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Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil and Garlic: Cheap Chic Recipe

Updated on December 3, 2012
4.8 stars from 5 ratings of Heirloom Tomato Salad

Back to basics

As we all know but sometimes need to be reminded, some of the best things in life are the simplest. The French know this well and it's one of the things I like best about living in France.

Despite all the talk of "slow food", like everywhere in the modern world, the French have seen their cooking time diminish in inverse proportion to the growth of all the technologies that supposedly free us up for more leisure time.

They also face the same global price hikes on food that are being experienced around the world as the major "middleman" chains squeeze the wallets of both farmers and customers to fatten those of their shareholders.

Yet the French are as food conscious as ever. So how do they adapt their famous cuisine to reduced cooking time and skyrocketing food prices?

From their long culinary history, they know that a dish is only as good as the products that go into it. Rather than try to save by buying lots of cheap ingredients, they:

1.) Pare ingredients down to the essential

2.) Use only the best ingredients

In brief, they give preference in recipes to quality over quantity of ingredients.

All it takes to make a great tomato salad are great tomatoes

One simple summer classic in France is just plain tomato salad. So ubiquitous is this pure delight that half of all French doctor calls in the summer months are due to indigestion from tomatoes. Radios during vacation season bleat incessantly that it is important to 1.) drink lots of water and 2.) not eat too many tomatoes!

Tomato salad à la française could hardly be easier, or cheaper. But keep in mind, it's the quality of the tomatos that determine the quality of the salad.

To add colorful, flavorful flair, I've used heirloom tomatos here: yellow and red Coeur de boeuf ("beef heart" a variety of beefsteak), green zebras and an unidentified cultivar of "black tomato."


Granted they are slightly higher priced than most of the more readily available hard, flavorless greenhouse tomatoes many supermarkets push on us. But all you're buying (or if you're lucky, growing) are tomatoes, basil and garlic, so you still come out on top.

Cook Time

Prep time: 10 min
Ready in: 10 min
Yields: 6 side servings


  • 2 lbs / 1 kg ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh basil
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic Cloves
  • 2 T. each quality oil & vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste


  1. Quarter small tomatoes. Cut large tomatoes in half crosswise before quartering. Leave in the seeds. The juices will mix with the oil and vinegar and add to the flavor.
  2. Finely mince garlic, removing green shoots if necessary as illustrated at knife point. Throw in with tomatoes.
  3. Gently tear basil into small strips by hand to avoid oxiding, setting aside the top of one sprig for decorationg. Throw in with tomatoes and
  4. Add a few dashes or two tablespoons each oil & vinegar, a pinch each of salt and pepper. Toss and serve.

Serving suggestions

Of course the French aren't the only ones who know simplicity rules. In a throwback to my American roots, I served this French tomato salad last night with a simply delicious three-ingredient mac & cheese.

But the salad works equally well with more formal fare like an elegant but simple Olive and Lamb Stuffed Whole Grain Sourdough Loaf.

A word on oil and vinegar

What goes for tomatoes goes for oil & vinegar. Quality counts. I've assumed for this recipe that you already have your favorites on hand. If not, it's something to investigate. You needn't renounce your favorite bottled dressing entirely, but quality oil and vinegar are often all you need to subtly enhance a salad's flavor.

Those of you who've read my other recipes know I have a thing for for this particular olive oil, which if you're in the market for a new favorite, you might want to try. A centuries old prize-winner, it is basil infused and best of all, cheaper on than here in France, presumably because of the high VAT here!


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    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      So glad you enjoyed it! Serving it with pita or tortillas is a great idea. Will try it soon...

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Yummy, fun to make, and colorful! Loved it with pitas and tortillas. Also enjoyed it with chicken strips.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      I'm sorry about your share button! Sometimes things don't work quite right, but I'm sure they'll get around to it soon. I'm going to write a couple of hubs in the next few days about our return to Cusco and at least one recipe using our exotic ingredients. Thanks for the encouragement to do it!

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      @ Vespawoolf, You may not have all those heirloom tomatoes at the Peruvian market, but the thought of all the exotic stuff you must have instead gets my creative (not to mention gastric!) juices flowing.

      Thanks for the share! You make me envious, I still don't have a share button. I asked for techy help but it didn't work...

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      Your photos have motivated me to head to the market for some fresh tomatoes! We don't have all the heirloom varieties you mention, but at least they're fresh. I still remember the juicy, delicious beefsteak tomatoes my parents grew when I was a child. I'm amazed your favorite olive oil is cheaper on Amazon than in France! Voted up and shared.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      The farmers' market is even better, because you can get even more of a variety!

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Fresh-picked? I'm ashamed to say I wouldn't know. Closest I can get is my local organic farmer's market. How I envy your garden!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      This simple salad looks so beautiful. Nothing beats the taste of fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes! I can't wait until mine are ready in the garden. I keep telling myself, any day now. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Thanks Jenubouka, the feeling is mutual!

    • profile image

      jenubouka 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for the link, much appreciated! Some of the best dishes are from simple yet flavorful ingredients that don't need much fuss; just the right combination of flavors, as you so elegantly wrote here. Your photos and writing, oh and the food are amazing! So fortunate to have found you here on Hubpages, and look forward to reading all of your talented articles!

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Hi Aviannovice and Gramarye. It's almost not a recipe a at all. More of a reminder of simple goodness. Ripe tomatoes, olive oil & basil are a winning team in this regard!

    • gramarye profile image

      gramarye 5 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

      Awesome! I really like tomatoes and basil together! Great hub, voted up and shared!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This sounds good Letitia. I like virgin olive oil, which goes well with tomatoes.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Thanks Green Lotus, it's a great one in barbecue season!

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      "Simply" wonderful and thanks for recommending that olive oil. I'm addicted to trying out French and Italian varieties...just afraid they will go bad before I consume them all!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Yum! I love tomatoes and this simple salad looks awesome!