Take advantage of late-season sweet tomatoes and serve this delicious heirloom tomato salad at your next BBQ. Slice fresh, perfectly ripe tomatoes of different sizes and colors and float them on a cloud of creamy whipped feta cheese. Finish them with a drizzle of smoked paprika-infused olive oil and a scattering of fresh mint leaves. And then, all in one bite, you’ve got tangy, sweet and smoky flavors.
This heirloom tomato salad recipe is a natural with roasted chicken dishes, such as Middle Eastern Chicken Glazed with Pomegranate Molasses and Marcella Hazan’s Roast Chicken with Lemons. You can also make this a main course salad by topping the tomatoes with grilled salmon before drizzling on the smoked paprika oil.
This heirloom tomato salad recipe is my version of a summer 2022 recipe in Bon Appetite magazine. Here, I have simplified the steps and made good use of time and labor saving techniques, such as a food processor to whip the feta cheese. Not only is this easier than the hand-mixing technique of the original recipe, it also results in a much smoother, more pillowy feta whip.
Tomatoes for Heirloom Tomato Salad
I like to use a variety of colors and sizes of heirloom tomatoes in this dish. Use a mix of red, orange or purple and yellow tomatoes. For example, A great combination is large beefsteak tomatoes, golfball sized honeygolds and super sweet mini grape tomatoes. The more variety that you include, the more visually beautiful your salad will be.
What is so special about heirloom tomatoes?
With names like Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Banana Legs, Big Rainbow, Black Krim, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Yellow Pear, you know there is something special about heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes grow from seeds selected by farmers from the plants that produce the best quality fruits, based on desirable traits like juiciness, size, shape, and color. In fact, heirloom tomatoes come in a wide variety of colors, textures, sizes and flavors. They do not look or taste all the same and that makes them so appealing. Think yellow, red, pink, brown, purple and orange tomatoes for starters. And most are bred to be super sweet and intensely flavored. You might taste an heirloom tomato for the first time and think, “Wow! Now THAT tastes like a tomato!”
Heirloom tomatoes versus hybrid grocery store tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are vastly superior to most generic hybrid varieties that you see on grocery store shelves. Today’s standard grocery store hybrid tomatoes have been bred since the 1940s with specific mutations that gives them that uniform “tomato red” color, round plumpness and long storage capability. This is great for the grocery stores who want tomatoes that look good and last a long time on the shelves without spoiling. And these tomatoes may even LOOK good to you from the outside. But then you cut into them, and they are somewhat white or pale in color on the inside. They often taste disappointingly watery, mealy and bland. To make matters worse, they also contain lower levels of health-promoting carotenoids, beneficial antioxidants that can enhance your immune system and help protect you from disease.
Once you taste the superior and varied flavors and colors of heirloom tomatoes, especially in salads like this, you will not want a standard hybrid grocery store variety again.
The quality of grocery-store feta cheese varies immensely. Avoid pre-crumbled feta. If you can find it, buy imported goat or sheep feta cheese packed in brine. My current favorite is a full-flavored sheep milk feta cheese imported from Bulgaria.
For a real treat, splurge on Smoked Pimentón Paprika from Burlap and Barrel. This lovely smoked paprika comes from a single family-owned producer in the Extremadura region of western Spain. This area is famous for pimentón de la vera, which has a Designation of Protected Origin status from the European Union. Sweet, red pimentón peppers are slowly smoked and dried over oak coals and then they are stone-ground. This process infuses them with a rich, smoky flavor that adds savory depth and gorgeous color to any dish, including the smoked paprika oil used in this heirloom tomato salad recipe. Burlap and Barrel’s Smoked Pimentón Paprika is a favorite with celebrity chefs such as Top Chef Star Gail Simmons. Restaurateur Alissa Wagner recently told NY Mag it's her favorite paprika.
- feta cheese
- Greek yogurt
- lemon juice
- lemon zest
- extra virgin olive oil
- fine sea salt
- black pepper
- smoked paprika
- heirloom tomatoes
- flaky sea salt
- mint leaves
See recipe card for quantities.
Other than the whipped feta, this is not a make-ahead dish. Start the smoky paprika oil and slice the heirloom tomatoes no more than 30 minutes before serving.
Place feta, yogurt, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. When
Place the remaining 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat and stir in the smoked paprika. Heat and stir frequently for about 2 minutes, or until the smoked paprika is fragrant. Try not to let the oil bubble. if it does, turn off the heat. Let the paprika-flavored oil cool and then cover until ready to use.
Cut any large tomatoes into 1 ½ inch chunks. Cut any golf-ball sized tomatoes into quarters. Half any grape or cherry tomatoes.
