Every so often, I find myself hit with an intense craving for this super simple tomato herb salad. Sometimes it's in the depths of winter, when I'm yearning for the bright colors and flavors of warmer months. Other times it's as those warm months are finally approaching, usually late March, with the smell of green things in the air and the promise of fresh fruits and veggies appearing on the table.
This salad can make even a sad winter tomato taste divine.
There's no doubt that the best way to enjoy something this simple is with juicy, aromatic, peak-season tomatoes. However, the combination of fresh herbs, quick-pickled shallot and garlic, and a jolt of toasted spices is enough to breathe life into even the saddest February tomato. It's a perfect side to something super savory, like flatbreads stuffed with spiced sumac mushrooms. It's also a great addition to a brunch spread, perhaps next to a simple tortilla española. I also love the combo of goat cheese and tomatoes, so I'll often just spoon the salad over some chèvre-smeared toast for an easy lunch!
Because the components are so simple, it's easy to customize this tomato salad to complement any meal.
By changing the herbs in the salad, you dramatically change its character. Think about what herbs you might garnish your main dish with, and let that be your guide. For example, if you're making chicken satay, and you like to garnish that with cilantro, use cilantro as your main herb in the salad.
Similarly, the extra pop of flavor from the toasted spices can be hugely transformational. If you're using parsley and basil in the salad, and serving with some parmesan-breaded cutlets, why not add toasted, crushed fennel and coriander seeds? Or maybe you're whipping up a weekday lunch with a tin of smoked salmon. Dill and parsley in the salad is a no-brainer, and some toasted, crushed caraway and whole mustard seed would be the perfect addition.
If you're feeling nerdy, check out this insane list of tomato varieties put together by Rutgers. Pretty cool. Can you tell I'm impatient for tomato season?!
Notes for Success:
Taste your tomato before sprinkling with salt. If it's truly the saddest and blandest of tomatoes, you may wish to let it sit for another 10 minutes after adding the mellowed shallot, garlic, and spices to the bowl. That extra rest and acidity will give the tomatoes even more of a flavor boost.
Keep in mind that the longer the tomatoes sit in salt and/or the dressing, the more juices they will release. If you make the salad a significant amount of time before serving, or if it will be served family-style at a party, you may wish to serve with a slotted spoon to keep your plate tidy.
If you don't happen to have a shallot, a quarter of a large onion will do quite nicely. I prefer red onion, for the color.
Essential Recipe: Tomato Herb Salad
- 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved, Or sub 3-4 large vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 4 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or vinegar
- 1 shallot, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon toasted lightly crushed whole spices, such as cumin, fennel, or caraway, Optional; Pick flavors that will complement the other dishes in the meal
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, Use the good stuff!
- 1¼ to 1½ cups lightly packed soft herbs, torn or roughly chopped, Pick a blend of parsley, dill, mint, cilantro and/or basil.
- ½ teaspoon honey , Optional
- Step 1In a large bowl, ideally the bowl you plan to serve in, toss the tomatoes with a generous pinch of salt. Set aside. This will season the tomatoes while also drawing out some of their juices. The juices will become part of the dressing.
- Step 2In a smaller bowl, stir together the lemon juice or vinegar, shallots, garlic, a generous pinch of salt, and about ½ teaspoon black pepper. Add the toasted spices, too, if using. Use more or less pepper to suit your preference. Set aside at room temperature to let the garlic and shallot lightly pickle in the acidic liquid, which will mellow out the raw, harsh bite. This also infuses the liquid with flavor, adding depth to the finished salad. Allow at least 10 minutes.
- Step 3Add the shallot-garlic mixture, along with its liquid, to the bowl with the tomatoes. Pour over the olive oil, toss, then taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If your tomatoes are a bit under-ripe, or if you prefer a less punchy dressing, drizzle in the honey.Just before serving, mix in the herbs. They will begin wilting once coated with the dressing, so it's best to wait until it's time to eat.