By Sara Moulton, Associated Press
At the peak of ripeness, an in-season tomato is one of the things that makes life worth living. Happily, that season is upon us. And this recipe is my ode to that summer tomato.
All kinds of tomatoes are at the best just now, big and small, beefsteak and cherry. At the base of this salad are sliced beefsteak tomatoes, which are topped with chopped small tomatoes and drizzled with a tomato-based vinaigrette.
Given that this is an essence-of-tomato salad, it’s crucial that all of the tomatoes in the line-up be as ripe as possible. The best place to find them is at a farm stand or farmers market. How do you know if a tomato is ripe, ripe, ripe? Smell the stem end; its perfume should fairly shout, “Tomato!” And once you get them home, do not put them in the fridge. It will kill both flavor and texture.
You also can heighten that flavor by pre-salting your tomatoes and letting them drain for 15 to 20 minutes, as I have done here. The salt not only seasons them, but also pulls out water, thereby concentrating their tomato-ness.
I’ve teamed up the tomatoes with one of their best friends, an avocado, the creaminess of which contrasts beautifully with the tomato’s acidity. Come to think of it, tomatoes have many best friends. Certainly, there’s not a fresh herb that doesn’t play nicely with tomatoes. So if you don’t have mint in the house, feel free to substitute basil, cilantro, chives, oregano, dill, parsley, tarragon or any other fresh green herb.
I took the dressing in an Asian direction, adding ginger, soy sauce and rice vinegar to a small chopped tomato. Because the chopped tomato adds so much body to the dressing, you can cut back on the usual amount of oil without any problem. The dressing still seems rich.
Topping the salad are some thinly-sliced serrano chilies, which provide a jolt of heat to counterbalance the tomato’s sweetness. Obviously, it you worry that they might be too hot, just leave them out. The final touch? Some chopped peanuts for crunch. And that’s my ode to tomatoes.
TOMATO AND AVOCADO SALAD WITH GINGERED TOMATO VINAIGRETTE AND TOASTED PEANUTS
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/3 inch thick
1 cup chopped assorted small tomatoes
Salt and ground black pepper
1 small ripe tomato (4 to 6 ounces), coarsely chopped
1/2 small clove garlic, smashed
2-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grape seed
1 firm ripe avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
1/2 to 1 serrano chili, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
1/4 cup shredded fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Sprinkle the beefsteak tomato slices lightly on both sides with salt, then arrange them on a plate and let them stand for 15 to 20 minutes. In a small strainer, toss the chopped tomatoes with a bit of salt and set them over the sink or a bowl to drain for the same period.
While the tomatoes are draining, in a blender combine the small tomato, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar and oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
Pat the tomato slices dry and on a platter arrange alternating slices of the beefsteak tomatoes and avocado. Drizzle the tomatoes and avocados with most of the dressing, then top them evenly with the chopped small tomatoes. Scatter the serrano slices, mint and peanuts evenly over the top. Serve the remaining dressing on the side.
Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories; 170 calories from fat (71 percent of total calories); 19 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 6 g protein; 420 mg sodium.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”