Posted by: Lee Rowan | December 31, 2014

ZAM’s New Year’s Progressive Dinner

Dinner Menu FINAL

When I signed up for this party, there were only 3 spaces left.. all salad.  I sighed.  Being vegetarian, “but we have salad” is often the discouraging postscript to finding out there’s nothing else at a party that I can eat.

But… there are salads that consist of a few limp lettuce leaves and discouraged pink chunks of rubber calling themselves “tomatoes,” and then .. there’s the real deal.

I still make this dish when I can find decent tomatoes at the farmer’s market, even in winter – our part of Ontario is Canada’s “deep south” and has a lot of greenhouse produce (and mushroom caves, but that’s another recipe.) Fresh basil is a must—and the pot I brought in last fall is struggling along on my seedling shelf. It’s trying to bloom, poor thing, so I may need to start a few new basil seedlings to keep the garden going on life-support until summer returns.

John Hansen, from Walking Wounded, would make this salad—he probably learned it from his massage therapist, who knows a bit about nutrition. Living on a disability pension before he married Kevin, John had to make the most of his grocery budget, and I imagine he helped his elderly neighbor with her garden and received some fresh produce in return. But he isn’t the sort of cook to try ambitious recipes, so this lovely dish of summer flavor would be just the sort of thing to accompany a bowl of spaghetti tossed in olive oil and grated cheese.

Summer In A Bowl

Ingredients: Ripe tomatoes, basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper. The better your ingredients, the better the result. Fresh-grown tomatoes and basil are best, of course.

This is my wife’s favorite summer salad, and one of mine, too.   No precise measurements because that’s up to you. Ripe cherry tomatoes – heritage varieties are best, grown for taste rather than durability—are prettiest, but fresh tomatoes of any size will work. Get the ripest, freshest, un-factoriest fruit you can find.

Slice your tomatoes (cherries in half, other sorts as you like) into individual salad dishes. I use largish dessert bowls so there’s room for the juices to mix it up.

Sprinkle a little salt on the tomatoes to draw out the juice, and while you’re doing that, take a few basil leaves – however many you can work with comfortably (3 is good, for a single dish) and chiffonade them—roll them up in a tube and slice them very thin. This doesn’t have to be perfect but it does spread the flavor better than using whole leaves.

Sprinkle the shredded leaves on the tomato slices. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over them – don’t skip this step, even if you only use a half-teaspoon of oil—the oil helps make the nutrients in the tomatoes easier for your body to assimilate. Then pour the balsamic vinegar over them – a teaspoon will do, but if you like more, that’s fine too.  If you’re feeling especially artistic, you can pinch off the top bud of your basil stalk and place it in the center—don’t worry, it’s like pinching back any plant, that will encourage branching off.

If you like pepper, grind a little black or mixed pepper over the top, let it sit for a minute or two so the flavors blend, and – enjoy with your meal, or just a slice of warm garlic bread (in the summer, when the tomatoes are ripe, you may not want anything more). If you drink the juice that’s left, I don’t think anyone would blame you!

You can add a bit of crumbled feta or blue cheese, or toasted walnut pieces.. but you really don’t need them.




  1. Thanks for the recipe! A good salad does need more than lettuce:) Also, ZAM linked everyone to this site:, so people may have a hard time finding you. Hope you have a Happy New Year!

  2. I’ve had something similar before, but I’ll have to try with fresh basil.

  3. Thanks for the recipe. I love salad and tomatoes are the only vegetable I grow – and that’s because it requires little ability. Happy New Year.

  4. Thanks for the recipe. I love salads and have to try this one.

  5. I was one of those that had trouble finding your blog! My Google-Fu failed me. Thankfully, your link has been fixed on ZAM’s page :). That salad does look tasty. Can’t wait to try it. Happy New Year!

  6. Thanks for the recipe! This sounds like a great salad. Happy New Year!

  7. I like to have variety at a dinner or potluck ,and salad is a welcome sight to me.

  8. mmm… sounds good! Now if I could just manage to successfully grow tomatoes! I think possibly I helicopter-parent them.

