Few summer salads are more popular than caprese, the Italian dish that has been fully co-opted by Americans for years. You can find it in numerous local restaurants, including La Divina, La Contea and at Ruffino’s, where it’s served with burrata and balsamic caviar.
It’s a cinch to make at home, requiring only slices of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s a beautiful and accessible expression of summer—not to mention a great use for the abundance of basil and tomatoes you may find yourself with right now. It’s also a nice way to deploy fancy oils and vinegars, because you can really taste the difference in quality in a simple salad like this.
But as much as we all adore caprese, there are plenty of other tomato salad formulas worth savoring this summer, many of which include ingredients you probably have on hand. Open yourself up to these, and you might find a new favorite.
Tabbouleh, or parsley, tomato and bulgar salad, is a familiar staple in Baton Rouge. Families of Lebanese descent make it at home, and diners nosh on it in any number of local Mediterranean restaurants. You can play around with the proportion of tomatoes in your own version of tabbouleh, perhaps highlighting them a little more at the peak of the season. You can also add in other flavors like mint or pomegranate. Since it keeps its shape nicely, this salad is also perfect for picnics.
Bacon, lettuce and tomato salad with homemade buttermilk ranch
It may sound ordinary, but when you use meaty slices of scarlet tomatoes, elegant leaves of fresh Bibb lettuce, crumbles of smoked bacon from your favorite Cajun meat market, such as Cutrer’s Meat Market, or a local heritage butcher like Iverstine Farms Butcher, and homemade buttermilk ranch dressing, you create a memorable salad everyone will love.
Tomato and fennel salad with shaved parmesan
Tomato and fennel are longstanding partners. The mellow sweetness of a ripe tomato pairs nicely with the subtle anise flavor of fennel. Use fennel just as you would celery. Wash and slice it, and arrange it with quartered tomatoes. Garnish with chopped fennel fronds and thick shavings of high-quality Parmesan. Finish with your favorite oil and either vinegar or lemon juice.
Tomatoes with cucumbers and red onions
Southerners have made variations of this salad for decades, often with a pinch of sugar added to the traditional combination of vegetable oil and cider vinegar. There’s nothing wrong with this homespun rendition, but also try it with infused olive oils or vinegars from places like Red Stick Spice Co., fresh mint, parsley, basil or chives and chunks of salty, briny feta cheese. Throw in Kalamata olives, and call it a Greek salad.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a regular 225 contributor. Reach her at hungryforlouisiana.com.