Kachumbari (East African Tomato Salad)

published Jun 21, 2023
summer
Kachumbari Recipe

This fresh tomato and onion salad is a summer staple in Kenya.

Serves5

Prep15 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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overhead shot of tomato salad on a white plate that's placed on a sandy colored background
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

A summer staple across Kenya, kachumbari is a fresh tomato salad that doubles as a simple condiment. It’s traditionally served with grilled meats or big rice dishes. The combination of tomato wedges, thinly sliced red onion, chopped cilantro, and jalapeño pepper adds an element of freshness and a spicy kick to any dish.

Ingredients You Need to Make Kachumbari

  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are the hero in this dish. Using ripe tomatoes is key to making a delicious kachumbari. Different veggies such as avocado, cucumber, or shaved cabbage can be added to give it some variation.
  • Jalapeño pepper: Adds a subtle heat. You can substitute the jalapeño for a hotter chile pepper, such as a serrano or a bird’s eye.
  • Lemon: Provides an acidic kick to the salad.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Although not a typical ingredient, I add a bit of olive oil to round out the acidity from the tomatoes and lemon.

What to Serve with Kachumbari

This salad adds a bit of freshness to otherwise dry, salty, or fatty foods to balance out the plate. In Kenya, you’ll find kachumbari most frequently served with nyama choma (traditional-style Kenyan barbeque) or big rice dishes such as biriyani or pilau, a spice-forward rice pilaf. It also pairs well with dry-rub barbecue, grilled steaks, roasted chicken, roast lamb, and even grilled sausages.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

Kachumbari Recipe

This fresh tomato and onion salad is a summer staple in Kenya.

Prep time 15 minutes

Serves 5

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2

    small red onion

  • 1 pound

    medium tomates

  • 1/2

    medium bunch fresh cilantro

  • 1

    medium jalapeño pepper

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 2 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Instructions

  1. Thinly slice 1/2 small red onion into half-moons. Place in a small bowl and cover with cool water. Let sit for 5 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, prepare the following, adding each to the same medium bowl as it is completed: Halve 1 pound medium tomatoes through the stem end and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and core of the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-inch thick wedges. Coarsely chop the leaves and tender stems of 1/2 medium bunch fresh cilantro (about 1/2 cup). Trim and mince 1 medium jalapeño (about 2 tablespoons, remove the seeds and membrane first for a less spicy heat if desired).

  3. Drain the onions and add to the bowl with the tomatoes. Halve 1 medium lemon and squeeze the juice from one half over the salad (about 2 tablespoons). Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and toss to combine. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and let sit for 5 minutes. Taste and season with more lemon juice, olive oil, or salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Want more of a kick? Replace the jalapeno with a serrano pepper.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated overnight. Let come to room temperature before serving.