  9. The salad sounds super-delicious, though I’m tempted to gild the lily with some burrata on top…

  10. Tracy – I don’t quite know what you mean–I just stick ’em in the ground (or in a pot that has at least a foot of soil) with a mix of soil, peat moss, and cow manure, and give them some manure tea a few times during the summer. There’s a space of a few weeks right after transplanting when they don’t do anything, because that’s when they’re getting their roots down. And I try to stick with heritage varieties because they have more flavor – Brandywine, for instance. I don’t know the name of the cherry variety I grew last year because it came from an organic co-op and they didn’t know either. As long as a tomato’s got good drainage (I learned that the hard way!) and enough water and sun, it’s hard to stop them. I’ve got one growing downstairs right now – it volunteered in a geranium I had outdoors and I’m curious to see if I can get it to flower under fluorescent light.

  11. Yummy. That recipe, and the talk of growing tomatoes, makes me wish it was summer. But on the subject of tomatoes, here in Texas it can really get too hot for them. We plant them every year, but sometimes they just burn up, even with adequate water.

    • I’m up in Ontario… we had a dry, super-hot summer a couple of years back where I had to put up shade cloth, and even then I lost a maple sapling and some other seedlings. But I was in Texas once, years ago, and got a 2nd-degree sunburn because I had no idea what a difference it makes. Maybe a shaded trench? there’s a that might give you some ideas.

  12. I can see why you were disappointed with only having the choice of salad left, but I think you knocked it out of the park. I can’t remember the last time I had fresh basil in a salad and this sounds so delicious and simple too. Thank you for sharing!

    • It is simple – most of my favorite recipes are easy ones. Our supermarkets sell small potted basil in their vegetable section, but they tend to die off fast, so I like to start from seed or our local organic nursery folks.

  13. This is similar to a caprese salad, which I absolutely love. I like the idea of adding balsamic vinegar. It really adds another dimension of flavor to dishes. Thanks for sharing!

    Waxapplelover (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. Love tomatoes! Thanks for the recipe!

  15. This would be good for me, but I’m in the negative with balsamic vinegar. Any other vinegars I could exchange with?


    • Any vinegar you like, really – you could even make your own herbal vinegar–but you aren’t going to gt the same results. I like the depth of flavor in balsamic – my wife uses it all by itself as a no-calorie dressing sometimes. The thing about cooking is, there’s really no wrong way if you like the results.

  16. I’m not really a salad either but I want to eat better and lose some weight this year. The recipe sounds delicious =) Thank you so much for sharing it! Happy New Year! ^^

    humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

  17. Love the title of your salad! I wish it was Summer now. Perhaps I will make your salad and convince myself it is June not January! Thanks for sharing. ardent(dot)ereader(at)gmail(dot)com

  18. I love your salad recipe. I shall try it out.
    debby236 at gmail dot com and hotmail

  19. I have a similar recipe that everyone at my house loves. We like to buy artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars, so the salad is a bit different each time as we try our various oils and vinegars.

    Happy 2015!

    jen.f {at} mac {dot} com

    • I tried this, seat-of-the-pants, when we had a lot of early tomatoes but not quite enough for a batch of sauce – and we were about fed up with tomato sandwiches. I’m sure Italian grandmas have been doing this same thing for hundreds of years, it’s such a simple combination.

  20. This is a first, a recipe I’ve actually already tried, and loved, and make often when the tomato plants start ripening.

  21. My husband loves tomatoes and basil like this. He had a rather productive garden this year. First time he grew his own herbs. Seemed like everything he made had more flavor due to the fresh herbs. Hope your new year is great.

  22. While I am not a vegetarian, I always try to have something other than a salad for my vegetarian guests. This is a delightful sounding salad though. Do you like roasted veggies like squash and eggplant?

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong – I love salad, and this past week or so, getting over a bad cold, I’ve been eating them a lot. I love squash but I’ve never seen what anyone sees in eggplant, aside from their beautiful purple skin and artistic contours. Don’t care for the flavor or texture. But other than eggplant–and okra, which I think you have to learn to love as a child–I like almost all other veggies.

  23. This sounds good. Thanks for the recipe.

  24. I adore fresh from the vine tomatoes, and this sounds great.

  25. Oh, this sounds lovely! I might rub the bowls with a cut clove of garlic as well, and add some fresh sliced cucumber. Yum!

  26. Good salads are very hard to come by, even in restaurants! Thanks for the tips and the recipe

  27. Thanks for the tip about the basil leaves. I’ve never tried to chiffonade them.

  28. I love a good balsamic! Good in a salad, good on mozzarella… 😉
    OceanAkers @

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