Tomatoes take time to hit their peak, when they’re so juicy they feel like water balloons and taste like they’ve been sugared. Once there, they demand to be eaten. Right now. Uncooked. Their tangy sweetness highlighted by the bite of fresh herbs. Basil remains my favorite pairing, and now, in a whole new way.
Instead of the usual tomato-basil-balsamic trio, I turn the fruit-herb duo into a big, satisfying meal combining the technique of Italian panzanella bread salad with the herby-ness of Thai salads. Not wanting to waste even a drop of the tomatoes’ juices, I toss the tomato chunks with cubes of toasted bread to soak them up. The croutons soften a bit while absorbing the fragrant juices and two-ingredient vinaigrette, so I add cucumbers for more crunch.
Loads of basil — I like the peppery spiciness of Thai basil — along with a nice handful of mint scent the salad. Chewing on whole leaves with each bite releases their fresh, green aromas.
You could stop there and be totally satisfied or add roast duck that you don’t even have to prepare yourself. Chinese supermarkets, such as 99 Ranch, sell whole roasted ducks the way other supermarkets sell rotisserie chickens (which also taste great here). While you’re picking up that ready-made meat, you can get packs of sesame scallion bread too. Cut in cubes and toasted, the flat loaves transform into the tastiest croutons. That one trip to the store will give you a no-cook meal that makes the most of end-of-summer produce.
Tomato Basil Salad with Roast Duck and Scallion Croutons
20 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Serve the salad just after tossing so the bread stays crisp and the herbs fresh.
12 ounces sesame scallion bread or rustic country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
7 tablespoons everyday extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes (about 5 medium), cored and cut into 1½-inch chunks
3 scallions, thinly sliced, plus slivered greens for garnish
1 pound roast duck, meat and skin torn into large pieces, bones discarded
3 Persian or mini cucumbers, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 cups packed basil leaves, preferably Thai
1 cup packed mint leaves
1 Toast the bread in a toaster oven or in a 375-degree oven on a rimmed baking sheet until golden brown and crisp, 8 to 12 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar, oil and a big pinch of salt in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and scallions and fold to evenly coat. After the bread cools, add to the bowl, along with the duck, cucumbers, basil and mint. Fold to mix, then season to taste with salt.
Rotisserie Chicken Tomato Salad: Substitute rotisserie chicken for the duck and focaccia for the scallion bread.
Vegan Gluten-Free Tomato Basil Salad: Omit the bread. Substitute roasted beets, cut into ½-inch chunks, for the duck.
The toasted bread can be kept in an airtight container for up to 1 day. The duck can be shredded and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. The tomatoes and scallions tossed in the dressing can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Toss all the ingredients together just before serving.