Making your first batch of chickpea “vegan tuna” salad is almost a rite of passage for new vegetarians or vegans! This is one of the first plant-based recipes I attempted after going vegan, and it’s been an on-and-off lunch staple in my life for years.
What’s not to love? Chickpeas are affordable and packed with protein, fiber, and micronutrients – and while they’re not an entirely accurate substitute for canned tuna, this recipe definitely throws me back to the tuna salad sandwiches my mom used to pack in my school lunches.
This is truly a recipe you can make your own. I tweak it a bit each time, sometimes adding diced green apple or curry powder, sometimes adding a few shakes of kelp seasoning to make it taste a bit more “fishy.” Lately I’ve been making it with my homemade tofu mayo to make it a bit lighter. You can use this recipe as an outline and adjust it to your heart’s content!
Ingredients for Vegan Tuna Salad
- Chickpeas. High in protein and fiber and packed with nutrition, chickpeas will serve as our vegan tuna substitute. Canned chickpeas work great, but I also love to cook my own from dry in the Instant Pot! This allows me to cook them a little more tender.
- Minced onion or scallions. Any kind of onion works — red, yellow, white, or green.
- Finely diced celery. This is a must for me because my mom used to add diced celery to our tuna salad when I was growing up! It adds a nice refreshing crunch to the vegan tuna salad and makes it taste more reminiscent of the real thing to me.
- Vegan mayonnaise. Another classic ingredient. I’m pretty picky with what brand of vegan mayo I use. My favorite store bought option is the classic Vegenaise, but everyone will have their own taste. Vegenaise is usually stocked in the refrigerated section where you’d find tofu and vegan cheese. Hellman’s also makes a vegan mayo that is pretty widely accessible and affordable these days (I see it all the time at my local Kroger and Target stores).
- Mustard. I like to use Dijon but really any prepared mustard should work. It adds a bit of acidity to the mix.
- Dill relish. Optional, but a must for me! If you don’t have dill relish but have dill pickles in your fridge, you can chop one up to add. It adds some extra tartness and I love the dill flavor in my vegan tuna salad. Some recipes recommend sweet pickle relish, but I personally only like dill pickles! Your mileage may vary.
- Lemon juice. Just to brighten and freshen everything up!
How to Make Vegan Tuna Salad
Prep your onions and celery. Mince the onion super fine (or thinly slice if you’re using scallions) since these are going in raw and it’s never fun to get a big bite of raw onion. If you’re not a big fan of the raw onion flavor, you can even soak them in a little bit of cool water to help mellow out the flavor. Finely dice your celery while you’re at it. You can also mince a clove of garlic if you like.
Mash your chickpeas. Drain and rinse your chickpeas if using canned. Add them to a big bowl and give them a good mash using a potato masher or a fork. If you want to, you can even use a food processor — just make sure not too over-process them since we want some texture!
Mix everything together. That’s really all there is to it! Add the onions and celery to the chickpeas along with the mayo, mustard, optional dill relish and lemon juice. Give it a good stir and adjust to taste. Feel free to add more mayo if you prefer your vegan tuna salad a little creamier. Add more mustard, pickle relish, or lemon juice if you’re craving some extra tang.
How to Enjoy this Chickpea Salad
Vegan Tuna Salad Sandwich. I love to add it to a sandwich with fresh butter lettuce and ripe tomatoes. For the most nostalgic lunch, I use fluffy white store-bought sandwich bread because it reminds me of the sandwiches my mom used to pack in my school lunches! (It’s absolutely to die for served on a buttery toasted vegan croissant if you wanna get a little fancy.)
Open-Faced Vegan Tuna Melt. Heap some of your vegan tuna chickpea salad onto a hearty slice of sourdough bread. Top it with a slice of your favorite vegan cheddar (Daiya and Violife are my go-tos) and broil it till it’s warmed though and the cheese is bubbly and melted. I like to add tomatoes and pickled jalapeños.
High Protein Salad Topper. Want a bit of a lighter option? Serve this chickpea salad atop your favorite greens.
How to Make Chickpea Salad Taste More Like Tuna
If you’re missing the fishy flavor of real classic tuna salad, try adding in a few teaspoons of seaweed. Not only will it give your chickpeas some extra umami, but seaweed also contains plenty of nutrients such as iodine, iron, calcium, and Omega-3 fats, depending on the variety.
I usually keep a container of furikake in my spice cabinet to top my vegan sushi bowls. This is a mixture of seaweed, toasted sesame seeds and other herbs. Occasionally I add a few shakes of this to my vegan tuna salad to add that oceanic flavor.
You can also blitz up a few sheets of sushi nori in your blender to make some seaweed flakes. Or you can purchased kelp flakes or dulse flakes from your local natural foods store. (I usually see them at my local Natural Grocers or Whole Foods.)
Some Add-ins We Enjoy
I make this vegan chickpea salad so often and I try a little something new every time. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite add-ins.
- Toasted sunflower seeds. I love the subtle crunch that these add to the mix. Plus they’re high in healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
- Soaked and chopped almonds. To add a satisfying crunch and extra protein. Soaking them plumps them up and softens them slightly.
- Grated carrots. To add a little extra color and a slight sweetness to the salad.
- Finely diced apples. Preferably green apples! Again, this adds a nice crisp crunch, some tartness and sweetness that just really rounds out all the flavors.
More Creamy Vegan Salads
- Vegan Egg Salad (Tofu Egg Salad)
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad (Vegan)
- Vegan California Roll (Spicy Tofu Crab Salad)
Vegan Tuna Salad with Chickpeas
- 1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons minced onion (any kind! red, white, green)
- 2 ribs celery, finely diced
- 1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon tablespoon dill relish
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- After rinsing your chickpeas, make sure to shake off as much of the water as you can. Add the chickpeas into a bowl and mash with the back of a fork or a potato masher. (It's okay to leave some texture.)
- Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. You may wish to add a little more mayo for a creamier chickpea salad. Add salt and pepper to taste. How much salt will depend on how salty your brand of canned chickpeas and vegan mayo are.
- Enjoy right away on a sandwich or vegan "tuna" melt, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.