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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.

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