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The tomato is indigenous to South America and belongs to the nightshade plant family. This fruit, domesticated for thousands of years, has become a staple in cooked and raw meals like tomato salad. Due to its acidic properties and watery consistency, the tomato salad needs suitable pairings to highlight its unique flavor and texture. Some ideas for a great salad include selection of vine-ripened fruits for best flavor, and partnering the tomatoes with other fruits, vegetables and herbs that enhance the tomato. A tomato salad should always be served very soon after its preparation.
When picked right off the vine, the tomato rewards the cook with its recognizably musky fragrance and plump firmness. Tomatoes in the grocery store are often bland and flabby and thus better suited for sauces and soups. The best tomato is the freshest tomato. Avoid refrigerating tomatoes, as the cool environment causes the fruit to become waterlogged and neutralizes its flavor.
Of the 7,500 different varieties of tomatoes, the best fruits for the tomato salad are firm, moist and flavorful. The smaller varieties of tomatoes, such as the grape and Campari varieties, offer the diner a powerfully sweet punch of tomato flavor without the sloppy, watery seeds in the larger varieties. Heirloom cultivars come in a variety of colors and subtle flavors, adding a dash of whimsy to the basic red tomato salad. The yellow tomato is milder, while the green tomato is crisp and tangy.
Meals with tomato often taste better with basil, and tomato salad is no different. Fresh, succulent basil sweetens the tangy tomato and offsets the acidic sharpness. Basil leaves should be coarsely chopped and mixed into the salad to provide both visual color and the distinctive mint-like aroma.
Cucumbers, red onions and feta cheese are common ingredients in tomato recipes. These foods balance the acidic tang of the tomatoes as well and the colors create an artful appeal to the table. For variety, add cooked, chilled corn kernels or black beans, avocado slices, coarsely-chopped white mushrooms, or calamata olives. Red vinegar or basil vinegar dressing drizzled over the salad tantalize the nose as well as the taste buds.
Finally, tomato salad is best served lightly chilled. Instead of refrigerating the salad and thus reducing its flavor, set the dish over a container filled with ice cubes for a few minutes. The ice will chill the salad slightly, but the tomatoes will not become dried out or waterlogged from refrigeration.