When I was sixteen, I visited Marseilles, France, as part of an exchange program. The family I was living with was vegetarian, and since I wasn’t really into eating meat that much myself, I gave their lifestyle a try. It seemed pretty easy and I didn’t miss being a carnivore much... until we took a road trip to Nice, where I had my first pan bagnat, which is essentially a Niçoise salad in a sandwich: tuna fish, hard-boiled egg, veggies, herbs, olives, and crusty bread bathed in olive oil - in fact, that’s how this sandwich got its name, “bathed bread.” The combination made this new vegetarian weak at the knees. I ate it in front of my vegetarian hosts with a little bit of embarrassment, but a whole lotta pleasure.
Since that sandwich is practically vegetarian already, I came up with my own recipe for plant-based tuna. After soaking sunflower seeds for a snack, I realised that they had the look and texture of canned tuna fish—hence the sunflower seed “tuna” salad. The nori has that familiar taste of the sea, lending its fishy flavor to the seeds. Although pan bagnat is tasty right away, I like to enjoy this sandwich after it has marinated for a few hours, allowing the bread to soak up all that olive oil and delicious flavour. It’s the perfect picnic meal or traveling companion.
Sunflower “tuna” salad
- 1½ cups (200 g) sunflower seeds
- 1½ tbsp fine sea salt, plus ¼ tsp
- 2 tbsp nori flakes, or 1 sheet of nori, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp raw honey or pure maple syrup
- 2 tbsp cold-pressed olive oil
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill fronds, or 1 tbsp dried dill
- 2 spring onions, with tops, sliced
- ¼ cup (30 g) capers
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black
- 1 large whole-grain sourdough baguette
- cold-pressed olive oil, for drizzling
- ½ cup (100 g) Kalamata olives, pitted
- 1 small red onion, sliced
- ¼ cup (30 g) capers
- 1 large tomato, sliced, or a
- handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- ½ cucumber, sliced
- sprouts: radish, alfalfa, and clover are good choices
- handful fresh basil leaves
- fine sea salt and freshly ground
- black pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time 4 hours or overnight
To make the salad, put the sunflower seeds in a medium bowl, cover them with a few centimetres of water, and stir in the 1½ tablespoons of sea salt. Set aside to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Drain the soaked sunflower seeds and rinse them well. Put them in a food processor, and add the nori flakes, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, and olive oil. Pulse until you have a chunky paste, similar to tuna salad. Transfer the salad to a large bowl, and fold in the dill, spring onions, and capers. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and cracked black pepper. (Any leftovers can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
To assemble the sandwich, slice the baguette open lengthwise and drizzle the cut sides with plenty of olive oil. Spread half of the baguette with the sunflower “tuna” salad, and top it with the olives, onion slices, and capers. On the other half arrange the tomato, red pepper, cucumber, sprouts, and basil; drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Press the sandwich halves firmly together, and then slice into four portions. Eat immediately or wrap in baking parchment to enjoy later. This sandwich keeps well and actually gets better after it has marinated for a few hours.
• Although pan bagnat is not traditionally made with sourdough bread, if I am going to eat bread at all, it better be fermented first! Sourdough bread is made by using a cultured starter, which helps the bread rise, instead of yeast. This has many benefits, the main one being that the longer rising time required increases the lactic acid of the bread, creating the perfect pH for the enzyme phytase to break down that unwanted phytic acid. The lactic acid also slows down the rate at which the glucose is released into the bloodstream, actually lowering the bread’s glycemic index. The protein gluten is broken down into its respective amino acids, making the bread far more digestible.
Recipe and image from My New Roots by Sarah Britton (Pan Macmillan, $42.99, hbk).