
“Good lesson, Mum. And if Dad ever doesn’t want to finish his bison, you know where to find us.”
And while it may not taste exactly like chick peas, those legumes in this dish make it an ideal entry to My Legume Love Affair, the event created by Susan, and this month hosted by Lucy at Nourish Me.
Mock Tuna Salad (Chickpea Spread)
adapted from this recipe
This spread is perfect on crackers, as a sandwich filling, or just on its own. It’s creamy, a little spicy, and all around irresistible.
1 (15 oz or about 425 g.) can cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed well with water, or 1-1/2 cups (360 ml.) cooked beans
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) mayonnaise (I use a homemade vegan version–or use any type you like)
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) plain yogurt (I use this brand–or use any type you like)
1/3 cup (80 ml.) finely diced celery
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) finely minced dill pickle (about one medium pickle)
1-1/2 tsp. (7.5 ml.) nutritional yeast
1-2 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. (5 ml.) tamari or soy sauce
1/2 small jalapeno or other hot pepper, minced
pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mash the beans with a potato masher. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together well. Use immediately as a sandwich spread or dip, or refrigerate up to 3 days. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml.).