The Secret to the Best Summer Salad (That You Keep Throwing Away!)
That thing turning your cutting board into a watery disaster zone? It’s freakishly tasty.
I can’t be the only cook out there who sort of dreads slicing summer tomatoes. The seeds and juice get everywhere, on me, on the floor, all over the sink, and in the strangest crevices of my kitchen. But I’d been hearing whispers in the food world about the joys of that leftover tomato water. People were making fancy-sounding consommés and using it as a pasta sauce, among other things.
It all sounded quite lovely, but in the summer, I am lazy. Really lazy. And I know I’m not going to make a soup or a delicate, strained broth when it’s 95 degrees outside. I do, however, want to re-use my food scraps. So when I was making chef Ashley Christensen’s (completely killer) tomato pie, I decided not to ignore her note to reserve the liquid produced by salting and spinning tomatoes to get them as dry as possible. “We like to save the drippings to make tomato vinaigrette or to throw into a vegetable sauté or pasta,” wrote Christensen.
A vinaigrette? That I can get behind. I haven’t bought a commercial dressing since I realized it was as simple as combining vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, shallot, and mustard.
So I sliced four pounds of tomatoes, making a small mess. My cutting board has a well, thank goodness, so I was able to slide the tomato water into a large yogurt container. I later added the liquid produced by salting the tomatoes, then spinning them in a bag to remove even more liquid. I set the water—the recipe produced about six ounces of it—aside to forget about it for a while.
I made my pies, wrapping one up for a friend who’d just had a baby, and decided she needed some greens, too. Using a large spoon, I strained the tomato water into a medium-sized jam jar. I wasn’t fussy, just trying to keep the meaty bits and most of the seeds out of the jar. I added an equivalent amount of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and about a tablespoon and a half of minced shallot. I threw in sea salt and fresh pepper, screwed on the jar top, and shook it up.
It immediately emulsified, and I dipped a leaf of baby arugula into it.
And ladies and gentlemen, not only was this far and away the best salad dressing I’ve ever made, but it might be the best I’ve ever tasted. Salted tomato water is like an energy drink you didn’t know you needed, and it’s all natural. I ate way more salad than I usually do that night—a nice change of pace for this carnivore. Drizzled over peppery arugula, the bright, salty, sweet dressing was just the thing to counter the cheese and tomato pie I served it alongside.
So now I’m a convert, and I’ll be watching you when you go to throw that tomato water away. I might just get between you and the trash can. It’s that good.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.