Growing up, I was never fond of fish.
But I did love my mama’s tuna burgers. They were similar to tuna melts, but instead of placing a slice of cheese on top of tuna salad, she’d actually mix the cheese into the tuna salad. Then she’d load the salad on buns and bake in the oven.
Result: Ooey, gooey deliciousness.
As I got older, tuna burgers became one of my go-to recipes. Easy, inexpensive, and everyone loved it. (Might I add, this was in the days before much was known about the high mercury levels in canned tuna.)
And then I became vegetarian, and then vegan. I did try re-creating these tuna burgers with chickpea “tuna” salad recipes, but sadly they all tasted like chickpea salad. Sometimes very good chickpea salad indeed, but still. Chickpeas.
So I resigned myself to having eaten my last tuna burger melt.
And then I discovered this awesome recipe for tempeh chicken salad. And I thought, maybe, just maybe, I could make vegan tuna salad from tempeh!
One package of 3-grain tempeh, a whole lotta dill pickles, and a spoonful of kelp flakes later I discovered that, yes, indeed I COULD make a vegan tuna salad that tasted a heck of a lot like tuna!
Since I’m not a big fan of Daiya cheese, I then attempted to recreate the “melt” part with nutritional yeast and a bit more Vegenaise than usual to replicate the creamy, cheesy texture.
Result: Ooey gooey deliciousness, only this time cruelty and mercury free!
Ingredients for Tempting Tempeh Tuna Salad Melts
8 oz. package Tempeh (I used Light Life Organic 3-Grain)
1/4 to 1/2 cup Vegenaise
1/2 Yellow Onion, diced
1 stalk Celery, diced
2 teaspoons Celery Seed
3 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Kelp Flakes
1 Tablespoon Sweet Pickle Salad Cubes
3 Tablespoons Dill Pickle Salad Cubes
A couple of good grinds of Black Pepper
1 package Sturdy Sandwich Buns (6-8 Buns)
Directions for Tempting Tempeh Tuna Salad Melts
Steam the tempeh for 25 – 30 minutes. This is SO important – you want the tempeh to have a soft texture to mimic tuna fish! If you have a steamer insert, like I do, check on it in 10 minute intervals to make sure the water doesn’t all boil away.
Once the tempeh is done, begin preheating your oven to 350.
Next step is to chop the tempeh into chunks. Since it’s been steamed so long, this should be easy. The soybeans should be crumbling apart from each other. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Add the onion, sweet pickles, dill pickles, chopped celery, and nutritional yeast to the tempeh. Mix gently.
Now, make the dressing. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup Vegenaise, kelp flakes, and celery seed. Add a grind or two of black pepper. Mix well.
Pour the dressing over the tempeh and stir to distribute dressing evenly. If the tempeh tuna salad seems dry, add up to another 1/4 cup Vegenaise (go slowly, a spoonful at a time). Since I’m using the Vegenaise to recreate the creamy texture when baked, I use a little more mayo than I normally would.
Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil and place an open bun on top. Heap the bottom half of the bun with tempeh tuna salad and then replace the top half of the bun.
Roll the foil up around the sandwich, twisting and pinching the ends.
Bake in oven at 350 for 30 minutes.
Remove from foil immediately (you don’t want the buns to “steam” and become too soft). Enjoy immediately!
This makes enough for 6-8 sandwiches. You don’t have to make all the sandwiches at once. I’ve whipped up a batch of tempeh tuna salad, stored it in a glass container in my fridge, and just baked one or two tempeh tuna melts at a time over the course of a few days.
Be sure to use kelp flakes or granules and not a kelp seasoning blend. Kelp seasoning blends have a less “fishy” taste and other spices added, such as rosemary and thyme.
If you want to make a cold tuna salad instead of a hot melt, use a sweet or red onion instead of a yellow onion, omit the nutritional yeast, and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
A spoonful of capers also makes a nice addition.