How to Cut Tomatoes for Salads and A Summer Salad Recipe
These techniques for how to cut tomatoes for salads will help you create beautiful dishes. And you can start working on your new skill by making this Tomato Panzanella Salad which will be a great side dish for your next Gathering.
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Juicy Summer Tomatoes for Salads
In the summer months, your local farmers market is full of the best quality vine-ripened tomatoes.
There are so many different tomato varieties in farmers’ markets that I tend to over-buy.
I grow tomatoes at home in my victory garden, but I just haven’t yielded the great harvest I hope for each summer. I keep trying. And I have to keep going to the farmer’s market. Sigh.
This time of the year I stock up on tomatoes to make the best summer salads. Even simple recipes that use high-quality ingredients like in-season tomatoes will produce the tastiest dishes.
In late summer I buy more tomatoes for cooking and canning just to have that fresh summer taste all year.
When winter is in full swing, I am forced to head to my local grocery store for regular tomatoes. But they just don’t taste as good as they do in summer.
With all of these tomatoes on hand, I try to use them in different ways and make different kinds of salads.
How do You Know a Tomato is Ripe?
Before you begin to learn how to cut tomatoes for salads, you need to determine if they are ripe.
The best way to tell is to gently squeeze the tomato. Ripe tomatoes are firm, but they are not rock-hard. Juicy tomatoes have bright-colored skin and no green color to them. Unless you want green tomatoes for a specific recipe.
Always wash and dry your tomatoes before cutting and cooking.
How do You Store Tomatoes?
Place ripe tomatoes on your counter on a paper towel core side down. There is no need to refrigerate them. They keep very well at room temperature and refrigerating them can make the flesh mealy.
What Knives Are Best for Cutting Tomatoes for Salads?
There are several different knives that work well when cutting tomatoes. The knife selection partially depends on the shape you want to cut your tomatoes.
You can actually use any kind of knife as long as it is an incredibly sharp knife able to slice through the skin without damaging the insides or squishing out the seeds.
But not all of us keep our knives super sharp. So here are some ideas.
Specialized Tomato Knife
I received a set of RADA Tomato Slicing Knives for Christmas one year. Game changer!
I use my RADA tomato knife every day to cut tomatoes, lemons, and any foods with a skin and tender interior. This knife slices through tomatoes perfectly without damaging the tissue or forcing out the seeds.
The 5-inch blade has a perfectly serrated edge for cutting into small and medium-sized tomatoes. And the tip is pointy enough to tackle removing the core with ease.
This is my go-to tomato knife!
If you don’t have a dedicated tomato knife, use one that you have with a serrated edge.
I don’t mean a steak knife, but you could use one in a pinch. They are a bit clumsy for slicing tomatoes and lack an ergonomic handle, but they can get the job done.
A better option would be to use a longer blade knife with a serrated edge.
You can use your serrated bread knife for cutting tomatoes for salads and in general. This size knife is really good for making parallel cuts in larger tomatoes.
This does a great job slicing through the soft skin without forcing the seeds out of the fruit. It is the best knife to use when cutting large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes into thin slices or thick slices.
A sharp chef’s knife works well when dicing large tomatoes. A paring knife is too short and usually too dull to cut medium or large tomatoes very well.
Keep your chef’s knife sharp by taking it to a professional knife sharpener a couple of times a year. It is amazing how a sharp knife saves you preparation time and reduces mess.
The MAC Knife Professional Chef knife is a wonder and is my go-to knife for almost everything. I have been using it for over 12 years. I broke off the tip once and almost had a meltdown! It is in full working condition after a visit to a local professional knife sharpener.
Which Tomato Should I Use For Salad?
Actually, choosing your tomatoes depends on what kind of salad you are making.
Yes, you can swap out tomatoes for tomatoes, but there is an aesthetic to some salads that require specific tomatoes to be cut in certain patterns.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
How to Cut Tomatoes for Salad
There is a right way to cut vine tomatoes. Whether you need wedges, or slices, or want tomatoes in small pieces, there is a technique for each of these different ways to cut tomatoes.
Different cuts can be accomplished with the same knife, but a larger knife gives you more control when cutting tomatoes into smaller pieces such as dicing.
If you are making an heirloom tomato salad recipe, mixing tomatoes in green salads, or want a simple tomato salad of fresh garden tomatoes, cutting your tomatoes into wedges will make a nice presentation. You can make a fresh tomato salad out of a combination of wedges and slices.
- Wash and dry your tomatoes.
