I've really missed my favorite tuna salad. Canned tuna was one of my trusted, inexpensive pantry staples until I read the Chicago Tribune's reports showing canned tuna sometimes contains more mercury than the government had thought.

Cans of chunk light tuna typically contain skipjack tuna, a smaller species, and the Food and Drug Administration says skipjack's lower mercury levels are safe. But the Tribune's 2005 investigation caught the government and everyone else off guard when it found chunk light tuna also contains yellowfin tuna as much as 15 percent of the time. (Tuna cans list "chunk light" with no species indicated.) Yellowfin tuna contains three times more mercury than skipjack — roughly the same level as albacore tuna, for which the FDA has issued a health warning.

But mercury or not, I was still craving a tuna-salad sandwich, so I decided to experiment. What if I took my favorite tuna-salad recipe and substituted canned salmon? Like tuna, salmon is inexpensive, pantry-friendly, heart-healthy and apparently still safe.

After some recipe tweaking, I'm happy to report that today's Mock Tuna (Salmon) Salad, while milder in flavor, is a delicious alternative for "tuna" sandwiches, salads or a quick snack any time the craving strikes.

Menu suggestion: Mock Tuna (Salmon) Salad

Pita pockets

Tomato wedges


Start to finish: 20 minutes

2 large hard-boiled eggs (for about 1/2 cup chopped)

3 large ribs celery (for about 1 1/2 cups chopped)

1 foil pouch (7.1 ounces) boneless, skinless pink salmon (see Cook's note)

1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sweet-pickle relish

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil (see Cook's note)

1- 1/2 teaspoons seafood seasoning blend, such as Old Bay (see Cook's note)

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup dried cherries, optional (see Cook's note)

Cook's note: Foil pouches of salmon that don't require draining are widely available. For testing, we used Chicken of the Sea Premium Wild-caught Alaskan Pink Salmon. The exact ounces may vary by brand but a slight variation won't matter.

If you can't find seafood seasoning, substitute 1 teaspoon celery salt and 2 dashes hot pepper sauce.

Use a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil. (Even though 1 teaspoon isn't much, it's a real flavor booster.)

Cherry-flavored dried cranberries, such as Craisins, are a good substitute for dried cherries. Golden raisins also work.

Peel the eggs and place them into a 6-cup or larger mixing bowl. Use two knives to chop the eggs finely. Dice the celery, and add it to the bowl.

Add the salmon and all of the remaining ingredients. (If you are not serving right away and are using the dried cherries, do not add them until ready to serve.) Stir until the salmon is flaked and the salad is well mixed. Serve at once, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 3 cups (3 1/2 cups with cherries added)

Approximate values per 1/2-cup serving: 121 calories (54 percent from fat), 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 83 mg cholesterol, 8 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g dietary fiber, 425 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap.Fast.Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. © United Feature Syndicate Inc.