Entertaining/ Side/ Vegetarian

Tomato Salad or Salade de Tomates

August 22, 2019
platter of tomato salad with red onions and basil with green napkin

The tomatoes are beautiful at the Parisian markets in early August. Most of the vendors have closed up shop for summer vacation, but the vendors who remain have stalls overflowing with summer’s bounty. My favorite variety so far are called “coeur de boeuf” which translates roughly as “oxheart”. They are more oval shaped than round, and have a pointy end—apparently, they were named because they are roughly the size and shape of an ox heart. It’s a meaty and flavorful tomato, similar to a U.S. beefsteak tomato (and similarly named). I’ve been eating them sliced thickly with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, but I decided to investigate a classic French dish, la salade de tomates, or Tomato Salad. 

coeur de boeuf tomatoes on a cutting board

In preparation for our move to France, I spent many months practicing my high school French with the help of Pimsleur audio courses—they’re really wonderful, and my French has definitely improved. The lessons present a variety of real-life situations you might find yourself in through a dialogue to which you listen and then respond. In the world of Pimsleur French, there are lots of people inviting you out for coffee or a glass of wine, and lots of time spent in restaurants, so it’s not a bad life. One of my favorite lessons features a couple discussing what to have for dinner and worrying about what might “fait grossir”, or make you gain weight. In the end, they went with the steak frites (steak and french fries) but passed on wine and dessert. ???? 

Several foods figure prominently in Pimsleur French world: steak frites, truite aux amandes (trout with almonds), mousse au chocolat, la salade verte (green salad), and la salade de tomates. So after many months of practice, I guess I’ve had salade de tomates on the brain. (I’ve also learned how to argue with a manager about reimbursable train tickets, how to discuss the renovation of a country home, how to tell your colleague you are not sick but just hungover, and how to explain various maladies from a cold to a hurt ankle—situations with varying levels of usefulness.)

But back to the tomato salad recipe. This is very simple, but so delicious, that I wonder why this salad doesn’t really exist in the U.S. For some reason, tomatoes there seem to require lettuce or arugula for a salad, or some mozzarella cheese. But when it’s peak summer, and you have delicious tomatoes, that calls for featuring them as the star in your salad rather than a supporting player. 

How do you make this tomato salad recipe? 

First, slice half of a red onion into very thin slices. Fill a medium bowl with ice water, and add the onion slices. Let them sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice your fresh tomatoes into thin wedges and put them into a bowl. Stack basil leaves together and roll into a cylinder, then slice thinly. When the onions have sat in the cold water for 10 minutes, drain them and add to the bowl with the tomatoes.

bowl of tomato wedges and red onion slices

Whisk together extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a small bowl, and pour into the bowl with the tomatoes and onions. Toss together gently, then pour out carefully onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper—fleur de sel is perfect for this, but kosher salt or sea salt would also be fine. Garnish with basil. Let sit at room temperature for 30 min before serving. 

How should you store tomatoes?

For many years, I have sworn that uncut tomatoes should never ever be kept in the refrigerator. And I stand by that guideline, though with one caveat learned from a Serious Eats article: if your tomatoes are at their peak of ripeness, refrigeration is the way to go. The reason is that the optimal temperature to store tomatoes is 55 degrees Fahrenheit—which is a tough temperature to maintain in a house: colder than room temperature but not as cold as the refrigerator. 

So if you purchase or pull from from your garden a tomato that is not quite ripe, then by all means, leave it out at room temperature. It will continue to ripen (thank goodness, as I learned after trying to thwart the squirrels in my garden by picking tomatoes before they were ripe). However, if you have perfectly ripe tomatoes, the fridge might be the best place for them as they will also continue to ripen on the counter (and eventually, rot). If you’re not going to eat them in 1-2 days, you can keep them at their perfect stage of ripeness by putting them in the refrigerator. That said, always take them out about a half hour before you want to eat them so that they can come back to room temperature. Lesson learned. 

What is the best tomato to use for salad?

The best tomatoes to use are the freshest, ripest ones you can find. For this recipe, I do prefer the meatiness of a farmstand beefsteak or heirloom tomato, and I think red tomatoes pair better with the red wine vinaigrette than yellow ones. But really, ripeness trumps all. You can even make it with cherry tomatoes if you prefer, though I might chop the red onions smaller in that case, rather than leaving them in slices. 

How do you make raw onions milder? 

You may be wondering about the technique of soaking the red onion before adding to the salad. Soaking raw onions (sliced or chopped) in very cold or iced water for about 10 minutes will help soften their intense flavor. You can also sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice, or any kind of vinegar—this will add flavor to them as well, though it will soften them slightly. An ice water bath will mellow their flavor but keep them crunchy, so that’s the technique I prefer for this recipe.

How long will tomato salad keep?

Once a tomato has been chopped or sliced, you should keep it in the refrigerator. This tomato salad will keep for 2-3 days, though it is definitely best the day it is made. The basil will brown, and the tomatoes will continue to release some of their liquid, the longer kept in the refrigerator. 

If you like this tomato salad recipe, you might also enjoy some of my other France-inspired recipes, like French Yogurt Cake with Almonds, Caprese Crêpes, or Nutella Crêpes. If you’re looking for another great side dish recipe, try my Black Bean and Corn Salad, or my Spinach Beet Salad with Goat Cheese.

dinner spread with quiche, nuts, duck confit, beets, proscuitto, duck pate, cheese, baguette, and tomato salad
Tomato Salad

Tomato Salad

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This summery fresh tomato salad is France-inspired and includes just 5 ingredients. Simple to put together but makes a colorful and delicious side dish!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red onion, peeled
  • 4 ripe tomatoes (about 1.5 lbs)
  • Small handful of basil leaves
  • 3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1.5 T. red wine vinegar
  • fleur de sel, or kosher salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

    1. Place your red onion half flat-side down on the cutting board, and cut into very thin slices.
    2. Fill a medium bowl with ice water, and add the onion slices. Let them sit for 10 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes into thin wedges and put them into a large bowl.
    4. Stack basil leaves together and roll into a cylinder, then slice thinly.
    5. When the onions have sat in the cold water for 10 minutes, strain them through a sieve, and add to the bowl with the tomatoes.
    6. Whisk together olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl, and then pour into bowl with tomatoes and onions. Toss together gently.
    7. Carefully pour onto large plate or platter for serving.
    8. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with basil. Leave at room temperature for 30 min before serving.

Notes

The thick flakes of a fleur de sel salt are perfect with this dish, but if you don't have that, try kosher salt or sea salt.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 119 Total Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 9g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 153mg Carbohydrates: 6g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 4g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 1g
Nutrition information is provided as a general reference for users courtesy of the online nutrition calculator Nutritionix.

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  • S. Peric
    September 10, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    We had a special pleasure of trying this salad. It smelled and tasted phenomenal. It was also quite refreshing on a hot summer day.
    I think that experimenting with different kinds of onions in this salad would potentially give it different twists.

    Keep up the great work Molly!