26 September 2007

Tuna Boats, or something like it

Being a creative cook doesn't always have to mean making up your own recipes. I'm going to share with you one of my favorite re-imagined recipes which I'm going to call "Tuna Boats."

Last year, my parents gave me my favorite cookbook ever, Quick & Easy Healthy Eating. But I'll tell you a secret: I've never made any of the recipes in it. I've come close, to be sure, but to me it's been more of an idea book than a fool-proof plan of what's for dinner.

I have learned pretty quickly that Quick & Easy, in addition to not being quick or easy most of the time, often requires wondrous and mystical ingredients. Like mackerel, which I can only find in the cat food aisle, or several miles away at the seafood market, which is not only out of the way but too expensive on my kind of budget.

So why, then, is Quick & Easy my very favorite cookbook? Because it is chocked full of great ideas. Take today's recipe: the original ("salad with tuna-stuffed bell pepper" by Conrad Gallagher) isn't actually that different at its core from my version, but it did require some extras that I'd rather not fool around with. For instance, it calls for making your own French dressing, which is only good for a week or two, and, I've found, is entirely superfluous to the actual taste of the food.

The original also has capers, whose only purpose seems to be making the tuna taste saltier. I've come to the conclusion that capers are, by and large, included in a dish to make it sound more chef-y. Really, any time you see capers, you could just add more salt and save yourself the trouble of buying a 12 ounce jar ($6) that sits around in your refrigerator so long that it's been to school and back at least three times before you finally pitch it, still half-full.

The original also calls for skinning the peppers. This was less than successful. After 10 minutes in the toaster oven, my peppers were nice and blistery, just as the recipe said. I sealed them in a large mixing bowl under saran wrap, just as the recipe said, and when they were completely cool, I pulled them out, ready to strip those peppers down to their tender, naked selves.

Alas, this did not happen quite so smoothly. Taking the skin off of those peppers was not unlike trying to scrape away layers of enamel from a tooth. I eventually succeeded in squashing my first pepper into a pile of unusable pepper goo and taking about a dime-sized piece of skin off the second before I decided to leave off with the pepper abuse and just leave the skins on. If anyone out there has ever successfully skinned a pepper, and has some tips, let me know.

So those things don't sound like good ideas, or at least they didn't to me. But the heart of the recipe is a good idea, and it's what I made today: yellow bell peppers stuffed with tuna salad. Plain and simple. This dish is supposed to be served cold over salad greens. My version does away with the salad greens, jazzes up the tuna, and calls for cooking the whole thing in the toaster oven, making it more like a tuna melt – except without the cheese or the bread. So really not much like one at all – than a salad.

The moral of the story is that all recipes can be taken as suggestions. Try it once the way that the original chef intended, but if you don't like the way it turns out: don't give up, just get creative!

Tuna Boats

(adapted from a recipe by Conrad Gallagher)

Things you can pilfer from the salad bar:

½ cup red onions

2 dill pickle spears

½ cup celery pieces (or 1-2 stalks of fresh celery)

1 cup tuna (sometimes this is on the salad bar at my school. If unavailable, use 2 cans of drained tuna)

1 – 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Things you will probably have to buy:

2 stalks green onions

1 yellow bell pepper (yellow peppers are the sweetest of the commonly available peppers; orange bell peppers are a fair substitute)

  1. Preheat your toaster oven to 350 o F.

  2. Chop any "dry" ingredients (i.e. – everything except the tuna and mayo) to uniform size. If you have canned tuna, make sure to drain it thoroughly. Mix the chopped ingredients with the tuna.

  3. Now you can mix in the mayonnaise. If you have added too much mayo, and everything is starting to look like tuna-soup, just add more tuna until it has the consistency you want.

  4. Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise, removing the stem, seeds, and inner membrane. Fill with tuna salad mixture.

  5. Bake the tuna boats at 350 o F for 10-12 minutes, or until the tuna has started to brown at the tips and the food is making a pleasant sizzling sound.


(Carefully. Barbarian drooling of food juices may occur if you attempt to eat this without a knife and fork. In fact, it may happen anyway. This is part of why I call them Tuna Boats. Be prepared. Bring a towel.)


AJ Star said...

olivia, i don't even LIKE tuna...in fact, i have always been frightened by it...but now it looks delicious and pretty!!! what an excellent idea. and mmm omega-3s!!!

Aubrey said...

I like that you divide the ingredients list into things that can and can not be obtained from the dining hall. It makes it so easy.

Janery said...

Oh, I like the 'pilfering from the salad bar' idea! Why didn't I think of that before?