Growing up, my mother was the one who would spend the most amount of time in the kitchen, each and every day preparing us delicious meals from scratch. Sometimes my father would pitch in, notoriously in the mushroom risotto territory, where he would spend at least 30 minutes stirring a pot full of rice while slowly adding broth. But, apart from those random events, it was my mother doing the cooking. I would watch, of course, and for some reason that made me feel like I had learned how to cook through osmosis. My mother would sometimes even show me the steps, but by the time I got to college, I soon realized that I truly did not know how to cook. This became apparent as I stood in my boyfriend’s kitchen, hammering at a poor, unknowing onion with a butcher knife like a slasher in a horror film; he stopped me in my tracks, took the knife from me and step by step taught me how to correctly chop an onion. I didn’t even have the most basic of all cooking skills!! It was a bit embarrassing, although I made it a mission to learn how to cook. It took a really long time to learn, unfortunately, and for the first couple years of college, I relied on the school meal plan and an occasional trip to the supermarket for a box of tuna helper.
The spin-off of hamburger helper, “tuna helper”, featured the same little smiling gloved hand waving at you. I loved that little hand, as if it was telling me “it’s OK, you can do this- we can do this together!” Separately buying the can of tuna, the peas and the milk made me feel as if I was really contributing to the food preparation. After a relatively quick process, I would confidently pull a steaming tuna casserole out of the oven, knowing it would taste perfect.
Once I had gotten the hand (no pun intended) of the ingredients needed for a tuna casserole, I attempted several times to make it myself. The result was miserable- the cheese would congeal into long strings that never melted and half the noodles would be hard. It was pretty gross and I had slowly given up on making a tuna casserole from scratch. And, now, given my dietary restrictions (and that I don’t eat any sort of artificial anything), tuna helper was quickly crossed off the list of allowable foods for a host of different reasons. So the other day, when we happened to have some mushrooms in the fridge, it occurred to me that I had really come a long way in my cooking. I challenged myself to find a healthy tuna casserole recipe that I could rock, one that, in a cook-off, would beat that little smiling hand into submission. Let me tell you, folks, I found it. And not only is this an amazing tuna casserole dish, it’s dairy, grain and gluten free! In your face, hand!
I’m so happy for the paleo movement right about now- they have some really great ideas. This tuna casserole dish comes from a paleo recipe found here. In essence, the sauce is vegan and AMAZING, based on tahini and nutritional yeast to make it creamy. You can make this sauce and add it to just about anything- sandwiches, noodles, chips, it is really very delicious! I imagine you could even make this into a vegan casserole where you substitute potatoes or tofu for tuna. The noodles are cabbage strips that have been baked to the point where it looks and feels a bit like a rice noodle. And, it’s super easy- the college me would have been able to do this while making my mother proud.
For the sauce
1/2 cup tahini
1/4-1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp coconut aminos (or Dr. Braggs aminos)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
For the Casserole
3 cans of tuna (5 oz each)
1 head of green cabbage
1 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
1 box of white mushrooms
Half a small bag of frozen peas
4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of chopped jalapeno
1. First prepare the cabbage noodles. Slice the cabbage head into rounds between 1/2 and 1 inch wide. The width of the slice of cabbage will determine the size of your noodle- if you like skinnier noodles, slice the cabbage thinner. Remove the tough parts of the cabbage like the stem- if you don’t, once the cabbage comes out it will be more difficult to separate them into noodles. Place the rounds onto a parchment paper-lined cookie dish, and lightly spread some coconut oil on the top of the rounds (or drizzle if it is liquid). Season with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like (I put turmeric, za’atar, and berbere). Bake at 375-400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the cabbage is translucent and soft. If the sides are burning, turn down the oven and bake for a bit longer.
(I didn’t take any pictures of this step, but the original recipe page has some photos you can look at.)
2. Prepare the sauce. Place the ingredients in a blender and blend until creamy. It can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks. The recipe makes about 2 cups of sauce, you will need a bit less than one.
3. Prepare the dish. Dice the onion, garlic, and jalapenos; slice the mushrooms; julienne the bell pepper. Cook the veggies in a bit of coconut oil until ready. When the cabbage noodles are done, turn the oven down to 350 degrees. With a fork, separate the noodles. Place the frozen peas into a bowl with some water so that they defrost. Place the veggies, peas, tuna, and cabbage noodles into a large bowl and mix in about 3/4 cup of the sauce- the mixture should be creamy. Spread some coconut oil into a 9×13 baking pan and pour the mixture in. Cook for 20 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.