Who says salad has to be made with lettuce?
I haven’t seen any vegetable police running around enforcing rigid romaine laws or aggressively arresting people who have failed to reach for the arugula. What a strange society that would be!
Lucky for us, we live in a world where we’re allowed to pile just about anything we desire in a bowl, toss it with tongs, and call it whatever we like, from corn to chickpeas.
And when it comes to a salad where tomatoes are not only an accompaniment, but one of the main players, it’s important to use the best of the best.
Sure, if you’re got a fresh tomato recipe on the brain in December, those red orbs are available year-round in the produce section. But waiting it out until the bountiful season when those beauties are at their peak is a game-changer.
I’m a fan of sticking it out for the heirlooms – the multi-colored, oddly-shaped varieties celebrated for their explosively juicy taste that you can read more about on our sister site Gardener’s Path. But hybrid beefsteaks are equally as satisfying and meaty in their own right.
There’s something about a jumble of bright, rustic, chopped vegetables that screams suntans and flip flops. And when it comes to a contrast of colors and textures, ‘cukes are a no-brainer here. With their refreshing bite and electric green hue, they make a perfect partner for those crimson tomato wedges.
Speaking of vibrant veggie combinations, let’s take a quick jaunt to a delicious memory from my past.
I fondly remember my first face-to-face with fattoush. Although the Lebanese dish is, of course, a bit different than this simple summer salad, the striking fusion of colors evokes a similar feeling.
I was a teenager and had wandered into a specialty shop after school. My mission: wrangle up an armful of hummus and tabbouleh for my parents. They never asked me to mow the lawn, but when it came to chickpea-related chores, I was always the first pick.
Though at this point my sister was in college, so the only other volunteers were two Persian cats who spent the majority of their day sleeping in oversized bowls on the kitchen table…
I was mesmerized by the radiant spreads that lined the display cases. One in particular caught my eye: a hearty, multicolored mingling of torn pita bread, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
That visually stunning medley was a harmonious blend of acidity, sweetness, and crunch I’ll never forget. I boldly opted for a one-pound container and received bonus points from my parents.
For this recipe, I heartily condone the addition of sweet onions, as a light hint of sharpness always wows the mouth. The acidity from the balsamic and apple cider vinegars softens the pungency of the onion, and (pro tip!) the thinner you slice it, the less that harsh, raw flavor is exaggerated.
Raw onions can totally be your friend, it’s all about how you approach them with a knife. More on that later.
For me, summertime is a whiff of peppery, aromatic basil. It’s gently torn to release its robust fragrance and added at the last minute, as it will wilt and darken if it hangs out in the mixture for too long.
This quick side may come together in minutes and doesn’t require much in terms of prep, but it’s often the simplest, freshest ingredients tossed together in a bowl that make for the most divine creations. Just remember to remove the cat first.
Happy summer salad-ing!Print
For a refreshing summer side that’s as vibrant as it is delicious, try this cucumber tomato salad with sweet onions and fragrant basil.
- 1 pound ripe heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 1 pound English (hothouse) cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons
- 1 small sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced into thin half-moons
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, gently torn
- In a large bowl, add the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Drizzle in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and salt. Toss to combine.
- Allow the salad to marinate for at least 20 minutes in the fridge, or up to a few hours. Just before serving, add the basil and toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Salad
- Method: No-Cook
- Cuisine: Side Dish
Keywords: salad, cucumber, tomato, basil, cider vinegar
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Chop the Veggies
Slice the tomatoes into wedges and place them in a large bowl with their juices. Cut the cucumbers into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons.
If you can’t find English cucumbers, which are known for having a thinner exterior, you may want to peel the skins and remove the seeds (which you can scoop out with a spoon).
Very thinly slice the onion into half-moons. Since the onion is served raw, slicing it on the thinner side will help it to be a less pungent note in the dish that doesn’t overpower the other flavors.
Place the cucumbers and onions in the bowl with the tomatoes.
Step 2 – Dress, Toss, and Marinate the Salad
Allow the salad to marinate for at least 20 minutes in the fridge, or up to a few hours before serving.
Try not to prepare this salad too far in advance, a common cooking mistake with many fresh salads! If it marinates for more than one day, the veggies will begin to soften and lose their crisp bite.
Step 3 – Add the Basil and Serve
Add the basil to the salad and toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary, then serve.
Reserve any leftover juice in the bottom of the bowl for a tangy tomato vinaigrette. Just thicken it with a bit of olive oil and season to taste for salt. You can also just enjoy it with crusty bread.
Sink your Teeth into Summer
There’s about a dozen reasons I reach for this recipe when swimsuit season hits, but here’s my number one:
When it comes to those warm weather cookouts where you don’t want to show up empty-handed, this dish is a breeze to make in bulk.
And (bonus!) it doesn’t require hours spent working over a hot stove, engineering something extravagant. Its gorgeous simplicity and freshness speak for themselves – one more argument for snagging the sweetest, most exceptional tomatoes at the market.
Looking for other ways to reimagine your traditional green salad in favor of something less lettuce focused? These summery sides will bring life to the party:
- Peach and Corn Salad with Fresh Mint and Lime
- Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
- Summer Corn Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar
Grassy, fresh parsley and dill are excellent add-ins that pair well with cucumbers and tomatoes. What will you pull from your garden to give this recipe a personal touch? Share your favorite salad suggestions in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on August 6, 2014. Last updated on May 5, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”