Simple Portuguese-inspired Heirloom Tomato Salad

 In salad, vegan, vegetarian
Simple Heirloom Tomato Salad, Portuguese-inspired

It’s the dog days of August. It’s so unbearably hot that my energy is zapped, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. This happens every year and this is when I turn to salads as the main meal, that I might accompany with a simple side of protein. One of my favorite salads is a very simple heirloom tomato salad that’s inspired by the salads I had in Portugal. It takes only a few minutes to make, but the end result is so gorgeous, colorful and flavorful – I feel like I’ve created a masterpiece!

My husband and I traveled around Portugal a few summers back. We spent time in charming Lisbon where I ate a lot of delicious fresh grilled sardines. And at times felt like we had stepped into an old Fellini movie – in neighborhoods with narrow little up-and-down streets where lives seemed to be lived in the open, tables with food and drinks would be set up in the squares in the evening that would rapidly fill with families and couples, and as the night wore on impromptu music and dancing would break out…

cafe in Lisbon. Portuguese-inspired Heirloom Tomato Salad, recipe on
cafe in Lisbon
Outdoor evening restaurants and food set up in the squares of Alfama, Lisbon
Outdoor evening restaurants and food set up in the squares of Alfama, Lisbon

We rented a car and drove from Lisbon to beautiful historic Porto and the surrounding Douro River Valley where the wine region is. Then back down by the rugged Atlantic coast with pretty towns and beaches. Throughout our road trip, we would stop to eat at little towns or at random restaurants that would appear as we turned a corner of a winding country road…

Douro Rover Valley, wine country
the wine region of Douro river valley
Lunch at a lovely outdoor restaurant we came upon while driving around the Douro River Valley
lunch at a lovely outdoor restaurant we came upon while driving around the Douro river valley

We would be drawn by the people sitting outside eating. Of course we would then feel so lucky to have happened upon such a place, we would join the locals, sit outside in the sunshine, and relax with wine and food. Almost every place we ate at would serve a simple side salad of tomatoes, onions, olive oil and herbs. The ingredients were so fresh and flavorful, this rustic salad became the thing I craved the most when we returned from Portugal.

Old historic city of Porto
old historic city of Porto
Lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking Porto
lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking Porto

I tried to recreate the salad when we returned, and this simple heirloom tomato salad is my version I’ve been making since, based on the flavors I remember. I usually make it in the summer when fresh tomatoes are in season, and stalls at the farmer’s market are overflowing with varieties of heirloom tomatoes. These tomatoes are so much tastier than grocery store tomatoes – after you’ve had one you wonder how on earth did grocery store tomatoes get so bland by comparison (oh of course, grocery store tomatoes are bred for consistency of size, shape, and to be blemish-free – and somehow flavor was the least important consideration).

variety of heirloom tomatoes
variety of heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market

Anyway, I can’t resist the wonderfully flavorful heirloom tomatoes around this time of year, so I get a few varieties. They all have different tastes and I love the mix of flavors and colors. I throw in whatever fresh herbs I see in the market, that catch my fancy at the time – cilantro, parsley, basil, they all work well. After making it I let it sit for 15 minutes or so for the flavors to develop, before serving. In the meantime, I might just quickly sauté chicken breasts to have as a side with the salad. It’s all about ease, this simple heirloom tomato salad goes with almost everything – so you can serve it with whatever you want, or have it as the main meal.

Ingredients for Portuguese-inspired Heirloom Tomato Salad
ingredients for the Simple Heirloom Tomato Salad

Simple Portuguese-inspired Heirloom Tomato Salad

SERVES: 2 large portions, or 4 small portions


  • 4 large heirloom tomatoes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped onion plus a few thin sliced rings (I used purple scallions I found at the farmers market, you can use red onions instead)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves plus 3-4 leaves for garnish (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Note: you don’t have to use basil or cilantro. You can substitute some other herb of your liking, such as parsley. Or you can skip the herbs.


  1. Rinse the tomatoes under running water and pat dry. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut lengthwise into wedges. Put the wedges in a bowl.
  2. Coarsely chop about a tablespoon of red onion and add to the bowl.
  3. Thinly slice 3-4 rings of the onion and add to the bowl.
  4. If using herbs, add the chopped fresh herbs to the bowl.
  5. Add olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and mix well.
  6. Add salt and taste to make sure it’s to your liking. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
  8. Let the salad mix sit for about 15 minutes before serving (this allows the flavors to develop).
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Simple Heirloom Tomato Salad, Portuguese-inspired
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