Skip to main Content
Food and Drink

The best summer tomato salads use just a few ingredients to generate big flavors

  • Author: Ali Slagle, Special to The Washington Post
  • Updated: August 25, 2020
  • Published August 25, 2020

Beyond salt and tomatoes, let your cravings and your fridge and pantry guide you in making a tomato salad. Tomatoes take to creamy, crispy, crunchy and silky textures. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Here’s how to make a tomato salad: Cut tomatoes, salt them, then drizzle with fruity olive oil.

You need only salt and fat to turn a perfect tomato into a perfect tomato salad, because tomatoes are a great source of sweetness and acidity all on their own. But tomatoes aren't always perfect. Even the most beautiful ones can be watery, seedy or otherwise unfortunate inside (a good life lesson!) Moreover, there are many forms of salt and acid - as well as textures - to consider - to play off the fruit's juiciness. And, sometimes, no matter how perfect a salad, we just want to mess around.

Before we freestyle, know there's one nonnegotiable: For a tomato to shine no matter how ripe, it needs salt. Cut the tomatoes in any way that moves you, then put them in a bowl and gently sprinkle them with salt (sugar, too, if they really need help).

In five to 10 minutes, pale pink liquid will seep out of the tomatoes, collecting in the bowl. Taste it. That's the tomato's water leaving the fruit. What's left is a relaxed, seasoned, and concentrated tomato. Yum. Salt does some other sciencey stuff to make the tomato taste sweeter to us, but you're already sold on salting, right?

You can save that tomato water for bloody marys or gazpacho, but I like to keep the tomato water as the start of the salad dressing.

Beyond kosher and flaky, there are other forms of salt you could consider. For instance, in the Thai-Style Marinated Tomatoes and Cucumbers, the tomatoes sit with fish sauce for a funkier result. Soy sauce would also work. Just give your seasoned tomatoes enough time to concentrate - and shake off their chill if they came from the fridge (refrigerating tomatoes is a personal decision best not broached with even the closest friends).

Now that we have tomatoey tomatoes, we need the dressing part of the salad.

A drizzle of good olive oil is enough, but it's also an opportunity to play. In the Tomato and Stone Fruit Salad With Seeds, olive oil warming on the stove mingles with sesame and cumin seeds, black pepper and turmeric. As they sizzle together, the spices and seeds get crunchy, their fragrance carries through the kitchen, and the oil takes on all the spices' flavors. This infused oil and its aromatics are then poured over the salad, where it stops cooking and settles into the fruits' crannies. The above method is an Indian technique with many names, including tadka and chhonk. The oil brings texture and deep, dark flavor to whatever it lands on. Here, it's a savory counterpart to the sweetness of tomato and stone fruit - apricot, nectarine, peaches - whatever looks best where you're shopping.

Beyond olive oil, cheese, cured meat, nuts, oily fish, avocado and spoonable dairies all provide richness to balance the tomatoes. Look to your tomato favorites for inspiration: BLTs, pizza, Greek salad, shakshuka, fattoush, tomato chutney, chilaquiles, bagels and lox, Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomato and so on.

If you leave out salt and fat in your tomato salad, it will feel as if something is missing. The flavors won't be balanced. But beyond those two elements, let your cravings and your fridge and pantry guide you. Tomatoes take to creamy, crispy, crunchy and silky textures. That could mean seeds, cucumbers, nuts, chips, leaves and beyond. They also can take on some heat - check out the Bloody Mary Tomato Salad doused in hot sauce. And if you're overwhelmed by the possibilities (it can happen with tomatoes), just remember: tomato, salt, olive oil.

- - -

Thai-Style Marinated Tomatoes and Cucumbers. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

THAI-STYLE MARINATED TOMATOES AND CUCUMBERS

10 minutes

4 servings

In his masterful cookbook "Night + Market," Kris Yenbamroong uses a tomato salad to show how to balance sweet, sour, salty and pungent flavors in Thai cooking. The Thai dressing, usually made of sugar, lime, fish sauce, chile and garlic, will need less sugar and lime (or none at all) for this salad because the fruit already has the sweetness and acidity covered. All that's needed is saltiness and pungency.

Recipe note: Leftover salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Ingredients

1 pound ripe tomatoes, mix of sizes and colors, cut into bite-size pieces

3 Persian or mini seedless cucumbers (about 8 ounces total), peeled if desired, then cut into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or 1 teaspoon sliced fresh chile, preferably Thai

1/4 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts

Steps

In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes and cucumbers with the fish sauce and chile. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes to marinate, then top with the peanuts before serving.

Nutrition | Calories: 77; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 1,478 mg; Carbohydrates: 9 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 5 g; Protein: 4 g.

Recipe by Ali Slagle adapted from “Night + Market” Kris Yenbamroong.

- - -

Tomato Salad With Yogurt and Pita Chips. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

TOMATO SALAD WITH YOGURT AND PITA CHIPS

10 minutes

4 servings

In this salad, variety in textures keeps you angling for bite after bite. Plump tomatoes meet soft spoonfuls of yogurt, as well as the kind of crispy-gone-soggy pita that's beloved in fattoush. The yogurt is dolloped on top of the tomatoes, so you can discover pockets of plushness as you eat and no two bites are the same.

MAKE AHEAD: The tomatoes and yogurt can be seasoned and dressed up to 3 hours ahead.

Ingredients

2 pounds mixed tomatoes, cut into quarters or halves depending on their size

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup full-fat, plain Greek yogurt

1 lemon

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups pita chips

1 cup fresh mint leaves, halved if large

Steps

Place the tomatoes on a serving plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the yogurt in a small bowl. Zest the lemon into the bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Use right away or set aside until needed (refrigerate the yogurt until ready to use). Set the lemon aside until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, cut the reserved lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a medium bowl, then add the oil. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the pita chips, crumbling them into bite-size pieces in your hands as you add them. Stir until the chips are shiny. Add the mint and stir gently.

Dollop the yogurt on top of the tomatoes, then spoon the pita chip-mint salad on top.

Nutrition | Per serving: 25 calories, 1 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

From recipe developer Ali Slagle.

- - -

Bloody Mary Tomato Salad. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

BLOODY MARY TOMATO SALAD

10 minutes

4 servings

This salad may remind you of a bloody mary or a wedge salad. Consider bloody mary garnishes, such as celery, parsley, green olives, anchovies or bacon, when deciding what else to add to this dish.

Leftover salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Ingredients

1 1/2 to 2 pounds ripe beefsteak or Roma tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1 lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire or soy sauce

1 teaspoon Tabasco or another hot sauce, plus more to taste

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese

Steps

Arrange the tomatoes on a serving plate and season with 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.

Finely zest the lemon over the tomatoes, then halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into a small bowl (you should get about 3 tablespoons). Add the oil, Worcestershire or soy sauce, and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the tomatoes and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Right before serving, sprinkle over the blue cheese and garnish with more hot sauce and black pepper, if desired.

Nutrition | Per serving: 175 calories, 2 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 217 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

From recipe developer Ali Slagle.

- - -

Tomato and Stone Fruit Salad With Seeds. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

TOMATO AND STONE FRUIT SALAD WITH SEEDS

10 minutes

4 servings

Fresh, sweet fruit - stone fruit, but also tomatoes - meet a deeply spiced oil. The method of blooming aromatics in warm oil and then pouring it over a final dish is a South Asian technique with many names, including tadka and chhonk. It can be modified with whatever appeals in your spicy pantry.

Leftover salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Ingredients

2 large heirloom tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds total), cored and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

4 medium peaches, nectarines, or apricots (about 1 pound), halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1 teaspoon kosher or flaky sea salt, plus more to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Steps

On a serving plate, toss the tomatoes and peaches with 1 teaspoon salt.

In a small skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil, turmeric, cumin, sesame seeds and black pepper. Cook, swirling the skillet, until gently sizzling, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the spiced oil over the fruit and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Nutrition | Per serving: 215 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 290 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

From recipe developer Ali Slagle.

Sponsored