Easy recipes for canned tuna: Three ways to turn tinned fish into tasty new dishes

These hearty meals will breathe new life into the pantry staple

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Most foodies who call the UAE home are great connoisseurs of tuna, and I'm not even being facetious.

A spectacle that often bemuses and delights me is watching 15-year-olds effortlessly order Maguro, Ahi, Toro and Otoro in fancy sushi restaurants – a far cry from the 15-year-old me who was busy trying to improve instant noodles with egg preparations and cheese.

At 30, I would happily swap a designer handbag for a plate of Otoro myself (OK, fine, it better be a copious plate). The stay-at-home measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic also awoke in me an appreciation for all canned goods.

I felt empowered and a little like a doomsday prepper – chuffed at being perfectly adept at turning out meals with canned beans, chickpeas and, of course, tuna.

The three merits of canned tuna are that it’s inexpensive, has a long shelf life and is absolutely delicious, especially with a few genius flavour combinations using other pantry staples.

The recipes listed here are punchy, easy to make and even easier to transport in lunch boxes for picnics or from the kitchen to the couch. Best of all, they’ll leave you feeling both smart and satiated.

Tuscan tuna sandwiches

Chef Nicole Barua reckons tuna sandwiches taste better if consumed the next day. Photo: Nicole Barua 

Serves 3

An explosion of bright and light Mediterranean flavours, these sandwiches are as much a joy to look at as they are to eat. They get better as they sit, infusing the bread with the collective flavours of all ingredients.


  • 260g tuna in water, drained
  • 1½ tbsp red onion
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp low-fat mayonnaise + 2 tbsp pesto
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 ciabatta buns
  • Salted butter, to spread
  • ½ cup pesto
  • 1 cup arugula, washed and dried in a salad spinner
  • 1 cucumber, cut in half then sliced lengthways into fours
  • 3 medium mozzarella balls, sliced into rounds
  • 12-15 sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika


1. With a fork, separate the tuna into smaller flakes, add the chopped red onion, Parmesan, and mayo-pesto combo, and mix.

2. Add the chilli flakes, lemon juice and sea salt.

3. Fry the capers in the olive oil and add to the tuna. Refrigerate.

4. Slice the buns in half and toast lightly on a pan. Spread a thin layer of butter on the bread, then slather heavily with pesto on both halves.

5. Add the arugula, then make a layer of sliced cucumber and mozzarella, then spoon on the tuna in a thick layer and finish with a layer of sun-dried tomatoes and sprinkle of smoked paprika. Cover with the top of the bun.

Chef’s tips

If you’re not eating the sandwiches immediately, tie them in parchment paper and kitchen string to keep them in situ, then allow them to sit overnight in the fridge for the flavours to meld together and get more delicious.

Tuna pasta salad

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This simple tuna pasta salad recipe can be elevated with boiled potatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and jalapenos. Photo: Nicole Barua 

Serves 2

Shockingly easy to throw together and even easier to devour, the lightness of this version of a tuna pasta salad comes down to the inclusion of yoghurt with mayonnaise. Together with the vegetable, this makes a wonderful summer lunch.


  • 185g canned tuna
  • 4 tbsp low-fat mayo + 1½ tbsp Dijon mustard, mixed
  • 10-15 capers, chopped
  • ¼ cup celery, diced small
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • 160g conchiglie pasta, cooked as per packet, then drained and drizzled with olive oil
  • Sea salt + freshly crushed pepper
  • 1 green chilli, optional
  • 1 cup + 1 tbsp Greek yoghurt + 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, mixed
  • ¼ tsp virgin olive oil, if needed
  • 1/3 cup spinach, wilted in olive oil
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup spring onions
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika


1. With a fork, separate the tuna into smaller flakes, add the mayo-mustard combo and mix. Add the capers, celery, a squeeze of lemon juice and the pasta. Mix, then season with salt, pepper and chilli. Next add the yoghurt-mustard combo. If the whole mix is too thick, thin it out with the virgin olive oil.

2. Add the wilted spinach and the avocado. Add the tomatoes, as well as half the spring onions. Taste and adjust the seasoning or lemon juice.

3. Pile on to a serving plate, place any leftover cherry tomatoes, then garnish with the spring onions. Sprinkle paprika as per your liking.

Chef’s tips

This salad can stay in the fridge for up to three days. You can switch out the conchiglie for any small pasta, such as penne or fusilli. Whole-wheat pasta works too. Bulk up the dish for a party with some boiled potatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and jalapenos, and garnish with parsley.

Spiced tuna & pumpkin patties

Spice up your tuna and pumpkin patties with Indian garam masala. Photo: Nicole Barua 

Makes 12-14

It's impossible to eat only one when a crisp patty comes filled with tuna, pumpkin and potatoes tempered with spices and a burst of fresh herbs.


  • 130g canned tuna, drained
  • 1½ cup mashed potatoes, plain
  • 1 tbsp red onion, optional
  • ½ cup roast Muscade pumpkin, mashed
  • ¼ cup spinach, wilted in oil and chopped
  • ¼ tsp fennel seeds, toasted
  • ¼ tsp garam masala powder
  • 1 green chilli, chopped fine
  • ½ inch ginger, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 egg
  • Oil for frying
  • Breadcrumbs to coat mixed with 1 tbsp semolina
  • ¼ cup coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped


1. In a large bowl, using a fork, flake the tuna well, add the mashed potato, red onion (if using) and pumpkin, and mix. Add the spinach, fennel seeds, garam masala, green chilli, ginger and salt. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then add the lemon zest and juice as desired.

2. Whisk the egg, then add in increments so as to get the mix to bind. It should be moist but not wet. Form into 12-14 patties and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

3. In a large pan, heat the oil to shallow-fry the patties. Prepare the breadcrumbs with the semolina, for the perfect crunch and colour. Coat each patty and fry on a medium flame until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot, with lemon wedges.

Chef’s tips

The patties can be frozen then defrosted in the fridge overnight. You can also substitute the pumpkin with sweet potato. The patties go well with dal and rice, in sandwiches or by themselves with tartar sauce.