When ready to serve, spread the whipped feta onto a serving dish or into a large shallow bowl. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the feta. Drizzle the flavored oil over the tomatoes, add a sprinkle of flaky seat salt and garnish with mint leaves.
Equipment for Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Feta
A food processor makes short work out of whipping the feta cheese for this heirloom tomato salad. I have had my Cusinart food processor for 2 decades. The words on the controls may have started to fade and I have replaced the plastic work bowl once, but it is still the workhorse of my kitchen. New Cusinart food processors vary in price based on size and finish. My Cuisinart 11 cup, stainless steel model has served me well but it’s rather expensive. You can get a very nice functional Cuisinart Elemental 8-Cup model for $99 (as of this writing, September 23, 2022).
Heirloom Tomato Salad Storage
Once the heirloom tomatoes are cut and placed on the whipped feta, this salad doesn't store all that well. Covered, in the refrigerator, you might get another day out of it, but the tomatoes will soften and release their juices and the salad will just not be as tasty.
You can make the whipped feta for the heirloom tomato salad up to 2 days before serving. Store the whipped feta covered and refrigerated.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Feta
- 4 oz feta cheese preferably imported, packed in brine
- ½ cup Greek yogurt full fat
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil divided
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1½ pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes different colors, sizes and shapes
- 1 tablespoon fresh mint chopped
- Place feta, yogurt, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. When smooth, add the chopped mint and pulse until the the mint is incorporated into the mixture. Turn the whipped feta out into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Place the remaining 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat and stir in the smoked paprika. Heat and stir frequently for about 2 minutes, or until the smoked paprika is fragrant. Try not to let the oil bubble. if it does, turn off the heat. Let the paprika-flavored oil cool and then cover until ready to use.
- Cut any large tomatoes into 1 ½ inch chunks. Cut any golf-ball sized tomatoes into quarters. Half any grape or cherry tomatoes.
- When ready to serve, spread the whipped feta onto a serving dish or into a large shallow bowl. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the feta. Drizzle the flavored oil over the tomatoes, sprinkle with some flaky sea salt and garnish with mint leaves.
For a large tomato, remove the stem first. I like to use a bird’s beak paring knife for this task (it also makes quick work of strawberry stems and white shoulders.) Run the tip of the bird’s peak knife through the top of the tomato around the stem and pull off. Then, with a sharp chef’s knife, create the shapes you want.
Slices: Starting from the stem end, cut slices crosswise to desired thickness (between ¼” and ½” is ideal).
Chunks: Slice tomato in half lengthwise and then lay each half face down on the cutting board. Make additional lengthwise slices down to the center of the tomato to create wedges, about 1” at the widest points. Then cut wedges in half or in thirds crosswise.
Heirloom tomatoes are plentiful in late summer and early fall. If you have an overabundance in your garden, lucky you! I love heirloom tomatoes in so many ways. Here are 7 of the best ways to use lots of heirloom tomatoes:
1. Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Feta: This is a great showcase for different colors and types of heirloom tomatoes all in one dish.
2. Tomato Toast: For me, tomato toast is better than avocado toast. Toast your favorite crusty bread. Add slices of fresh, ripe heirloom tomatoes to the bread. Drizzle with high quality extra virgin olive oil and then sprinkle with flaky sea salt and oregano. Delicious!
3. Avocado Toast: Of course, if you love avocado toast, why not make it even better topped with a slice of a perfectly ripe, heirloom tomato? (I would still add the drizzle of olive oil sprinkled with flaky sea salt and oregano as above.)
4. Tomato Confit: If you have a bunch of cherry or grape tomatoes, preserve them and intensify their flavor with this Tomato Confit recipe, which cooks the tomatoes slowly in olive oil, garlic, basil and sea salt and good quality extra virgin olive oil.
5. Grilled Eggplant Parmesan: The sauce for this recipe is simply grilled grape or cherry tomatoes seasoned with salt and pepper. The quality of the tomatoes has to be great for the sauce to be great. Ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes are the perfect choice for this sauce.
6. Beefsteak Tomato Sandwich: When I was a little girl, a perfect summer treat was a tomato sandwich: soft white bread, spread with Hellman’s mayonnaise, with a perfectly ripe juicy slice of beefsteak tomato with salt and pepper and sometimes a thin slice of sweet onion. Heaven!
7. Summer Tomato Stacks: For each serving, alternate 3 slices of heirloom tomatoes with slices of avocado. Top with grilled corn, cut from the cob. Drizzle each stack with ranch dressing and scatter crumbled cooked bacon and chopped basil on top. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve.