in Food, Frugality, FS

Two Frugal Summer Recipes: Thai Tuna Salad and Asian Pickles

On Monday, I wrote about our frugal weekend. One of the little things I mentioned doing was mixing up a large batch of Thai tuna salad to use for sandwiches during the week. Yum!

Several readers asked me to share my recipe, so I tracked down the cookbook that served as the original source for this Thai tuna salad. It’s Thai Cooking Made Easy by Sukhum Kittivech (which contains both Chinese and English text). This is a no-frills cookbook, but it’s perfect for me. Just lists of ingredients, bare-bones descriptions, and photos of the finished product. And the food tastes great!

Here’s the original Thai tuna salad recipe:

Stir together 1 Tablespoon fish sauce, 1 Tablespoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon minced chili. Pour this sauce over 1 Tablespoon chopped green onion, 1 Tablespoon minced lemongrass, 12 mint leaves, and a total of 1-1/2 cups of shredded onions and celery. Mix these ingredients together. Drain 1/2 pound (225g) canned tuna and stir it into the mixture.

Note: To prepare the lemongrass, trim off the hard skin. Mince the upper tender portion.

The original recipe suggests using this tuna salad with rice or on small crackers as an appetizer, or using with lettuce to make a “delicious sandwich”. I opt for the delicious sandwich variation.

However, I usually make a couple of changes to the recipe. First, I always mince a clove or two of garlic and add them to the mix. Second, I don’t always include the crunchy stuff; I often just use the liquid mixture (with the sugar and chili). Finally, I think the tuna salad ends up a little dry, so I like to double the fish sauce and the lime juice in the recipe.

Also note that the recipe calls for 225g of canned tuna, which is completely random, at least here in the U.S. Our cans of tuna contain roughly 140g of the stuff! I usually play with the proportions.

I guess what I’m saying is: My kitchen philosophy is similar to my money philosophy. I believe you should “do what works for you”“. That means taking this base Thai tuna salad recipe and experimenting with it until you find a variation that reflects your personal palate.

Note: This recipe is pretty darn frugal, and it’s actually fairly healthy. But if you’re concerned about mercury in canned tuna, then proceed with caution.


Kris has been making her own Asian-esque food lately. She was hoping that since I like Asian cuisine (in fact, I say that if I was forced to eat only one kind of food, that’s what I’d want it to be), I’d like one of her recent experiments: Asian-Inspired Quick Pickles from one of her favorite new blogs, Food in Jars.

These are crunchy refrigerator pickles; no cooking required. Unfortunately, since I can’t stand cucumbers, she’ll have to eat these pickles all by herself. She thinks they’re pretty good and says it’s perfect for when you just have a small number of cucumbers — not enough to process a full batch. Here’s her adapted recipe based on the original:

  • 5-6 pickling cucumbers (4-5″ in length), quartered into spears
  • 1 red chili pepper (or several if you like things hot)
  • 1 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar (rice wine vinegar that has sugar & salt added)
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 3-4 scallions or shallots, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 4 springs of cilantro, thai basil or mint — roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp pickling salt

Into an empty quart jar, put half the garlic and half the onions (shallots or scallions). Pack the cucumber spears into the jar so they stand neatly on end. Slide the pepper(s) between the cukes (on the outside of the jar so it shows up nicely). In a 2-cup measuring cup, mix the seasoned rice wine vinegar, lime juice, remaining garlic and onions, herbs and salt. Pour over the cucumbers. Screw a lid on the jar and give it a good shake.

Let sit for 24 hours and up to 3 weeks in the fridge. When all the spears are gone, you can add another set of speared cucumbers to make another batch.

So, there you have it! Two Asian-flavored recipes for these hot summer days. I love the tuna, and Kris loves the pickles. Hopefully you’ll love one of them — or both!

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  1. I am so stinkin’ lazy when it comes to cooking. I’ll find a couple dishes that I like and make them over and over again until either I or Jessie can’t stand them anymore. I might add the Thai Tuna Salad to the rotation to freshen things up a bit.

  2. They both sound yummy. I was thinking of doing some refrigerator zucchini pickles today – wonder if zucchini would work well in Kris’s recipe?

  3. Think about cantaloupe pickles; they’re not hard and when you open a jar, the whole house smells like Christmas – cinnamon, spicy, tangy. I plan on putting up a few jars; I’ve missed having them.

  4. “That means taking this base Thai tuna salad recipe and experimenting with it until you find a variation that reflects your personal palate.”

    True, recipes are just meant to be guidelines. They are quite open to experimentation and variation.

  5. I just made some of those quick pickles. They are yummy, and you can use other types of veggies (I LOVE lightly pickled carrots, so that’s what I used – just cut them into matchsticks and wait three days or so before eating them, since they take a bit longer to pickle than cukes do).

  6. Thai tuna salad is so yummy! I like to use shallots instead of green onion and add a healthy dose of cilantro.

  7. Thanks for posting the recipe! I need something different to do with canned tuna, so will give the sauce a try.

  8. I love frugal recipes, and I concur with your philosophy of adapting/changing recipes to make them work for us. Tonight I’m serving taco salad with pinto beans cooked from scratch and the last of our garden’s lettuce (both uber-frugal). While your Thai tuna salad sounds good, I would have to go out and buy fish sauce and lemongrass. So, instead, I think I’ll stick with my very low-cost curried tuna salad
    Incidentally, beans, tuna and most other meat substitutes have a lower carbon footprint than factory-farmed meat.

  9. Pickles are cucumbers dipped in Evil! I’ve got nothing witty to say about tuna besides – Yuck!

    Just my two cents worth. Thanks for the frugal recipes though!

  10. Considering ‘Asian’ means anything from Japanese to Chinese to Thai to Vietnam to Cambodian to Korean… yes. Of course ‘Asian food’ would be a good choice.