- Remove the core of the tomato. Place on a cutting board with the core side down.
- Cut through the middle of the tomato. Hold the halves together and rotate 90 degrees. Cut through the middle of the tomato again.
- Lay one tomato wedge skin side down on the cutting board. Cut lengthwise through the core to the skin. This will make two smaller wedges.
- Continue cutting the rest of the quartered wedges.
Diced or Chopped Tomatoes
When dicing tomatoes, I like to use my chef’s knife. A good, sharp chef’s knife will easily cut through tomato skin while making neat cuts in the flesh. I typically use beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or large vine-ripened tomatoes for dicing. You can cut these into even smaller pieces if you are making something like pico de gallo.
- Remove the core from the tomato.
- Place tomato with the bottom of the tomato up on a cutting board and cut it into 1/4-inch slices.
- Slice the end pieces into 1/4-inch strips. Turn the strips 90 degrees and cut them into 1/4-inch pieces.
- Stack two middle slices together and cut into ¼-inch thin strips.
- Give strips a quarter turn and cut crosswise into ¼-inch pieces.
- Continue with the rest of the slices.
Sliced tomatoes are great for making a Caprese salad. You can use Roma tomatoes or smaller heirloom tomatoes to cut up for this kind of salad.
- Wash and dry tomatoes. If using a small heirloom, remove the core.
- Lay the tomato on its side on a cutting board.
- Cut a thin slice off of the bottom of the tomato.
- With the tomato still on its side, slice through the tomato horizontally into 1/3-1/4 inch thick slices.
- Discard the top of the tomato with the stem, or remove the stem and use the slice in a green salad or dice it for another use.
How to Cut Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
Even though you could just toss whole grape tomatoes into a simple salad of greens, cut tomatoes look much nicer and are easier to eat. Also, the juices can add flavor to the salad leaves.
I also add these cut tomatoes to my Greek Salad when I make it.
Here is a great time-saving trick when cutting smaller tomatoes.
- Take two take-out food lids or plastic lids with a lip that are the same size.
- On a cutting board, place one of the lids with the lip side up. Fill the lid with as many grape or cherry tomatoes that will fit on their sides.
- Place the second take-out lid on top of the tomatoes with the lip edge down. The two lips will hold the tomatoes in place.
- Take a serrated edge knife or sharp chef’s knife and slice through the gap between the lids using a sawing motion. Don’t try to push the knife through or the seeds will squirt out and you will damage the tomato flesh.
- Place the halved tomatoes in a bowl.
- Refill the lids and continue cutting your tomatoes.
Recipe for Tomato Panzanella Salad
A Panzanella salad is not as much of an Italian tomato salad as it is a stale bread salad with vegetables and olive oil. It is my favorite way to serve fresh cut tomatoes in a salad during the summer months.
Wikipedia defines Panzanella as “A Tuscan and Umbrian chopped salad of soaked stale bread, onions, and tomatoes that is popular in the summer. It often includes cucumbers, basil and is dressed with olive oil and vinegar.” You can think of it as a marinated tomato salad with bread.
It is popular all over the Mediterranean and is one of the best tomato salads you can make. It is a great addition to any warm-weather meal.
Ingredients for this Tomato Panzanella Salad
- Three-quarters of a pound of heirloom tomatoes which is about 2, cut tomatoes for this salad into 8 – 12 wedges depending on size
- 6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- One fresh lemon for zest and juice
- Small garlic clove
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon za’atar, found online or in Mediterranean markets
- Fresh oregano from your garden (one teaspoon) or ½ teaspoon dried Greek oregano
- 1 cup pita chips or 1/4 of a baguette or other crusty bread, sliced and toasted
- A half teaspoon of honey, or a dab more if you like a sweeter dressing
- 2 ounces feta cheese crumbles
- ¼ cup basil leaves
- 1/8 cup mint leaves
You can also add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or champagne vinegar to the dressing for extra zip. I wouldn’t use apple cider vinegar as that is really pungent and can overpower the dish.
You can also use fresh herbs in place of the za’atar if you don’t have it on hand.
If you really like raw onion you can add some thinly sliced red onions or sweet onions to the final mix.
How to Make Panzanella Salad
- In a medium to large bowl, toss heirloom tomatoes cut into wedges and cherry tomato slices or halves with ½ tsp kosher salt to combine and set aside. Allow the tomato juices to drain into the bottom of the bowl.
- Finely grate or zest ½ the lemon and combine with finely grated garlic. Put the rest of the lemon aside.
- Heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat just until starting to shimmer. Add za’atar, black pepper, and oregano and cook, for about one minute, stirring occasionally. It should become slightly darkened in color and fragrant. Add lemon zest and garlic and cook for 15 seconds, then remove from heat. You just want to cook out the raw flavor of the garlic, not brown it. Transfer the za’atar oil into a measuring cup or glass jar with a lid.
- Place pita chips or toasted baguette pieces in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the za’atar oil and a pinch of salt. Try not to break the chips.
- Cut the reserved lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the measuring cup or glass jar with the za’atar oil. Add honey, ¼ tsp salt, and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in za’atar oil whisking constantly until emulsified. If using a glass jar, screw the lid on a shake it to mix the ingredients. Add more lemon juice, honey, or salt if needed.
- Pause here if other elements of the meal are not complete. Complete the next two steps just before serving the salad.
- Add feta, fresh basil leaves, fresh mint leaves, and reserved tomatoes to the bowl with chips or bread and drizzle dressing all over. Toss to combine.
- Place salad onto a platter including all the juices in the bowl. Serve quickly so the bread does not get soggy.
Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar before you serve if you like.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. But eat it the next day as the bread will get soggy.
What Goes Well with a Panzanella Salad?
Serve this up with the Best Grilled White Fish from this Hot Date Night Menu. The menu also has wine pairing recommendations for the meal.
You could also serve it with this Simple Pan Seared Salmon.
You can add other healthy grilled vegetables to the table like Grilled Zucchini with Dill Vinaigrette or Magic Grilled Broccoli. These dishes keep the heat out of your kitchen in warmer months.
Finish your meal with a light, yet indulgent dessert like this Adults Only Chocolate Dipping Sauce served with fruits and cookies. It can be made days in advance!
Invite Friends Over for a Home Cooked Meal
Or just enjoy the company of that special someone on a stay-in date night.
Either way, Lone Star Gatherings is full of cooking resources to help you entertain at home with ease.
Use these tips on how to cut tomatoes for salads and this recipe for Tomato Panzanella Salad when you invite friends over for a cookout. The end result will be happy taste buds and stronger friendships.
P.S. Sharing is Caring. Please share this post on your favorite social media site! And comment below when you make this delicious salad!
Tomato Panzanella Salad
- ¾ lb. heirloom tomatoes about 2, sliced into 8 – 12 wedges depending on size
- 6 oz. Cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 tsp kosher salt divided, plus more
- 1 c pita chips or 1/4 baguette sliced and toasted
- 2 oz feta cheese crumbles
- ¼ cup basil leaves torn if large
- 1/8 cup mint leaves torn if large
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp za’atar
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp dried oregano Greek
- 1 lemon for zest and juice
- Small garlic clove
- ½ tsp honey
- In a medium bowl, toss heirloom wedges and cherry tomatoes with ½ tsp kosher salt to combine and set aside.
- Finely grate or zest ½ the lemon and combine with finely grated garlic. Put rest of lemon aside.
- Heat 3 Tbsp oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat just until starting to shimmer. Add za’atar, black pepper, and oregano and cook for about one minute, stirring occasionally. It should become slightly darkened in color and fragrant. Add lemon zest and garlic and cook for 15 seconds, then remove from heat. You just want to cook out the raw flavor of the garlic, not brown it. Transfer the za’atar oil into a measuring cup.
- Place pita chips or toasted baguette in a bowl and toss with 1 tbsp za’atar oil and a pinch of salt. Try not to break the chips.
- Cut the reserved lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the measuring cup with the za'atar oil. Add honey, ¼ tsp salt, and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in za’atar oil whisking constantly until emulsified. Add more lemon juice, honey, or salt if needed.
- Pause here if other elements of the meal are not complete. Complete the next two steps just before serving the salad.
- Add feta, basil, mint and reserved tomatoes to bowl with chips and drizzle dressing all over. Toss to combine.
- Place salad onto a platter with all the juices in the bowl. Serve quickly so the bread does not get soggy.
Barbara at Mantel and Table
Rani! That tip about cutting the cherry tomatoes is brilliant! THANK YOU for that – you’ve just saved me all kinds of time! That tip alone would have satisfied me, but your cutting tutorials and the Panzanella recipe are icing on the cake! I can’t wait to try it all! Happy tomato season, and good luck with your garden!
I am so glad the tip will help! And the Panzanella is really good for hot weather side dishes to keep you cool. Cheers! Rani