Chilean-Style Tomato Salad/Ensalada Chilena

by Liz Caskey on August 21, 2009

Ensalada_Chilena_1I will never forget the first time I ordered “Chilean Salad” back as an exchange student. Expecting a heaping bowl of greens, to my dismay, what arrived was a simple plate of peeled tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. The waiter, sensing my confusion, quickly explained that the term “salad” in Chile is a generic term for any fresh vegetable, raw or cooked, served cold as an accompaniment.  And in this case, Chilean salad was always made with tomatoes. Aha!.

In the central valley in the summer time, we are blessed with a cornucopia of local tomatoes from the towns of Limache, Rengo, and San Vicente de Tagua Tagua, ranging from plum tomatoes in late February to beautiful vine-ripened blood-red tomatoes and the “ugly,” slightly deformed beefsteaks that have the best flavor. Even in winter time, we are now (thankfully) getting flavorful tomatoes from our northern valleys like Azapa near Arica on the border with Peru.

This salad is a staple on every Chilean table. I am sure if you polled any Chilean, they would name this as a perennial favorite. Quite simply it goes with everything. From the classic humitas, sweet corn tamales, and corn pie in the summer time to costillar de cerdo, spicy pork ribs, grilled chicken, fried fish, any asado, barbecued beef, or even as a side with empanadas or beans which Chileans love. The freshness of the tomatoes, mildness of the onions, and the herbs create crunchy, juicy, tangy, herby ecstasy in your mouth.

Ensalada_Chilena_2Cecilia, my mother-in-law, taught me the age-old Chilean trick of tempering the onions with salt or sugar to take away their sting so they can be savored raw in the salad. Although many Chilean cooks would add cilantro to this recipe, basil is so abundant in the summer time and pairs so well with ripe, succulent tomatoes, I have taken the liberty of making that substitution. So as summer draws to a close up North, if you are scratching your head with what to do with all those tomatoes, don’t look any farther. A plate of this salad won’t stick around long at all.

1 medium onion or red onion

1 teaspoon of salt or sugar

3 large ripe tomatoes

¼ cup basil cut in threads, or chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Sea salt to taste  

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Slice the onion paper-thin, cutting with the grain (lengthwise). Separate the sections with your fingers. To temper, sprinkle a teaspoon of salt or sugar, combine well with your hands to mix. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Ensalada_Chilena_3In the meantime, peel, slice, and arrange the tomatoes on a platter. If you prefer, you can leave the skins on the tomatoes although traditionally, most Chileans will peel them.

Cut the basil in threads by rolling the washed leaves up like a cigar and slicing finely. When the onion has rested and rendered its “milk,” rinse it well with cold water and gently squeeze out the excess liquid. Arrange the onions on top of the tomatoes and sprinkle with the basil threads.

Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly toss before serving.  

Serves 4-6 as a side.

{ 1 comment }

ambrosia January 5, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Yes! I just got back from my honeymoon to Chile, and we ate this salad as much as we could – we ordered it at restaurants and made it in our hostels. I’m bummed to be coming home to winter produce – once summer hits North America I will be making this salad every night!! We too were (happily) surprised with what was brought out the first time we ordered this salad :)

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: