By Martin Musialczyk
As winter continues to show its ugly side in so many ways, whether it be in the form of snow, wind, rain, ice or more rain, sometimes dreaming of the warmer parts of the year can get us past some of those seasonal blues. So, let’s transform a $3 pint of tomatoes into an elegant, yet simple salad that may weaken winter’s grip for at least the duration of that meal.
(Step 1) Start with a pint of cherry tomatoes — any grocery store will have at least one selection. Some will have a couple varieties or more to choose from. Depending on what part of the year it is, chances are there will be a lot of choices. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any of them.
Grape tomatoes can be used for their texture, capable of enduring a lot of punishment in terms of mixing. Cherry tomatoes can be used for their sweetness. Orange pear tomatoes can be used for… Well, they are just so freaking cute and can give the salad character due to its unusual color.
Mixing different varieties together will only make the salad better, but the point is that any kind will work for this recipe.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use a pint of grape tomatoes. Cut them all in half lengthwise and place in a large mixing bowl.
(Step 2) Finely mince a clove of garlic and place in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add a pinch of chili flakes, two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and three tablespoons of olive oil.
(Step 3) Place seven basil leaves on top of each other. End to end, roll them up tightly together on a cutting board. With one hand holding the basil together, using a knife, carefully slice the basil widthwise into thin ribbons. In the unlikely event you find yourself in the presence of an overly intense beet-red-faced Gordon Ramsey yelling at you to chiffonade some basil, this is how you do it. Just make sure you’re using a sharp knife and be very careful not to slice up your hand digits.
(Step 4) With a spoon or two, gently mix all the ingredients together. Season with non-iodized coarse salt to taste. Generally, it will take almost a teaspoon of salt or more, but as you add little by little, tasting each time will give you more control of how much to add without making it overly salty.
(Step 5) Add cream cheese to a slice of artisanal bread and top with this tomato salad and enjoy as is, but…
(Step 6) … You can also diversify. You can add other vegetables to the mixture, like sliced baby bell peppers and/or julienned red onion. To julienne an onion, simply cut an onion in half from end to end, cut off the root and then cut quarter-inch slices lengthwise along the onion half. You’ll only need half an onion for this recipe.
Mince fresh dill, cube cucumber and top with feta cheese to transform your dish to more of a Greek-style salad.
Central Market carries a few feta cheeses in their bulk salad section. You only need a small cube of it. Just crumble the feta with your hands right on top of the tomato mixture at the last moment before serving.
One of my favorite ways to eat this salad with all the added ingredients from the sixth step, is to use toasted naan bread and hummus. Turn the oven on to high broil and place a couple pieces of naan onto a baking sheet. Broil for only a minute per side as you just want to warm it through. Tear the naan into fourths, spread on some hummus and top with the tomato mixture. Enjoy.
Grape tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil, chili flakes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, baguette, cream cheese and salt. Optional: Naan bread, feta cheese, fresh dill, cucumber, baby bell peppers and red onion.
1. Slice 1 pint of grape tomatoes in half.
2. Add one minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of chili flakes.
3. Chiffonade seven basil leaves and add to tomato mixture.
4. Season salad with about 1 teaspoon of a non-iodized coarse salt.
5. Add tomato mixture onto a piece of artisanal bread, spread with cream cheese.