My dad instilled in me a lot of important qualities, the kind any father would hope to pass along to his growing child — determination, an unceasing pursuit of knowledge, a strong work ethic. Not least of these traits, though, is a love of, bordering on obsession with, Mexican cuisine.
Raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, by a Spanish Civil War refugee and an Irish-American expat, my father, Victor, consumes all forms of south-of-the-border cuisine in a seemingly vain attempt to show his European ancestors what they’d been missing out on for centuries.
His solution to fixing any bland dish — be it the Thanksgiving turkey, a glass of diet cola or pasta alfredo — has always been to throw some combination of traditional Mexican ingredients in the mix.
“You know what would really make this ham and cheese sandwich better?” he’d ask my sister and me. “A little salsa.”
“Lacking that intangible something? Nothing some avocado and lime can’t fix.”
So when my dad, after moving to Chicago for a medical internship at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Ill., encountered arguably the blandest of bland American dishes, tuna salad, he opted to put his own south-of-the-border spin on the oft-derided dish.
What resulted is a tangy, citrusy take on an American classic that’s perfect for hot summer days. Served with chips or on tostadas, the cold salad makes a great appetizer or party snack that — thanks to all the vegetables — tastes fresh and light while still packing a bit of heat.
The ingredients are approximations. Dad’s process was always to throw in tomatoes and cilantro and peppers until he got it “just right.” The proportions are merely a jumping-off point and can easily be tweaked to the maker’s wishes. For those wishing to cut out some of the calories, light mayonnaise can also be substituted in place of regular mayonnaise.