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The Pantry-ish Weeknight Noodles of My Childhood, All Grown Up

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This is most definitely not the tuna and noodles of my Midwestern childhood. That kind came from a box called Tuna Helper. It was a weeknight miracle, or so it seemed at the time: Dump everything in a skillet (noodles, sauce mix, tuna, water, milk, and butter), bring to a boil, cover, and 10 minutes later...creamy, cheesy tuna and noodles. It’s essentially an early, processed version of the one-pan pastas that we’re so crazy about now. Sometimes on the weekends, or for a potluck, my mom would make “fancy” tuna and noodles by way of a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pan, with a “cream of” soup as its binder, lots of cheddar cheese, and a crunchy topping (sometimes breadcrumbs, other times crushed potato chips).

Tuna and noodles get an upgrade.
Tuna and noodles get an upgrade. Photo by Bobbi Lin

I didn’t love either dish as a kid, but I didn’t dislike them either. There was enough cheese in both dishes to win me over.

Recently, I found myself craving tuna and noodles—not so much the flavors of those childhood dishes, but the ease. As a mom, I totally understand why my own mom had something like Tuna Helper in the lineup. We all need weeknight miracles, in whatever shape or form (or box) they come.


For my dish, I kept the tuna and curly egg noodles as the foundation, but tore down and rebuilt the rest from the ground up. Out with the cheese and cream, in with the funkiness of kimchi and spiciness of gochujang.

Tuna and kimchi might seem like an unlikely match, but they work so well together from a flavor perspective, both bold and assertive enough to get along without overpowering each other. Cannellini beans and kale bring their respective creaminess and freshness, and then a knob of butter, gochujang, and splash of kimchi liquid brighten and enliven the entire dish. Definitely reach for good olive oil–packed tuna for this dish. It makes all the difference.

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And just like Tuna Helper, my version is perfect for crazy nights when you have to shoehorn dinner into a jam-packed evening, or find yourself too tired to expend much mental energy on dinner. It comes together in about 10 minutes and requires very little cleanup. There’s a big difference between equally speedy weeknight dishes that demand a rapid-firing of brain neurons to make sure every component hits the pan at the right time, and this, which you can make while having a Zen moment in the kitchen, to yourself. For yourself.

My kids don’t actually love kimchi and aren’t crazy about kale either, so some nights I make this just for myself. And then I happily eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the week. I think every mom (and every cook) needs a dish or two like this—something we make entirely and expressly for ourselves, just the way we like it.

Tuna & Noodles With Kimchi

Tuna & Noodles With Kimchi

EmilyC EmilyC
Serves 4 (but can easily be doubled)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 pound extra-wide egg noodles
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • One 16-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • One 5-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil (no need to drain)
  • 3/4 cup kimchi (medium to finely chopped), plus a few tablespoons of kimchi liquid
  • 1/2 bunch bunch kale (Tuscan or curly), stems and ribs removed and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons gochujang, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Go to Recipe

What's a dish you grew up eating? Do you still eat it today? Let us know in the comments!

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Tuna, Dinner