The tomatoes in the New York area are starting to get pretty good. And while they’re not quite the juicy umami bombs of July, they’re finally tasty enough to hold their own next to chickpeas in a soft, juicy, herb-filled salad.
The key to coaxing a tomato’s best flavor is to season it separately and let it marinate a little, before adding the rest of the salad ingredients.
To make enough salad for two, cut one large or two small tomatoes into bite-size chunks and put them in a bowl. Add salt, pepper and a grated garlic clove, if you like, and toss gently but thoroughly. Let sit for 15 minutes or so, then taste. Does it lack brightness? Add a tangy acid, like lime juice, lemon juice or sherry vinegar. Could it use a little sweetness? Drizzle in a syrupy balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses instead. Or use one of the tangy acids, along with a sprinkle of sugar or drop of honey or splash of mirin, to balance it.
While the tomatoes are marinating, you could quickly pickle some onions. Slice up a red onion (or a few shallots) and put the slices in a bowl. Add enough lemon or lime juice to coat the slices well, a pinch of salt and two large pinches of sugar. Let sit for 10 to 30 minutes. The longer the onion slices sit, the pinker, more supple, and more pickled they become. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for at least a week.
Now, back to your tomato: Add about 2 cups (or the drained contents of a 15-ounce can) cooked chickpeas (or white beans), a handful of torn or chopped fresh herbs (basil and mint are nice), a pinch of red-pepper flakes and a shower of olive oil. Toss in some of the pickled onions if you’re using them. Season with more salt and pepper. Add some acid, to taste, if you didn’t use the pickled onions.
I like to garnish this with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper for a little crunch. Or for something even crispier, serve the salad with buttered crackers on the side. If you can, savor this meal outside, which is always the best way to celebrate the beginning of tomato season.
This is part of a series in which Melissa Clark teaches you how to cook with pantry staples. See more.