Tuna, you’ve got competition: Ties to the sea inspire a plant-based cook

Photo: Sunny Gandara You won’t miss the fish in this vegan tuna salad sandwich.

Photo: Sunny Gandara
You won’t miss the fish in this vegan tuna salad sandwich.

Sunny Gandara
Arctic Grub

I regularly find myself getting asked by friends and acquaintances, “What exactly is Norwegian food? What is a typical dish?” This is not easily answered, because Norwegian food differs depending upon the part of the country. Norway is a large country, despite its tiny population of five million people. It is divided by large mountains, fjords, valleys, and rivers. There seem to be a million national dishes, regional specialties, and favorite meals, which I could probably spend a lifetime writing about (and hopefully will!). That aside, one common food in every part of Norway is seafood.

I’m from a small town called Sykkylven, which is situated in a region called Møre og Romsdal in the northwestern part of Norway. The west coast is mostly known for its enormous fjords and waterfalls. From the Norse times, “Møre” meant “The land by the ocean,” and the food—and life in general—is widely influenced by this location. A large number of the region’s inhabitants live on islands and are dependent on ferries to travel to the mainland. Many people here grew up in a family of fishermen. My own grandfather owned a herring factory in the 1930s, and a couple of my uncles and cousins were—or still are—fishermen. One of my uncles tragically died while at sea, so my family has close ties to the ocean (both good and bad) and the fishing industry that is so prevalent in this part of Norway.

Because the area is separated by islands and the ocean, our cuisine is very diverse, and each household has its specialty. Fish naturally dominates, because of our large coastline. Preparations vary widely, from fish soups to dumplings, gratins, and fish cakes. Utilization of innards and fish heads, fish eggs, and even the bones are typical in many dishes. Fish is smoked, prepared in lye (lutefisk, anyone?), grilled, baked, pickled or dried—every type of fish, and every part of each one is used and eaten. Typically, most people will think about the famous Norwegian smoked salmon, and while we certainly produce our fair share of this, Norwegian coastal cuisine is so much more.

When I turned vegan about two years ago, I scratched my head and wondered, “What foods will I write about now?” I thought surely everyone will expect me to write about smoked salmon, pickled herring, bacalao, and cod since I had a Norwegian food blog. How on earth could I veganize any dish that contains fish? Lucky for me, vegans are very crafty and have pretty much turned every animal-based dish into a plant-based one by now—and with much success.

For this article I wanted to make a dish that Americans are familiar with, and that is also simple and quick to make; namely the popular tuna fish sandwich. This is my gourmet version of this popular American meal. The vehicle will be a sprouted grain bread. I like Ezekiel bread, an awesome tasting, healthy bread found in the freezer in health food stores throughout the country. The bread contains different types of sprouted grains and legumes and is kept in the freezer because, unlike the super-processed breads you find on shelves, it contains no preservatives and will go bad if you keep it out (like normal food should). The sandwich will be filled with mashed chickpeas (substitute for tuna), fresh dill and dill pickles, celery, tomato, and lettuce, and accented with a delicious vegan mayonnaise. (I like Just Mayo. If you are skeptical, don’t be; my very picky omnivore husband now only buys this mayo after I introduced him to it. He loves it and honestly couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular mayonnaise made from egg yolk—he preferred the vegan version!) The “fish” taste in the sandwich will come from crumbled nori flakes—nori is a seaweed growing off the coast of Japan and is mostly known here in the U.S. as a wrapper for sushi. If you can’t find nori, you can also use dulse or other seaweed flakes.

Delicious with a wonderful crunchy texture, this has a bright taste due to the fresh lemon juice, dill, and tangy dill pickles. I find this sandwich much lighter than the original, yet with all the familiar flavors. Even if you don’t love tuna, I suggest trying this! No fish were harmed in the making of this dish and there’s no need to worry about fish breath after devouring this tasty remake! Enjoy!

Chickpea “tuna salad” sandwich
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tbsp. whole grain or regular Dijon mustard
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup dill pickles, sliced
2 tsps. crushed nori flakes (or other seaweed flakes)
pinch of chili powder (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
romaine lettuce
fresh tomato slices
6-8 slices sprouted grain bread

Place chickpeas in a bowl and mash them up with the back of a fork. I like to leave some chunks for texture. Mix in all the ingredients except lettuce, tomato, and bread and let sit for about 30 minutes to let the flavors blend in.

Lay out two pieces of bread, place a romaine lettuce on top with a slice of tomato, spoon a generous amount of the chickpea mixture on top, and divide in half.

Serves 3-4.

Sunny Gandara has over 15 years experience in marketing and PR, both in the music and beverage industry. In 2008 she founded her own company, Fork and Glass, a food and wine event and consulting company, located in the Hudson Valley of New York. She now focuses on education, giving seminars and classes to private and corporate groups. Sunny, a native of Norway, is a professionally trained cook and holds a diploma in Wines & Spirits from the WSET.

This article originally appeared in the June 19, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.