I suspect everyone has a budgetary Achilles’ heel, even the most rational and responsible spenders. At least this is what I tell myself to feel better about the gads of money I’ve spent at Whole Foods on stinky cheeses and at the local nursery on seedlings and dirt. Yes, dirt.

Prickly yet cute

Among my many downfalls is a weakness for tiny cacti and succulents and diminutive little bowls. For some reason, the petite scale appeals to me.

And perhaps my biggest weakness of all is for books, cookbooks included. One of our previous roommates Michelle introduced me to used book sales several years ago, and I’m afraid to say I haven’t looked back since.

If the impulse spender in me had her way, I’d go out and rashly buy:

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian Mark Bittman

Super Natural Cooking Heidi Swanson

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child (with original pre-Meryl Streep cover)

The Zuni Café Cookbook Judy Rodgers

But alas, in our small cottage rental my cookbook shelf is now the width of my fridge. And Mike and my bank account isn’t much wider than our monthly rent.

My cookbook nook

Before this begins sounding like a bad country music song, I’ll admit the Internet has a wealth of frugal cooking inspiration to tide us over. Tonight I want to share my favorite tuna salad, which I stumbled across online a few years back.

If this recipe is one thing, it’s superbly thrifty. And tasty. And apparently healthy. All in all quite a worthwhile lunch salad. It’s part of The New York Times’ Recipes for Health series written by Martha Rose Shulman. I’ve copied her recipe nearly verbatim below; it’s so good I’ve never had a reason to deviate from the original. You can also find the original recipe here. If you have leftover cannellini beans from the butternut squash soup, put ’em here.

Shulman, as it turns out, has her own cookbook, so let’s add it to the wistful wish list:

The Very Best of Recipes for Health Martha Rose Shulman

Be forewarned: the tuna/bean/onion combo will give you heinously bad breath, so brush your teeth or at least pop a breath mint before snuggling up to your sweetheart.

Delicious with crackers, crostini, or good sliced bread

Tuna and Bean Salad

By Martha Rose Shulman

1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

1 (6 1/2-ounce) can water-packed tuna, drained

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans or borlotti beans, drained through a strainer and rinsed (or roughly 2 cups cooked cannellini beans)

3 fresh sage leaves, slivered

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small or medium garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt (or omit and use 4 tablespoons olive oil)

1/2 Japanese cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and sliced, for garnish

  1. Place the onion in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the vinegar and cold water to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then dry on paper towels.
  2. In a medium bowl or salad bowl, combine the tuna, beans, onions, sage, and parsley.
  3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the remaining vinegar, salt to taste, freshly ground pepper, garlic, and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the olive oil and the yogurt. Toss with the tuna and beans and serve, garnishing each plate with cucumber slices.

Yield: Serves two as a main dish, four as a starter

Advance preparation: This salad will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator.