Perfect for When Tomatoes Are Ripe — and It’s Too Hot to Cook
I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but in St. Louis (where I live), we’re having a hot, hot, hot summer. So when it’s time for dinner, I want something light — and something that won’t require me to spend much time standing over a hot stove.
Enter the BLT Salad.
When we think about the classic combination of bacon, lettuce, and tomato, we usually think sandwich. But these ingredients are also prime salad fare. And if you microwave the bacon (a great way to cook it, if you’re careful), you won’t heat up your kitchen at all.
As a bonus, tomatoes are in season right now throughout much of the US. You can probably find some ripe red ones at your local farmers’ market — or in your own backyard garden. Tomatoes are at their most flavorful this time of year. And this salad is a great showcase for them.
Terrific flavor, prime seasonal ingredients, easy to prepare — not to mention light and cool. Sounds too good to be true.
So what’s the catch? Well, sometimes there isn’t one.
Recipe: BLT Salad
The sandwich version of a BLT tends to be about the bacon first, then the tomatoes, and finally the lettuce — which is almost an afterthought in some sandwiches. In my BLT salad, the emphasis (and proportions) are reversed. Lettuce and tomatoes are the stars of this salad, while bacon plays a supporting role. But you can alter quantities to suit your taste.
Mayonnaise is traditional in a BLT sandwich, and it works well for dressing this salad. However, I often prefer to use Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing for a bit of extra zip.
This is a substantial salad that works better as a main course than as a starter, much like a Chef’s Salad. This recipe serves two, although you can easily scale it up to feed more people.
Assuming you have washed and chilled lettuce on hand, preparation time is about 10 minutes. Leftovers don’t keep well.
- ~½ - ¾ pound of lettuce (or to taste; leaf lettuce, romaine, Boston bibb, Little Gem, or a mix; see Notes)
- 4 slices of high quality bacon (or to taste; see Notes for much more about bacon)
- 3 - 4 ripe medium-sized tomatoes (or to taste; may substitute cherry or grape tomatoes if good quality tomatoes aren’t available)
- 3 - 6 tablespoons of mayonnaise or Blue Cheese Dressing (or to taste)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- a handful of Homemade Croutons as a garnish (very optional; I usually omit these; see Notes)
- At least an hour (2 or more is better) before you want to serve the salad, wash and dry the salad greens, and tear into bite-size pieces. Wrap in kitchen towel, and place in refrigerator crisper to, well, crisp.
- When ready to make the salad, prepare bacon. I usually microwave – I put paper towels on a plate, arrange the bacon in a single layer, add another paper towel or two on top, and microwave. If you’re doubling this recipe, you’ll need to do this in two batches. Time depends on your oven and the amount of bacon you’re heating, so experimentation is necessary, but typically it’s about 4 minutes in my microwave. You can also pan fry your bacon until crisp. When done, either leave slices whole, or cut into 1-inch pieces.
- While bacon is cooking, wash, stem, and slice your tomatoes. I often cut them into wedges – 6 or 8 per tomato.
- Place lettuce in large bowl. Add mayonnaise or Blue Cheese Dressing — less than you think you’ll need. Toss lettuce thoroughly to lightly coat leaves with dressing. Taste, and add more dressing if necessary. (Particularly when using a high-flavor dressing like Blue Cheese, you don’t want the taste of the dressing to overwhelm the salad).
- Add more dressing if necessary. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Toss to incorporate, then place greens on 2 dinner-size plates.
- Arrange the bacon and tomatoes over the salad greens in a pattern that pleases you. I often add an extra dollop of dressing on top of the salad, as kind of a dipping sauce for the tomatoes.
- Garnish with croutons if desired, and serve.
- Bacon is an important ingredient in this salad, so make sure you use good quality. I always make this salad with a premium brand of bacon because the flavor is so much better. Supermarkets tend to carry the usual national brands, but most also offer at least one higher-quality (and more expensive) choice. Experiment until you find one you like. If you can find a bacon made by a small, local producer, it’s likely to be excellent.
- Bacon with a pepper crust is terrific in this salad (or in anything, really). Apple wood-smoked bacon is another great choice.
- Because premium bacon has more flavor, you can get by with using less. For this salad, I usually find 2 pieces of bacon per person to be more than enough. But use as much as you want.
- One problem with bacon is its sodium and fat content. If this concerns you, there are turkey bacons on the market. I haven’t tried them, but I understand some brands are quite good.
- Fresh, ripe tomatoes are the star of this dish, so add as many as you like. If you don’t have access to ripe, in-season tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes have decent flavor year-round and are a good substitute.
- Leaf lettuce has always been my go-to in this salad. But some supermarkets are starting to carry Little Gem lettuce, a hybrid of romaine, sweet butter, and iceberg butter lettuces. (It’s also called Sweet Gem.) Little Gems look a bit like miniature romaine lettuce heads and have a wonderful flavor. In fact, I’m so bowled over by the taste and texture of this lettuce that I now use it all the time. BTW, in my market, it’s the same price as romaine or green leaf lettuce.
- Although I was vaguely aware that Little Gem existed, it was a post on Carolyn Jung’s blog, Food Gal that really made me pay attention to it. Carolyn also wrote an article on Little Gem lettuce in the publication, Food Arts. Both are worth checking out.
- Blue cheesing dressing isn’t traditional in a BLT sandwich, but its tangy flavor works quite well in this salad. If you prefer to use the traditional mayonnaise, however, you can substitute low fat if you choose — you won’t lose much flavor. Though I do find that whenever I use low-fat mayo, I want to add a bit more pepper for some reason.
- Adding the crouton garnish to this salad makes it seem more like a BLT sandwich (the bread part, you know). I usually don’t add croutons since I don't think they add much in this salad, but you may find the idea appealing.
- Rather than adding croutons, I recommend serving this salad with a nice hard roll and some good butter. And a glass of wine. Just as I do with a Chef’s Salad.
- You might think the BLT sandwich evolved from a salad. After all, lettuce and tomatoes are frequent salad ingredients, and bacon is a common garnish. So maybe at some point a busy someone-on-the-go who wanted a portable salad hit upon the idea of clapping the ingredients between two slices of bread? That’s not how it happened, though. Instead, the Food Timeline suggests that the BLT sandwich actually evolved from “late Victorian-era tea sandwiches.”
- So the BLT sandwich came first, and the BLT salad evolved from the sandwich. Seems backwards to me, but there you have it.
Too Many Tomatoes!
OK, having too many delicious home-grown tomatoes is not really a problem. And in the fall we’re going to lament being forced back to the tasteless supermarket variety. But at the moment, our garden is producing tomatoes faster than we can eat them.
With the hot, dry weather we’ve been having, Mrs Kitchen Riffs has been watering our vegetables daily to keep them perky and productive. And she picks the day’s ripe produce while she’s at it. Most days I’ll hear the doorbell ring — and there will be Mrs K R, her arms so loaded with our “harvest” that she’s unable to manage the doorknob. I have to open the door for her so she can unload the tomatoes (and cukes and what not) onto the kitchen counter.
We’ve been eating tomatoes daily – not just in BLT Salads (and sandwiches), but as plain slices, or tossed with cukes, olive oil, and vinegar, or with pasta — any way we can think of. And we’ve been giving a fair number away.
You’ve heard of salad days? Well, these are our tomato days.
Now, what am I going to do with the latest delivery from Mrs K R (a/k/a the Tomato Lady)?
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