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'Accidentally Delicious' White Bean and Tuna Salad

July 24, 2020

It's too hot to cook, so Andrea Jupina shares her 'Accidentally Delicious' recipe for White Bean and Tuna Salad. You won't believe how something that is this easy to make turns out SO DELICIOUS!
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico - I'm not sure what's better, good luck or dumb luck. Either way, I'll take 'em both.

The other day at the supermarket, I saw some wonderful looking tiny clams, frozen in their shells. They reminded me of Long Island's cherrystones and I thought, ohhhh, linguine with clam sauce. Maybe I can make something almost as good as the fabulous pasta we used to get at Dimitri's, a superb little neighborhood restaurant on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, back in the day before the upper west side got so tony.

So I bought the clams. Then I told my favorite guinea pig, Trish, about my idea and she stowed the little mollusks in her freezer.

Next, I needed to find a good recipe. I searched my cookbooks and then went online. To my surprise, most recipes called for quite a lot of clam juice, like about two cups. So Trish and I started to hunt. A few days later she texted that she'd bought clams in a glass jar with plenty of juice. Yay!

But then I found out that they were not almejas (clams) but alubias (white beans). "No problem," I said. I had two ideas about things to make, one of them a sure-fire dish in the Silver Palate, a ham and white bean salad with Kalamata olives, green herbs and a garlic-mustard dressing. It's really good. However, lately I've been in the mood to try new things.

I'd read some rave reviews about a very simple salad of white beans and tuna packed in olive oil. Truthfully, the ingredients sounded so simple and boring, I didn't expect much.

But one of the reviews got my attention. The writer said that her father had taken a voyage on a tramp steamer from New York to Italy in 1950. He took all his meals with the sailors. Twice a week they made a salad of white beans, canned tuna in olive oil, red onions, and plenty of olive oil. They loved mopping up the delicious sauce with bread. The reviewer continued to sing the praises of this salad, saying that she makes it every week. "Interesting," I thought. "I must give it a try."

Long story short, this dish is a real sleeper. And here's a clue - this same basic recipe appears over and over and over again, all over the internet. I've noticed the same thing with another excellent recipe, a plum torte I've been making for well over 20 years.

Anyway, I couldn't believe that this dumb-sounding little bean salad was so delicious. I promise you, I will be making it again and again. In fact I've already loaded up my pantry with the ingredients. It is perfect for this time of year, when you want to spend as little time as possible over a hot stove.

This dish is something you can whip up on a few minutes notice for unexpected company ... or expected company on a lazy day ... or for just yourself. It keeps well and is even better a day later. The ingredients are non-perishable, so you can always have them in your larder. You just need to have some onion lurking about.

It is better if made with tuna packed in olive oil. If you shop around, you can find some that is not ridiculously expensive, such as Tuny brand and Vive Sabor in Puerto Vallarta and Trader Joe's tuna in olive oil in the US. Another option is to use tuna in water, drain it well, and be generous with the olive oil.

As for the beans, I made this salad with cooked Cicados brand Alubias Grandes. They come in a glass jar. And while it might not be very scientific, it seems like food is always better when packaged in a glass container rather than plastic. I feel the same way about drinking wine from a real glass. I even have sturdy "roadie" glasses to stow in my purse in case an event I attend might be serving wine in plastic cups. But I digress.

If you want to cook dried beans yourself, you can save some money. But truthfully, if you pay a little more for cooked beans - for the convenience, time saved, and not having to deal with a hot stove - I call it the 'mental health benefit.' And it's a lot cheaper than a shrink.

However, if you are going to cook dried beans, then this time of year I would soak them overnight - or first thing in the morning for at least 4 hours - and then cook them in the evening, so you don't heat up the house. Dried cannellini, white kidney beans, navy beans, or alubias would be the ticket, and good luck finding them in Puerto Vallarta.

I have never made this salad with other types of canned fish, such as sardines in olive oil, or other kinds of beans - black, pinto, whatever - and it makes perfect sense to give that a try, as long as you like those things.

Classic Italian Tuna and White Bean Salad
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cookbook
Yield: 4 main course portions

3 cups cooked white beans, such as white kidney beans, cannellini, great northern beans, navy beans - or 1 cup dried beans, cooked (which should yield 3 cups). Or 1 jar Cidacos brand Alubias Extra (570 g, masa drenada 400 g), RINSED

red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water or ice water for 1 hour in refrigerator. Water should be changed at least twice. Soakings will make the onion sweet. Red onion is authentic for this Italian recipe. However, any kind of onion will do.

