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Chickpea “Tuna” Salad: A Retrospective and Recipes

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Vegan Planet: Chickpea “Tuna” Salad: A Retrospective and Recipes

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Chickpea “Tuna” Salad: A Retrospective and Recipes

I'm going to wax nostalgic today and talk about my first encounter with those illustrious vegan mainstays: chickpea “tuna” salad and tofu “egg” salad.  At the risk of revealing the fact that I’m older than dirt, I can recall eating my first tofu “egg” salad sandwich around 1975 in a little “hippie” café in Woodstock, New York. The place smelled like incense and peppermint and the menu items were all about sprouts and pita bread. Red Zinger tea was the drink du jour. 

Jon ordered the chickpea salad sandwich and we swapped about halfway through so we could enjoy them both. The details stick in my mind clearly because it was my first time in a vegetarian restaurant, and I remember that it felt like I was “home.”  Back then, I was a vegan in heart and mind, but for a variety of reasons, it would be more than ten years before I became 100 percent vegan in practice.  But that first visit to that little café helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. It was one of those "ah-ha" moments.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s, when I published my first cookbook and included recipes for my own versions of a tofu “egg” salad and a chickpea spread. Five years later, a friend of mine added chopped sunflower seeds and kelp flakes to mimic the flavor and texture of tuna salad. The tinkering continued over the years, and the recipe has been evolving ever since.  My latest chickpea spread is very basic — just mashed chickpeas, minced celery, some pickle relish, a little Vegenaise, salt and pepper, and a few shakes of sea vegetable flakes — (just because I like it, not because it actually makes the chickpeas taste like tuna salad!)

Which brings me to another point:  I never liked the taste of eggs or tuna back when I used to eat them!  So I’m suddenly struck with the realization that what I’ve really been enjoying over the years have simply been the flavors of tofu and chickpeas — period.  Not impersonations of “egg” or “tuna.”

These days, recipes for both tofu egg salad and chickpea tuna salad are like the nose on your face — everybody has one!  Like hummus, tofu scrambles, and a few other vegan classics, they’ve been around so long, they’re almost retro now.

And I guess that’s the point of this post.  The other day I made a batch of chickpea salad for a quick lunch, and it tasted just like I remember from that café back in the 1970s.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What kind of vegan food memories do you have?

And now, by special request, here are my current favorite recipes for both a tofu and chickpea salad.  Use these recipes as guidelines, adding more of less of the seasonings, according to your own taste.:

Basic Chickpea Salad
Use this salad as a filling for sandwiches or wraps, or spoon it into lettuce leaves, roll up, and enjoy.

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup minced celery
2 tablespoons minced scallion or onion (optional)
1 tablespoon pickle relish
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea vegetable flakes (or kelp or dulse flakes or powder)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mash the chickpeas in a mixing bowl.  Add the celery, scallion (if using), relish, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, and sea vegetable flakes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Mix until well combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Tofu Salad with Curry
When I make tofu salad for sandwiches, I generally make it with curry to add more flavor and because I used to have an actual curried tofu egg salad sandwich on a restaurant menu where I worked that was pretty good — except for the eggs!  I sometimes add some golden raisins or halved seedless grapes to this. Note: some people like to simmer, steam, or otherwise cook the tofu (and then cool) before using, to make it more digestible.

1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped mango chutney
1 teaspoon prepared mustard (optional)
1 tablespoon hot or mild curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup minced celery
2 tablespoons minced scallion or onion (optional)
Mash the tofu in a mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, chutney, mustard (if using), curry powder, and salt, and stir well until thoroughly mixed. Add the carrots, celery, and scallion, if using, and stir to combine. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.


Wow...what a great story! I'm 5 months into my vegan lifestyle change & LOVE almost all the vegan food I've made so far. I enjoy the chickpea "Tuna" salad. I've made it for non-vegans & they like it! (egg salad too) I really enjoyed reading your post. :)
My first experience with vegetarian food came in 1971! I remember there was healthfood resturant in the back a vitamin store, and I ordered a veggie burger, with a glass of carrot juice! It was so good! I ate there everyday for year! My friends thought I was crazy but I looked and felt great! That place closed, but I will never forget it! To this day I'm still eating veggie burgers with a glass of carrot juice every
chance I get!
Thanks, Vegan2Raw, and congrats on being 5 months vegan!

It's amazing how those first experiences stick with us, isn't it, Anonymous? A veggie burger with carrot juice sounds great!
robin are these recipes in your books? i would love to try them both. by the by i just did a post on vegan eating at my blog and i featured a link to you for all vegans and wannabe's to check you out. pop over and have a look if you can.


Hi Shelley,
I appreciate your linking to me -- I'll check out your blog.

Thanks for pointing out that I didn't include recipes for the chickpea and tofu salads. To remedy that, I've just added them to the end of the post. Hope you enjoy.
Thanks for the recipes! I have been thinking of making a tofu "egg" salad recently and might have to give this one a try. I really can not remember my first vegetarian food memories probably because I just decided out of the blue one day to become vegetarian and just had to makke do with what I had! I was on a trip to the North Carolina Zoo and reading a book called Diet for a New America. On the way home after my last carnivorus meal of hot dogs I became very disturbed by what I was reading and instantly became a vegetarian. Then 13 years later while reading Eating Animals made the leap to veganism!
Wonderful post! The first tofu salad I ever tried was the Greens Restaurant version (with Vegenaise), and I have been hooked ever since. Sometime soon I'll have to try your chickpea version. I never liked egg salad because the texture creeped me out, but I like the reminiscence of the egg, so black salt is my friend for this sort of recipe.
Celyn, it's funny, the look/texture/smell/idea of eggs always creeped me out, but when I was omni I ate them anyway! What a relief when I was able to enjoy "egg salad" without the eggs. For that reason, I pass on the black salt, but I can see how people who used to enjoy eggs would like it.
TOFU SALAD RECIPE NOTE: I forgot to mention in the tofu salad recipe, that some people like to cook the tofu (and then cool it) before using in the recipe, to make it more digestible. Also, I had the incorrect mustard amount listed in that recipe and it's actually optional (I tend to use the mustard only when I don't use the curry, so it's up to you. Taste it without first to see if you like it.
thanks for the reipes robin!

You had me at curry. X D

I worked at a deli that featured curried tuna salad made with yogurt instead of mayo. Outstanding with smoked gouda.

I love the idea of eggless egg salad made with curry! I use my mom's egg salad recipe and substitute tofu - I'm not vegan, but I delve into vegetarian cuisine more often than omni goodies, and it's nice to have all the yum of egg salad without eating so gosh-darn many eggs!

I love the idea of a tuna-less tuna salad! Must try!
Hmmm this recipe looks so delicious and nice and i think that fits perfect with my taste and in my opinion is a very easy recipe, so i think i will try it. Thanks for sharing.
robin, one more question if you don't mind. how long is it safe to keep the tofu salad after making it in the refigerator? thanks robin.

Shelley, I like to use it up within 3 days.
thanks robin!


Thanks so much for commenting on my post about the Tuna-Free sandwich filling at Carrot and Potato Time. :) I completely identify with what you said here about not missing the flavor of the fish. I really thing these salads are a separate kind of flavor experience. And chickpeas have such a fulfilling flavor, especially mixed with the seaweed. And thanks for Vegan Planet! I've hardly cracked open my other cookbooks since I got it. :)
Thanks, Anna. I totally agree about chickpeas. And they're so versatile!
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