This easy caprese salad with balsamic vinegar looks absolutely gorgeous and tastes like summer. It's ready in just 20 minutes!
Depending on the serving size, it can serve as a tasty appetizer, a side dish, or even a filling main course. You can make it a few hours ahead of time if you need to.
Salads are a summer staple and with good reason. They are fresh-tasting, easy to make, and don't require heating up the oven or slaving over a hot stove.
Caprese salad (pronounced cah-preh-seh) is quick, fresh, and filling. It's one of those super-simple dishes that are surprisingly delicious, especially if you use the freshest in-season ingredients.
Such a wonderful flavor combination! I've come to strongly associate this fresh-tasting dish with summer.
You'll only need a few ingredients to make this tasty salad. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
- Fresh tomatoes: They need to be truly red, ripe yet firm. Certainly not pale and mealy.
- Fresh mozzarella: The fresher you can find, the better it will taste.
- Basil leaves: Pick beautiful green ones, free of blemishes and brown spots.
- Kosher salt and black pepper: If using fine salt, you should reduce the amount you use by half.
- Olive oil: Extra-virgin olive oil is so flavorful - I highly recommend using it in this salad.
- Balsamic vinegar: In many other recipes it would be OK to use red wine vinegar instead, but here you really do need to use thick, rich, almost-sweet balsamic vinegar.
- Dijon mustard: It's thicker, creamier, and less vinegary than yellow mustard. It helps the dressing emulsify.
- Instead of red tomatoes, you can use heirloom tomatoes and pick different colors of them.
- You can make caprese skewers by threading cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil leaves on wooden skewers, then drizzling them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Make this into a truly filling main-course salad by adding avocado slices and sliced hard-boiled eggs to the salad and layering them with the tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Replace the mozzarella with halloumi cheese.
Caprese Salad Instructions
Scroll down to the recipe card for detailed instructions. Here are the basic steps for making this salad:
- Whisk the dressing ingredients and set the dressing aside. (Photo 1).
- Using a sharp knife, thinly slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
- Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter as shown in the photos, alternating and overlapping each other. Arrange the basil leaves on top. (Photos 2-3).
- Sprinkle the salad with salt and pepper. Drizzle it with the dressing, and serve. (Photo 4).
As always when it comes to simple recipes, the individual ingredients must be of high quality to make this simple salad as good as it can be. So when you make this salad, I recommend that you follow these suggestions:
Make sure you use good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.
Choose Kosher salt or sea salt rather than table salt.
Pick fresh whole-milk mozzarella, as fresh as you can get.
Most importantly, use good tomatoes. Big, red, ripe but firm, not mealy, and definitely not refrigerated. If your tomatoes did spend some time in the fridge, take them out of it and bring them to room temperature.
It's called "Insalata Caprese" in Italian, which translates to "salad of Capri." So it probably originated from the Island of Capri. In other words, the name of this salad tells us where in Italy it was invented.
I don't recommend it. Low-fat mozzarella is not very tasty. And it's such an important part of this dish. It's best to use whole-milk mozzarella.
This is nontraditional, but I like to add a small amount of Dijon mustard to the dressing. This helps it emulsify.
You can skip the Dijon and simply drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It won't be as pretty, but it will be just as tasty.
This salad is traditionally served as an appetizer. But at home, I either serve it as a side dish with dinner or as a main course for lunch.
When I serve it as a side dish, I like to pair it with any of the following entrees:
I don't recommend keeping leftovers for longer than a day or so. So it's OK to prepare this salad ahead of time, but I would only make it a couple of hours before I plan on serving it. It can turn soggy overnight in the fridge.
If you do make this salad in advance, it's best to add the basil and the dressing at the very last minute, right before serving the salad.
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Caprese Salad Recipe
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 8 oz fresh whole-milk mozzarella
- 9 medium basil leaves
- ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or ¼ teaspoon sea salt)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients with a small hand whisk until they emulsify into a smooth salad dressing. Set aside.
- Slice the tomatoes thinly. Aim to get a total of 10 slices.
- Using a sharp knife, slice the mozzarella thinly into 9 rounds.
- Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter, alternating and overlapping each other. Arrange the basil leaves on top, as shown in the photos.
- Sprinkle the salad with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the salad dressing. Serve immediately.