About 7 ounces tuna (198 grams) packed in olive oil (2 packages of 111 g apiece, such as Tuny brand or Vive Sabor brand in Puerto Vallarta)

1/3 cup olive oil or more, to taste, for dipping bread

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or more, to taste

Salt to taste

Pepper (optional)

Rinse and drain the beans in a colander. If you cooked dried beans, discard epazote, if you used it. Drain the red onion, which has been soaking in cold water an hour. Add beans and onion to a salad bowl. Season with salt and taste. Add tuna and its olive oil, breaking into large flakes with a fork. (If using tuna in water, drain well and add extra olive oil to taste.) Add olive oil, vinegar to taste and optional pepper.

PS. Various recipes "gild the lily" with things like fresh herbs, such as parsley or sage (salvia), or some capers, arugula or watercress. I didn't. I wanted to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid). It was wonderful without adding any extra steps or ingredients. But that doesn't mean I won't improvise next time...

Directions for Cooking Dried Beans
The Tried-and-True Old Fashioned Way. No Trendy Kitchen Gear

Beans should be soaked at least 4 hours, preferably longer, up to 12 hours.
1 cup of dried beans yields 3 cups cooked beans.
1 pound (454 grams) of dried beans yields between 6-7 cups cooked beans.

Remove any stones or dirt from the beans and rinse well. Mix about 1 tablespoon baking soda in a bowl with a little water, stir well, add beans and cover with about 2 inches extra water. The beans will absorb water and you may need to top it off. Baking soda helps make the beans less "gassy."

Alternatively, one stem of fresh Mexican epazote herb added to the cooking water also works. However, it carries a definite strong flavor, so if using epazote, be moderate, or just use it with black beans. Mexican food goddess Diana Kennedy says that epazote enhances the flavor of black beans; interestingly, it grows in profusion in Central Park, Riverside Park and even in backyards in New York. If you know what it looks like, you can find it growing wild among weeds. However, epazote is definitely not authentic for this recipe - nor are black beans, for that matter.

When you are ready to cook the beans, rinse them well to remove the baking soda flavor. Drain in a colander.

Add the beans to a pot, cover with fresh new water, add one teaspoon salt, stir, add 1 sprig of epazote if using, 1 bay leaf (optional) and cover the pot. The beans will expand threefold, so make sure your pot is big enough.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover. After about 30 minutes, remove one bean from the pot, cool it, and taste for doneness. If needed, add salt. Speaking of salt, if you're cooking a dish and it seems to need something, it's probably salt. It is truly amazing how often this works for me. Like 99% of the time.

The beans should be firm but not hard. They should retain their shape but not be mushy. Check every 5 minutes or so. Cooking time will vary, depending on the kind of bean, size, and age. When done, drain in a colander and rinse. You may want to save about a cup of the cooking water, depending on what you're cooking, in case you need to add more liquid.

Incidentally, cooked beans freeze very well. If you are going to the effort of cooking them, it might be just as easy to make a big batch. When cooked, measure them and freeze in smaller, airtight individual baggies - 1 cup, 2 cups, 3 cups - you decide. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible to avoid freezer burn, which is caused by oxygen.

Be sure to label each item - DATE, CONTENTS and AMOUNT. No, you are not going to remember when you froze it. I promise. So just label it, ok? It's a good habit. I use blue painter's tape for my labels. It's a great kitchen trick. Here's another one: lay baggies of food on a flat surface, like a cookie sheet or a box that's already in the freezer. FLAT baggies of frozen food make storage neater and space-efficient.

I like to use frozen food within 6 months. It will be ok after that, but starts to lose flavor or sometimes picks up other odors from the freezer. I mean, unless it's Armageddon or bomb shelter food, what's the point of eating something that's become substandard?

Much as I dislike wasting food, I really hate eating food that's mediocre or on the verge of spoiling. Life is too short. When in doubt, throw it out. These days, with pandemic limitations, eating delicious food is a pleasure that is available to all of us. Buen provecho.

Copyright 2020 by Andrea Jupina. All rights reserved.

Andrea Jupina lives in Puerto Vallarta full time. Previously she wrote her "Accidentally Delicious" column for the Vallarta Tribune, but now she has joined the Banderas News team and, though we are all a little bit fatter, we couldn't be happier! Join us in welcoming Andrea by sending your questions or comments to andreajupina(at)