Two Tasty Twists on Tomato Salad

Spin the classic Insalata Caprese with Spicy Miso Dressing and Umeboshi Vinaigrette.

Photo by Leah Lizarondo

It’s tomato season! That much-awaited (yet too-brief) period in the summer where our favorite vege-fruit takes center stage. Pasta primavera, salads, sammiches with just salt and a touch of mayo, tarts, pies, grilled and fried (gasp!). You can make enough pasta sauce to last you all winter, or just pop those grape and cherry varieties in a bag for a ready snack. Endless possibilities!

I also love the tomato’s natural affinity with basil (which by no coincidence also flourishes at this time) — one of my favorite ways is to chop up tomatoes with some basil chiffonade, crushed fresh garlic and a dash of olive oil. Then toss with super hot pasta. Heaven!

Of course, the other classic is Insalata Caprese: Tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, dressed very simply in olive oil. I dare not malign such a classic! BUT I offer you a creamy, light and brilliant spin on it using silken or soft tofu. This salad (with two tangy options for dressings) is an amalgamation of ideas inspired by two Asian chefs I adore – Ming Tsai and (you guessed it!) David Chang. As David Chang puts it, the soft silky tofu “could do the same thing mozzarella does … moderate the acidity of the tomatoes, lend the dish some creaminess, and make it more substantial.”

Years ago, I made the Tofu Napoleon with Spicy Miso Dressing from Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger cookbook. The dressing is so so good — how can you go wrong with Sriracha? More recently, I had David Chang’s Cherry Tomato Salad with Soft Tofu and Shiso. At home, I make a salad that’s a marriage of the two. And often, I use a very simple, yet high-impact dressing I learned from the same person who concocted what I think is the best salad dressing ever — a simple vinaigrette using sesame oil and umeboshi vinegar. I call these iterations, my Insalata CaprAsian. (Haha. Come on! Give me a break!)


  Insalata CaprAsian Salad

Yield: I leave it to you to decide the quantities per person

  • Fresh tomatoes, sliced thin
  • Soft or silken tofu, sliced thin
  • Baby spinach leaves

1. Layer the tomatoes, tofu and spinach napoleon-style or lay slices and leaves alternately on a large plate if serving a crowd.

2. Pour dressing over the salad. Serve.

  Umeboshi Vinaigrette

If you have never had umeboshi vinegar, I command you now to go to your nearest Food Co-op, Japanese store or Whole Foods and get a bottle. It will change your life. The super-tangy and uber-salty vinegar is made from ume plums and taste like no other vinegar you’ve ever had!

This makes about ½ cup and becomes decidedly “brothier” as it mixes with the fresh tomato juices (see photo). I love this dressing on cukes, fresh or blanched green beans and even a rice salad. I guess I love this dressing. Period.

1. Start with a 1:1 ratio then work the oil up to what’s comfortable for you. I typically end up with somewhere like 1.5:1 (in favor of the oil)

  • ¼ cup sesame oil (or a combination of toasted sesame oil and olive oil)
  • ¼ cup umeboshi vinegar
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste

2. Mix together with a whisk to form an emulsion.

  Spicy Miso Dressing with Sriracha

Adapted from Ming Tsai
Yield: Makes a scant ¾ cup

  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 T mellow white miso
  • 1 T sriracha
  • ½ T sugar
  • 2 T chopped pickled ginger
  • 1 t toasted sesame oil
  • ¼ – ½ cup olive oil
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender to form an emulsion.  

2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Categories: Brazen Kitchen