Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dare to be creative

One of the many discoveries I've made about having food allergies is that you are naturally forced to be creative about your eating habits. If you aren't creative, if you don't "think outside the box", you are left with...nothing. Literally! You will have nothing available for you to eat if you're not creative! So what does this mean?

It means that I've had to rethink my favorite meals, dishes and ingredients to figure out what I wanted to keep and what I couldn't. Because I'm allergic to lettuce (I know, I know, that's SUPER freaky), I frequently miss the freshness of salads, especially in the summer when it's hot. Also, in this salad-mad diet-conscious town, when I turn down traditional salads at restaurants and ask for vegetable substitutes, people think I'm downright nuts. But that's okay by me, because I have a secret weapon.

I discovered an Italian-style tuna salad when I was searching for a new way to use tuna without making my own mayo. (We should all eat more fish, and as long as you have canned tuna no more than once a week you should be fine if you worry about mercury poisoning.) It's since become my favorite summer go-to dish, because it's so versatile and convenient. Most of the ingredients come out of a jar or a can, if you make it first it will be ready by the time you make a second dish! You can add whatever is leftover in the fridge or whatever veggies are fresh for the season. You can serve this as a side dish, main dish or inside a sandwich with some nice arugula. And depending on your additions this is wheat-free, egg-free, peanut-free, nut-free, soy-free and dairy-free. It's full of protein, and you can even up the protein with a variety of different beans if you like. Creativity will set you free! (Actually the truth will set you free, but that sounded good, didn't it?)

Italian Tuna Salad
Adapted from Claudia Roden's The Good Food of Italy

1 7 oz. can of tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
1 15 oz. can of cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 Tablespoons capers, chopped
4 cornichons (or other pickles) chopped
1/3 cup black pitted olives, chopped
juice of 1 lemon (I substitute with 2 Tablespoons champagne vinegar since I can't have lemon)
salt and pepper
4-5 Tablespoons olive oil

some suggested variations: chopped hardboiled egg, boiled new potatoes, other canned beans, blanched green beans, roasted peppers, fresh bell peppers, celery, red onions, parsley, dill

Gently mix all ingredients except for juice and oil together in bowl. (This looks kinda weird if you mash everything together, so go easy. Part of this salad's appeal is its combination of textures.)

Whisk lemon juice (or vinegar) and olive oil together until emulsified to make a vinaigrette dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad, mix gently and let stand 30-60 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6.

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