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A Tuna Fish Recipe for Vegetarians: Chickpea of the Sea

A tuna fish sandwich is a classic lunch choice, but for a variety of reasons some people are staying away from tuna these days. Here's a vegetarian (and vegan) alternative version for those who miss that tangy, creamy lunchtime treat. Ask any mermaid you happen to see, this version is a winner! 

Depending on what kind you buy, it can be unethical, not to mention downright dangerous, to consume tuna. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch has the details, but basically some tuna can contain dangerous amounts of mercury and if fished improperly, can result in large quantities of bycatch of threatened and endangered species. 

Chickpea of the Sea uses delicious, healthy chickpeas instead of canned tuna. The salty umeboshi vinegar introduces a seafood-like flavor, and I've heard that crumpling in some dried seaweed (like half a sheet of toasted nori) is also delicious. Both can be found in well-stocked grocery stores and specialty stores that carry Japanese ingredients. I would imagine a few capers would work as well.

This recipe is based on one from The Kripalu Cookbook and has been in my mother's repertoire for 15 years. My mother is decidedly not a vegetarian, which attests to just how good this sandwich spread is! So give it a try next time you want something just a little different. It comes together in minutes, even if you go the unplugged route.

Chickpea of the Sea Sandwich

adapted from The Kripalu Cookbook. Makes 2 to 4 sandwiches

  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons umeboshi vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery, from about one rib
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallions, from about about two scallions
  • Pinch cayenne pepper, optional
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Whole grain or artisan-style bread, to serve
  • Lettuce leaves, washed and dried well, to serve


Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times to roughly chop. Add remaining ingredients and pulse two or three times more to incorporate.

Lay out the bread and place the lettuce leaves on two slices. Spoon on the Chickpea of the Sea and top with the other slice of bread. Cut in half and enjoy!

Vegan Alternative:
Use vegan mayo or a vinaigrette in place of the mayonnaise.

Unplugged Alternative:
Place the drained chickpeas in a bowl and mash slightly with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. You may want to chop the celery and onions a little finer for this version, since they won't be getting an additional chop in the processor.

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