How many ways can you make a tomato salad? Last weekend I loaded up on gorgeously ugly and misshapen but absolutely succulent heirloom tomatoes and started the challenge. There was a messy caprese salad with chopped tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella with a little olive oil and balsamic. There was an even more simple affair with delicate multi-colored tomato slices with really good salt and pepper and a touch of oil. And of course there was a panzanella: hunks of crusty bread and tomato with cucumber and capers and all the rest.
Can you really stretch beyond those three tomato salads?
The truth is, at this point in the summer, there's probably nothing quite as good as simply biting into a tomato — like you would a fresh peach — holding a dishtowel beneath and with a pinch-pot of fluffy sea salt to the side for intermittent sprinkles of seasoning. But if you're still wanting to make an actual dish from your tomato bounty and you've exhausted the three typical possibilities like I did last weekend, consider the salsa salad.
A few things need tweaking when transforming salsa into salad. First, the raw red onions I usually put in my salsa need some calming. By soaking onions in ice water for 10 or 15 minutes you can take the sharp edge of raw onions, and accompanying aftertaste, out of the picture. Secondly, the chilis need adjusting. I crush half into the dressing and toss the rest into the salad itself. This way the heat is distributed evenly, leaving a few pops of spice here and there, but not the way a large mouthful of spicy salsa might turn your palate off.
Here's to summer's end, and finding yet one more way to make a taste memory in our mouths that will last all year.
1-1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 4-5 medium)
1/2 small red onion
2 small cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 jalapeño or serrano peppers, seeded if desired and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or chili oil
2-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, to taste
Flakey salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Slice the tomatoes into bite-size pieces and set in a colander over a bowl to drain.
Peel and slice the onion into slivers. Submerge the slivers in a bowl of ice water and set aside, stirring once or twice, for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, bash together the garlic and salt until they form a paste. Add half the minced jalapeño and smash into the garlic paste. Stir in the lime juice and oil.
Drain the onions. In a mixing bowl, toss the onions with the tomatoes, remaining chili peppers, and cilantro. Pour over the dressing and toss well.
Place on a serving platter or individual serving plates and top with black pepper.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)