As a food writer and recipe developer, I try to not let my personal preferences cloud my judgment. This isn’t very hard, because I will eat pretty much anything, except for celery, which my palate inexplicably rejects each and every time it crosses my teeth. The vegetable is hard to avoid. It’s a fixture in mirepoix, the classic French base used in so many recipes, but it gives me the most trouble in tuna salad.
I understand why it’s there. Even though I can’t get around its more astringent qualities, I admit it adds a fresh, lightly verdant crunch, and that crunch is needed when making tuna salad (or chicken salad, for that matter).
If, like me, you just can’t train your palate to enjoy celery, no matter how finely it is diced, or even with all the stringy bits removed, I have some alternatives to keep the crunch in your favorite deli salad.
What to mix into your tuna salad if you hate celery as much as I do
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We’ll start with my favorite: apples. Finely diced apples add just as much crunch as celery, with flavors that range from sugary sweet to pleasantly tart. Whether you peel them or not is up to you; I enjoy the slight bitterness the peel contributes. Any kind of apple works, though I do favor the more acidic varieties, such as Cosmic Crisp or Granny Smith. (Don’t even bother with Red Delicious. It’s mushy, flavorless, and has a rubbery, tough peel.)
My second favorite tuna helper is fennel, which has an incredible, crisp texture and sweet, subtle, anise-like flavor. Chopped sweet onion is another winner, though one should make sure they have breath-freshening agents at the ready if they decide to go that route.
If you want something more neutral, try jicama, which is big on texture, but sweetly neutral; or cucumber, which has a gentle, refreshing, almost melon-like flavor. (Scrape out the seeds and goo for maximum crunch). If you want a pop of something unexpected, add raw, sweet corn, julienned radishes, chopped bell pepper, barely blanched and diced green beans, or dehydrated caramelized onions. Pickle relish is obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason (it tastes good).
Get even more texture in your sandwich
You can also think outside the salad, and add texture by layering crunchy or crispy ingredients onto your tuna salad sandwich. A big plank of lettuce is surprisingly effective—and dare I say “fun”?—and adds tons of texture without any distracting flavors. Potato chips are another favorite, for obvious reasons, but—if I may be vulnerable for a moment—my favorite tuna sandwich topping is and always will be Doritos, thanks to the extra umami they provide.
If you don’t feel like chopping any of the vegetables I mentioned as mix-ins, you can always slice and layer them into your sandwich. Pile on the aforementioned lettuce, along with radish slices, cucumber rounds, and thick slices of onion, and turn that tuna salad sandwich into a tuna salad sandwich.