When you start with good ingredients, you don’t have to work very hard to make a winning dish. Consider, for example, how just a spoonful of whipped cream paired with foraged blackberries makes a magical dessert. Or that a piece of fresh fish needs only a squeeze of lemon to shine. Then there’s this tomato salad. Start with juicy ripe tomatoes at the peak of summer, add a simple vinaigrette and a few herbs and you’ve got a recipe you’ll likely repeat until the last tomato of the season is gone.
Choose Good Tomatoes
Job number one for making this salad is to choose quality tomatoes. The question is, how do you know you’ve got a good one? Here are a few pointers to help you score some standup produce:
- Buy locally grown tomatoes if you can find them. Farmers’ markets, local farm stands, specialty markets, or your own backyard garden are your best bets. That said, I’ve brought home tasty tomatoes from Costco, Trader Joe’s, and my neighborhood supermarket.
- Look for heirloom varieties, which tend to be juicy and full of flavor. Plus, the rainbow of colors makes for a gorgeous plate. I also like the Early Girl variety as well as Sungold cherry tomatoes (which are pretty to scatter over the sliced tomatoes).
- Buy tomatoes that are fairly firm to the touch, but not hard. You want a little “give” when you press down with your thumb.
- The fruit should feel heavy for its size and have a sweet earthy scent when you give it a whiff near the stem.
- Avoid tomatoes with blemishes, dark spots, or deep cracks that may be hard to trim around.
Once you’ve got the tomatoes home, store at room temperature out of direct sunlight with the stem side down until fully ripe.
Once ripe, store in the fridge if you’re not going to eat them right away. If you slice into a real dud, there’s not much you can do to rescue it. I’d suggest roasting sub-par tomatoes to use for pasta sauces or sandwiches rather than using for a salad.
A Double Duty Vinaigrette
The vinaigrette in this recipe does double duty, since it’s used to macerate the red onion, which mellows its sharpness, and also is used to dress the salad.
It has a two-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar, which is a bit more acidic than my typical salad dressing. I think the acidity stands up nicely to the flavor of tomatoes and fresh herbs. The dressing also has Dijon mustard and honey, which gives it enough body to nicely coat the tomatoes.
Switch Up You Tomato Salad
While this salad is scrumptious all on its own, it also lends itself to many variations. Have fun with it and make it your own. Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling:
- Tuck slices of fresh Mozzarella, halved bocconcini, or pieces of burrata amongst the tomato slices. Alternatively, scatter crumbled feta over the top.
- Do up a makeshift panzanella by adding toasted hunks of baguette to the salad, being sure it soaks up some of the dressing.
- Cut 1/2-inch-thick wedges of ripe peaches or nectarines and layer those in with the tomatoes.
- Cut the kernels from two cobs of cooked corn and add it while still warm to the salad. Add an extra drizzle of olive oil and a pinch or two more salt.
- Cook a couple slices of pancetta or bacon until crisp, cool, and crumble over the salad.
- Store leftover tomatoes in a covered container in the fridge and pile onto your favorite sandwich the next day.
- Add a source of protein to make this a main dish, such as halved hard-boiled eggs, canned sardines, or oil packed tuna.
- Layer sliced cucumbers or watermelon (or both) in with the tomatoes. Add an extra splash of vinegar and oil to the dressing and finish with a pinch more salt.
- Cut a ripe avocado into slices, squeeze a half lemon and a few pinches of salt over it, then tuck amongst the tomatoes.
What to Serve with Fresh Tomato Salad
In the peak of summer, this salad could serve as a light lunch with a crusty baguette and a couple slices of cheese. For dinner, it’s an ideal addition to any summer supper or cookout alongside any of the recipes below.
- Stuffed Shells with Summer Squash and Ricotta
- Mediterranean Potato Salad
- Pesto White Bean Veggie Burgers
- Easy Summer Vegetable Pizza
- Vegetarian Moussaka
- Grilled Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce
- Grilled Tuna Kebabs
- Italian Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
- Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
More Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes this Season
- Seared Okra and Tomatoes
- Grilled Tomatoes
- Cod Sauteed in Olive Oil with Fresh Tomatoes
- Caprese Salad With Tomatoes, Basil, and Mozzarella
- Tomatoes on Toast
Make the vinaigrette:
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey until the honey dissolves. Whisk in the olive oil until blended.
Macerate the red onions:
Add the sliced onions into the vinaigrette and tuck them down into the dressing. Set aside to macerate while you assemble the salad.
Cut the tomatoes:
Trim out the stem and base of the stem from the tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices. If you’re including some cherry tomatoes, cut in half.
Assemble the salad and serve:
Arrange the tomatoes on a large plate or medium platter and season both sides with salt. Lightly shower with freshly ground black pepper.
Pour the dressing and onions over the salad. Use your hands to gently nestle the tomatoes in the dressing and distribute the onions evenly. Scatter with basil and mint. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper, if needed.
This salad is best the day it’s made, but can be enjoyed a day or two later if covered well and stored in the fridge.
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