Delicious tomato salads and al fresco eating are synonymous with happy summer memories. The same way we associate cold temperatures with rich foods and hot soups, we tend to think of summer eating involving fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly salads. If only I had a pound for every time someone has told me of the wonderful Greek salads they enjoyed when holidaying in Greece!
I have long known that I was very privileged in my childhood eating vegetables and fruit produced organically and ripened in the Mediterranean sunlight. The memories of fresh, fragrant cucumbers and sweet juicy tomatoes have meant long standing battles with vegetables and fruit produced under the grey sky of the UK or imported having been harvested prematurely and transported in refrigerated conditions.
Over time, I have developed strategies to enhance flavour which I am very happy to share with you here.
I love eating delicious tomato salads – mixed with cucumber, onion, olives, feta cheese drizzled with a good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with dried oregano in a classic Greek salad, or in an Italian Caprese or Tricolore salad (three colours) with mozzarella and avocado, with a sprinkling of basil leaves and toasted pine nuts. To help the tomatoes be as juicy and flavoursome as can be, I buy them on the vine and never store them in the fridge. They sit in a bowl on the counter top and ripen in room temperature.
How to upgrade salads to delicious tomato salads
With experience, I have also realised that using a variety of processes gives a depth of flavour that cannot be obtained when using only raw tomatoes. So, I always keep dehydrated baby tomatoes in a jar with olive oil. I cook them in a low oven, on a bed of sea salt at a low temperature (100 0 C) until shrivelled, approximately 2- 3 hours. Other times, I roast baby tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and mixed in with some sprigs of thyme and garlic cloves or griddle tomato slices lightly oiled and seasoned with salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
When the time comes to make the salad, I use a sharp knife to remove the skin of the fresh tomatoes and I always discard the core if it is green and hard. I slice the fresh tomatoes and mix them on a platter with some of the sun dried, dehydrated or cooked tomatoes before adding any other vegetables, herbs or cheese.
Finally, I pay great attention to the dressing, even if simply an oil and a vinegar, these are the best I can buy. I always use a very good extra virgin olive oil so as to have a fresh olive flavour but also benefit from the very beneficial antioxidants and a good red wine vinegar, a grape molasses or an aged balsamico where appropriate.
Most of us are aware of the advice to eat ‘five a day’ but making vegetables taste as good as possible makes it much easier to follow it!
You can find this and more of Irini’s recipes, from appetisers and desserts to vegan options and quick treats at Irini Cooks, or you can take a look at her monthly contributions to our Food and Drink channel.Last modified: August 13, 2021