Cherry Tomato Salad

mini cherry tomato salad

This tomato salad is a reinvented caprese salad. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (yes, I had to google the spelling of his name) calls it the best thing David Chang has ever made.

Let me tell you a story about Mr. Vongerichten.

Last summer, I had lunch with some of my girlfriends at Jean-Georges’s 3 Michelin star restaurant in NYC. We ate in the main dining room, which was light, airy, and beautifully green thanks to the Central Park trees outside.

parmesan-crusted confit leg of chicken from Jean-Georges

I had the parmesan-crusted confit leg of chicken. The first bite was delicious! Crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Everything about this dish was beautiful, even the hair embedded in the parmesan crust was pretty. Wait, what!? The waitstaff was, of course, deeply apologetic and replaced my chicken immediately with a hairless one (and ended up comping my meal). The macaron for dessert (the best I’ve had in North America) more than made up for it, but needless to say, I took the whole “best thing David Chang has ever made” thing with a grain of salt.

Click here to see the hairy chicken. Warning: Gross link

Still, I had pretty high hopes for this salad, because I love caprese. The cherry tomato salad is a simple recipe: tomatoes, shiso, tofu and dressing. Sounds easy, right?

cherry tomatoes, shiso leaf, soy sauce, grapeseed oil, soft tofu, sesame oil, sherry vinegar

Nothing’s easy when you’re OCD. In the book, the helpful photo accompanying the recipe has colourful little red, yellow, and green cherry tomatoes. Of course, I too had to have the multicoloured tomatoes so I went to every grocery store in my nearby vicinity to find the perfect mix. I looked at many, many clamshells of red cherry tomatoes to be had, but the colourful mix I so desired was nowhere to be found.

I finally found success after four stores. Urban Fare, a boutique-ish type grocery store around the corner from us, not only had the technicolor tomatoes, but some of them were beautiful little mini heirloom types!

colourful cherry tomatos

With my tomatoes in hand it was time for a quick blanch to peel off their skins. My paring knife was so dull it couldn’t cut through the tomato skin (I know, I know, I should keep my knives sharp).  While Mike helpfully sharpened my usual paring knife, I used one of the knifes I hardly ever use to cut little Xs in the bottoms of the tomatoes. They were dropped in boiling water for 10 seconds and then put into a ice bath. Not having a timer or watch (who wears a watch these days?) I counted out loud from 1 to 10.

tomatoes in ice bath

“That’s about 10 seconds, right?” I asked Mike.
“That was 1 second,” he answered. “Try, 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand, 3-one thousand…”

That worked all fine and dandy for the new batch of tomatoes, but I ended up fishing out the ones that were in the ice bath and re-blanched them. I guess I don’t count seconds a lot in real life. But there’s a quick cooking lesson: real 10 second blanched tomatoes look different from my 10 second tomatoes (and peel differently too).

peeling tomatoes

I tried one of the tomatoes right after peeling – delicious! Fresh tomato flavour without any chewy skin in the way. After all the tomatoes were peeled (which by the way, freezes your hands if you leave them in the ice bath) I dressed them in sherry vinegar, light soy sauce, sesame oil, and grapeseed oil. Thinly sliced shiso leaves were used as garnish.

peeled tomatoes

Shopping for the shiso leaf was almost as bad as the tomatoes. I originally thought it would be pretty easy to find shiso, because I know I’ve seen it recently while shopping at T&T. This time though, when I needed it, there was none to be had. We checked out a few other grocery stores with similar luck. I was getting so obsessed with shiso that, while Mike was waiting in line at Urban Fare, I decided to ask the produce guy if they had any. Such was the wild look of intensity in my eyes that the produce guy looked a little scared. The exchange went a little like this:

“Do you guys have shiso?” I asked.
“Shiso? Is….that a produce item?” he stammered.
“Yes, it’s a produce item. It’s a leaf.”
“Uh…we don’t have that here,” he answered.

Vancouver being the sort of town that it is, I got the feeling that he thought I was using some sort of code for pot. He was probably thinking: 1) Is shiso some kind of variety I haven’t smoked yet? and 2) What’s this crazy girl trying to buy some off me in a grocery store?!

multicoloured peeled tomatoes

Urban Fare dude, shiso is a produce item, not another kind of leaf. As further testament to my commitment (and craziness), I made Mike stop the car while we were on our way to a Chinese New Year Dinner with my friends when I saw a Vietnamese market named Supermarket 88. It looked like the kind of store that would have shiso, and it did! I think it’s shiso anyway – it looks like it, it tastes like it, we should all just agree that it is shiso.

Tomatoes and shiso aside, you need to cut your block of tofu into rounds. Cookie cutters make doing that really easy, but if you want even more convenience, just buy the round tofu!

Finally, plate it up and you have the best tasting Asian-style caprese salad ever. It was a revelation for me, truly. The creaminess of the tofu, the sweetness of the sherry vinegar in the dressing and the freshness of the peeled tomatoes came together perfectly. Even Mike, who doesn’t even like tofu thought this salad was good. He actually willingly ate tofu, that’s how good this salad was.

mini tomato salad

Jean-Georges, I don’t blame you for the hair in my chicken. You probably weren’t even there that day. The chicken was insanely delicious, even the one bite out of the hairy one. Your opinion of this cherry tomato salad? Bang on! Mr. Vongerichten, you have good taste!

cherry tomato salad

18 Comments add yours

  1. This dish has been by FAR the most amazing dish I’ve made from the book. It’s light & refreshing and the umami-packed richness of the sauce and tomatoes truly makes it a supremely heavenly dish. Puts the traditional caprese salad to shame.

    Caleb,
    I have to agree with everything you just said except maybe the part about it being the most amazing dish. I think I’ll have to wait til I cook through all the recipes to give that accolade. But really, isn’t the salad insane!? It’s so good!

    steph on February 8th, 2010 at 11:56 am
  2. yep, this might be V-day dinner salad. lovely.

    Hey Dan,
    It is really pretty and appropriate with the red tomatoes. If you want to go the extra mile, cut the tofu into hearts!

    steph on February 8th, 2010 at 12:13 pm
  3. The dish looks beautiful.
    The hair inciden was unfortunate but stuff happens. I am glad to see that the restaurant did the right thing.

    Ed,
    Thanks, the salad was fresh in a bowl! Yeah, the hair happens and the restaurant made it all better. Sometimes it’s good to have these incidents so that they can wow you with their excellent customer service. They say it makes a customer for life when you go the extra mile to fix a mistake! I just thought it was a funny story :)

    steph on February 8th, 2010 at 2:16 pm
  4. I understand that you’re set on cooking through the book in a linear fashion, but it’s a shame that you are making dishes that call for summer ingredients in the dead of winter. No wonder you had such a hard time finding cherry tomatoes in various colors! And using frozen corn for the roasted sweet summer corn? For shame. There are plenty of wintry recipes in that book to keep you busy until the thaw…

    JB,
    Don’t worry, I’ve decided to get over the linear thing…I think! But don’t slam frozen corn! I love it!

    steph on February 8th, 2010 at 6:01 pm
  5. I so want to try this recipe, but will have to try and find some decent colourful tomatoes, maybe from some remote growers’ market. Can’t wait! PS: I was too ‘chicken’ to click on your gross link :P

    Bel,
    I think the recipe will work just as well with just red cherry tomatoes! Don’t let my OCD get to you too!

    steph on February 8th, 2010 at 6:01 pm
  6. I adore caprese salad, so have been looking forward to making this. I’ve finally sourced some really sweet, tasty tomatoes so I’ll be making this very soon, although like you I can’t find shiso. Will hit Chinatown this weekend for some (hilarious about the weed!)

    Julia,
    Shiso was a journey, alright. Good luck finding yours!

    steph on February 9th, 2010 at 3:01 am
  7. enjoying the witty banter and the photography.

    Jo,
    Thank you!

    steph on February 18th, 2010 at 1:43 pm
  8. Do you think regular mint would be an acceptable substitute for the shiso? Can’t find it anywhere!

    You could use basil or mint. I tried a version that had mint in it and it tasted pretty good!

    steph on August 9th, 2010 at 12:43 pm
  9. Even though it is often referred to as Japanese basil, shiso has a completely different taste and fragrance. If you have access to a Japanese market you may have better luck in finding it. Or, if you have a green thumb, try growing it from seed. I threw a few in a big pot several years ago and it keeps coming up year after year. Right now I have so much shiso that I am drying it for salsa and spaghetti sauce. And it is in the only sunny spot on an otherwise shady, windy San Francisco balcony.

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