A Tomato Basil Salad is the most delicious way to celebrate a summer garden. In making this recipe you'll learn how easy it is to peel tomatoes, and how just a few simple ingredients can come together easily to create a very impressive dish.
When I had my catering business, this tomato basil salad was one of the most popular things on my summer menu. Sometimes people would call and ask for it specifically, having heard about it from those who'd eaten it at parties. (Yes, I'm boasting. 😉 )
With just a couple seasonal ingredients, it comes together easily and your guests will think you are a rock star!
Peeling the tomatoes creates a bit of magic in this recipe, though it's incredibly delicious either way.
(I often suggest brands I love and use — these are only suggestions and this is not a sponsored post.)
- tomatoes - Your best bet for the most delicious summer tomatoes will be at your local Farmers' Market. Unless of course, you're growing them in your backyard. Using the best tomatoes is the key to the success of this recipe. Color and feel are the best cues to ripeness. Ripe tomatoes should be slightly firm (airing on the firm side for this particular recipe), but have a little give when gently squeezed, and they should have a deep red color, or whatever the color is intended to be.
- fresh basil - Look for perky bunches without yellowing or bruised leaves.
- red onion - Try to choose onions that are firm, heavy for their size and without bruises.
- fresh garlic - Look for firm heads of garlic without any soft spots or green shoots, which are an indication it's old and likely bitter. Raw garlic cloves should be firm without any dark spots. (Pro tip: If there are green shoots in garlic you already have, just cut the cloves in half and remove them with the tip of a paring knife. The rest of the clove should still be good.)
- balsamic vinegar - Use your favorite, but not one that's reduced and thick. For this salad that would be a bit too sweet.
- extra virgin olive oil - I like this one.
- pepper - Preferably freshly ground.
- goat cheese - It'll add a creamy texture and subtle tangy flavor. You can buy a log or crumbled goat cheese for this recipe.
(See recipe card below for quantities.)
Substitutions and Variations
If I don't list an ingredient with a substitution, it means I think it's best not to substitute it.
- Red onion - Though slightly more mild, shallots are a great substitute for the red onions.
- Fresh garlic - If you don't want the strong flavor of raw garlic, omit it or add a bit less. (I don't recommend subbing it with garlic powder.)
- Goat cheese. Typically, tomato and basil are paired with mozzarella for a Caprese salad. It's a good choice for a substitute. I would use fresh mozzarella -- small balls (called Bocconcini or Pearls) would be perfect. And Burrata would also be fantastic. To serve, place the Burrata on the plate first, and then spoon the tomato mixture over it.
- When you add the tomatoes to the boiling water to peel them, do not leave them any longer than necessary. They should be removed as soon as you see the skin begin to peel back (see images and instructions below). The idea is to loosen the skin, not cook the tomatoes. We want them to stay firm.
- Do not skip "shocking" the tomatoes in ice water! This will stop them from cooking and becoming too soft.
- Smaller basil leaves are best for this salad. If your leaves are on the larger side, tear them in half, or into bite-sized pieces.
- Super thin slices of onion are best.
- Only mix about half of the goat cheese into the other salad ingredients. The remainder should be sprinkled on top -- and none of it should be added until you're ready to serve. Otherwise it almost becomes too creamy, which is perfect in my Strawberry Salad, but not this one.
- If you have a microplane zester, use it to grate the garlic rather than mincing it. It'll become a smooth purée, with helps it evenly blend throughout the salad.
- Do not forget to season the salad with salt and pepper!
How to Peel the Tomatoes
- Use a paring knife to cut out the stems and cores of the tomatoes, and then to cut an "X" on the bottom of each one. Try to only slit the skin and not really cut into the flesh of the tomato.
- Next, add the tomatoes to boiling water for several seconds and up to a minute, depending on how many you add at once. They're ready to remove as soon as you see the skin begin to pull away from the "X" and maybe from where the stem was.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove them and immediately add them to a bowl of ice water. This will to stop them from cooking and softening, and help them keep their vibrant color.
- Starting at the center of the "X" you can easily peel the skin off.
Assembling the Salad
- Cut the peeled tomatoes into bite-sized wedges and gently use your thumb to remove as many seeds as you easily can.
- Then add them to a serving bowl and toss them with the basil leaves, onion slices and about half of the goat cheese.
- Combine the garlic with the vinegar and olive oil and drizzle it into salad. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss. Sprinkle the remaining goat cheese on top, and serve immediately!
Do you have to peel the tomatoes?
Nope. Your call, but I love them this way in this particular recipe. The texture is smooth and more of the flavors of the other ingredients absorb into them this way. Though it's my preference, a tomato basil salad is still quite delicious if you don't.
Other Summer Tomato Recipes
- Easy Tomato Gazpacho
- Avocado Tomato Toast
- Roasted Poblano Tomato Salsa
- Grated Tomatoes with Olive Oil
- Tomato Sweet Onion Salad
As part of a summer barbecue, it's great with grilled steak with Mediterranean flavors and I love it served with fresh Salmon Burgers.
Can you make it ahead?
There are a few things you can do ahead so that when you're ready to serve it's only a matter of slicing and mixing.
- 1 day ahead: Make the dressing, which can be kept at room temperature. Slice the onion, wash and dry the basil and peel the tomatoes. Do not slice the tomatoes -- once peeled, let them cool completely, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate. The sliced onion and basil should also be refrigerated and all three should be wrapped separately.
- About 15 minutes ahead: Slice the tomatoes and finish assembling per the instructions below.
I hope you enjoy this peeled Tomato Basil Salad all summer long!
Goat Cheese and Tomato Basil Salad Recipe
- 2 pounds tomatoes
- ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- ⅓ cup thinly sliced red onion
- 1¼ teaspoons minced garlic
- 1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup goat cheese, crumbled
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel the Tomatoes
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and prepare a large bowl of ice water.
- Use a sharp paring knife to remove the tomato stem and top of the core. Then use the knife to mark an "X" on the bottom of each tomato, trying to only slit the skin and not really cut into the flesh of the tomato.
- Place them in the boiling water and leave them only until you see the skin begin to peel away from the "X" on the bottom. This shouldn't take longer than a minute, and likely less. Use a slotted spoon to remove the them and place them directly into the ice water. (This "shocks" the tomatoes, stopping the cooking process, and helping them to maintain their bright color.)
- Once the tomatoes are cool, starting from where it's lifting, the skin can easily be peeled off. Set aside.
- Slice the peeled tomatoes into bite-sized wedges and gently use your thumb to remove as many seeds as you easily can. Add the tomato wedges to a serving bowl and toss them with the basil leaves, onion slices and about half of the goat cheese crumbles.
- Combine the garlic with the vinegar and oil and toss this mixture into the salad. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle the rest of the goat cheese on top, and serve immediately!