This delicious heirloom tomato salad could not be easier to make. The flavors are perfect for summer – fragrant fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon, and a touch of spice. Sweet and lemony, with just a little bit of heat – it’s addictive! Mop up those juices with a crusty piece of bread, serve it with some good quality mozzarella, and you’ve got yourself a light summer meal.
Every summer, I get a “hankering” for tomatoes with fresh basil. The pairing works so naturally together– fresh, subtly sweet, and wonderfully herby. The flavor takes me back to my grandpa’s garden. As a child I used to help him harvest tomatoes fresh from the vine. Sweet, freshly picked vine-ripened tomatoes… now that’s a taste you never forget. I can almost smell it now, the picked plants and freshly turned earth.
Like most Americans, I grew up eating a variety of red tomatoes (Roma, beefsteak, cherry, etc.). However, it wasn’t until college that I discovered heirloom tomatoes. Of course, the colors and flavors of the various heirloom varieties enchanted me. Eventually I discovered why heirlooms taste so amazing… and of course, I found the answer in food history.
What’s the Difference Between an Heirloom Tomato and a Regular Tomato?
Heirloom vegetables are plant varieties from original seeds that are over 100 years old. For an heirloom vegetable to be considered a true heirloom, the plant must have been introduced prior to 1951, when plant breeders began to hybridize inbred plant lines. Also the plant must also be open pollinated in a natural way by insects, birds, wind or weather. Popular heirloom vegetables include squash, beets, beans, corn, lettuce– and, of course, the tomatoes used in this salad.
According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, “Before European colonization, North America had few varieties of indigenous domesticated food plants but had a fair amount of wild or semi-domesticated species. People emigrating from the Old World, including Africa, as far back as the 16th century, brought seeds with them to America. When the seeds were planted, many of them were able to adapt to the new weather and soil conditions. These hardy species brought considerable genetic diversity to the New World. As a result of centuries of natural adaptation, many heirlooms are resistant to different forms of blight and can survive bad soil and climate extremes.”
Experimenting with and cultivating heirlooms has been a popular pastime for centuries. Even Thomas Jefferson was a fan. Today, heirlooms are prized not only for their interesting colors and shapes, but also for their natural genetic variation. As you can see, there are many reasons why I love using them in my heirloom tomato salad!
What is Special About Heirloom Tomatoes?
Heirloom tomatoes, like the ones used in this salad, have a lot more flavor than their genetically modified counterparts. In the past century, commercial farms have relied heavily on genetically modified seeds. Vegetable species are genetically altered to create specific traits– like drought and frost resistance, tolerance of pesticides, and the ability to withstand long shipping periods. Consequently, most vegetables today grow in large single-species crops from GMO seeds. In the modification of these seeds, flavor is often sacrificed for other genetically desirable traits.
You’ve probably experienced this yourself. For example, have you ever tasted a tomato from the grocery store that appeared ripe, and found it bland and not at all sweet? That won’t happen with this heirloom tomato salad. Heirlooms are naturally more flavorful!
On the whole, cultivating genetically modified vegetables leads to less biodiversity. As a result of genetic modification, we become more dependent on large corporations for our food. That’s because those corporations own the patents to the genetically modified seeds.
An Easy Recipe for Heirloom Tomatoes
Choosing heirloom vegetables and fruits is one way to promote biodiversity. So enjoy this heirloom tomato salad and feel good doing it! After all, heirloom vegetables don’t just taste better– they’re better for the environment. Heirloom enthusiasts cultivate these varieties in hopes of preserving the species for future generations.
Ripe seasonal heirloom tomatoes are incredibly flavorful, which means this heirloom tomato salad doesn’t need a lot of dressing up. The dressing ingredients provide just enough of a balance to let the natural flavors pop. Feel free to add some sliced sweet onion for crunch and spice, or some minced fresh garlic if you like. A little fresh mozzarella or crumbled sheep’s milk feta cheese would be lovely, too. It’s the perfect side dish for a grilled summer meal. Enjoy!
Other Tomato Recipes You Might Like:
Heirloom Tomato Salad
- 2 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon juiced)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt (or more to taste – optional)
- 1 tsp sugar (or more to taste – optional)
- 5 drops hot sauce or tabasco (optional – adds spice)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves removed from stem, sliced chiffonade (from 3/4 oz basil on stem)
- Slice the heirloom tomatoes into 1 inch chunks.
- Place the tomatoes into a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, salt, and hot sauce or tabasco. The sugar and hot sauce are both optional. Sugar helps to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and brings out their natural sweetness. If you have very sweet and ripe tomatoes, you may find it unnecessary. Hot sauce adds just a slight spicy kick to the salad which we find delicious.
- Pour dressing over the salad and toss to coat all ingredients evenly.
- Cover salad and let the tomatoes macerate for 30 minutes. After sitting, stir salad again and adjust seasoning as needed. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Slice the basil chiffonade (alternatively you may chop it). Stir in some of the freshly sliced basil, and garnish top of the salad with the rest just before serving.
- Serve salad at room temperature with a slotted spoon. Liquid from the tomatoes will collect in the bottom of the bowl, and the slotted spoon will allow you to serve the salad without making a wet mess of your plate. We like using a nice crusty bread to dip in those fabulous tomato juices at the bottom of the bowl! You may also wish to drain off some of the excess liquid from the salad bowl prior to serving.