This chopped caprese salad uses fresh heirloom tomatoes marinated in a syrupy balsamic vinaigrette. You’ll be shocked by how easy it is to make, especially when you get endless compliments on how delicious it is.
Caprese salads are beautiful—and edible— works of art. Splashes of bright red and green are juxtaposed with milky white. Talk about the epitome of freshness. A well-prepared caprese salad conjures images of a breezy and lazy summer dinner on a sun-soaked deck.
Well, my version of the caprese salad is ugly.
It’s so ugly that I was nervous about sharing this recipe compared to the gorgeous caprese salads you see on Pinterest and Instagram. Italians would probably have a fit of rage if they saw it (I have a history of altering recipes to create cultural abominations that appear to offend sensitive readers).
So, if this dish is so ugly, why share the recipe? Because everybody I serve it to loves the dish and showers me with endless compliments. I want that glory for you too :).
Why make this dish?
Traditional caprese salads arrange tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil in perfect circular layers.
Problem: I often find that the traditional caprese salad doesn’t give the ingredients a chance to combine flavors. This is a shame considering how delicious Margherita pizza is where the fragrant basil mixes with the tangy and aromatic tomatoes, which are balanced by the creamy mozzarella.
Solution: Years ago, I experimented with a chopped caprese salad. The increased surface area allows the ingredients to meld effectively.
Hence, I developed my take on caprese salad: a chopped salad using heirloom tomatoes (for their burst of unique flavors and colors) and a balsamic vinaigrette that infuses into all the ingredients.
This approach offers these unexpected benefits:
- Chopped salad is easier to eat than larger, chunky slices of mozzarella and tomatoes.
- Traditional caprese salad doesn’t travel well for a packed lunch the next day. It’s not beautiful after sloshing around in the lunch box. Chopped salad is already toss together so there’s no disappointment when you look at it the following day.
- It’s possible to make the caprese salad ahead of time and have the flavors develop even more.
- The vinaigrette turns into leftover marinade, which makes a delicious dressing for beans, avocado, cucumbers, and other plain vegetables that you can mix in to make another salad. (Crusty bread is another great way to use up the leftover vinaigrette.)
Before diving into how to make my version of the caprese salad, let’s look at how the classic caprese salad is made to set the foundation.
Classic caprese salad
Because there are hundreds—if not thousands— of caprese salad recipes, I don’t feel the need to publish a traditional caprese recipe, adding to the noise.
Nonetheless, I can appreciate that you might like to know how to prepare a classic caprese salad. If so, here are the rough steps:
- Layer a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, and a leaf of fresh basil in an alternating pattern on a platter.
- Sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper to season the salad (if desired).
- Drizzle a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil over the salad. Optionally, drizzle aged balsamic vinegar (balsamic vinegar isn’t traditional but it can add a nice touch).
- The caprese salad is ready to serve.
NOTE: You can make caprese salad on skewers by threading chopped tomatoes, cubed mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves on a bamboo skewer. Season and drizzle olive oil over the salad before serving as a party appetizer.
Best tomatoes for caprese
The freshest and ripest tomatoes, bursting with flavor, are the best for caprese salad. My recipe uses heirloom tomatoes, which are multi-colored and packed with flavor.
You can also use grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, or plum tomatoes (the best-known is the Roma tomato). Any kind of tomato you can find at the store works.
TIP: The most important is to find the highest quality tomatoes you can, which are often vine-ripened, so that they’re picked at peak freshness.
Most of the time, I stick with the classic 3 ingredients—mozzarella, tomato, and basil—for my caprese salad. But I’ve experimented with mix-ins to stretch the salad, use up leftover ingredients, or add bulk to make a more complete meal.
RELATED: Check out these salad recipes.
The beauty of a chopped salad is that you can add in whatever chopped ingredients you like. Here are a few suggestions:
- Avocado cubes
- Cucumber cubes
- Beans (I tried mixing in kidney beans, which tasted great. Navy beans and cannellini beans would likely work well too.)
- Cubed cooked chicken
- Grilled shrimp
- Sliced peaches
- Cooked pasta (smaller shapes like fusilli, rotini, orecchiette, rotelle, elbow, and shell would work well)
NOTE: If you need to substitute mozzarella, burrata is the closest cheese. You can also use provolone, Havarti, swiss, Jarlsberg, or haloumi (though these cheeses would create a much different flavor profile). If you don’t have fresh basil, you can use fresh oregano or arugula. Use dried basil as a last resort.
How to serve caprese salad
I like to serve caprese salad at room temperature. This means after making the salad, I leave it to marinate for 1 hour before serving it. This allows enough time for the ingredients to reach room temperature.
If you prefer a dry salad that doesn’t have the excess marinade, serve the salad immediately after dressing. The less time you allow the tomatoes to sit in salt and vinegar, the less water they will release.
TIP: Serve crusty bread for sopping up the excess dressing.
Tips for success
- How to scale: Make a bigger quantity by doubling or tripling the ingredients. You may need extra basil as a topping to make sure there’s enough if scaling up.
- Use fresh mozzarella for the best caprese salad. Avoid the low-moisture mozzarella commonly used for pizza.
- Sometimes, I find leaving the mozzarella for too long in the vinegar can result in the cheese tasting rubbery. If you plan to marinate the salad, you can accidentally leave it to marinate for too long. I recommend marinating for no more than 1 hour.
- If you’re worried about the cheese getting rubbery, mix the other ingredients. Add the chopped cheese and toss evenly just before serving.
Marinated chopped caprese salad with heirloom tomato, basil, and mozzarella
- Chopping Board
- Mixing Bowl
- 3 large tomatoes, heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes
- 1 log Mozzarella, fresh mozzarella is best
- 2 cups (50 g) Basil, loosely packed leaves, use as much as desired
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) Olive oil
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml) balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon (3 g) Salt
- ¼ teaspoon (1 g) Black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 loaf Bread, optional
- Gather the ingredients.
- Wash the ingredients to remove dirt and debris.
- Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized cubes, about the size of a clove of garlic.3 large tomatoes
- Chop the mozzarella into similar sized cubes as the tomatoes.1 log Mozzarella
- Slice the basil leaves into thin ribbons.2 cups Basil
- Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Combine until thoroughly mixed.3 tablespoons Olive oil, 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, ½ teaspoon Salt, ¼ teaspoon Black pepper
- Optional: Allow the salad to marinate for 60 minutes at room temperature before serving.
- You can serve the caprese salad with the salad dressing. If you find it too watery, drain the dressing before serving the salad.
- Enjoy your chopped heirloom caprese salad with toasted bread!1 loaf Bread
Can you make this in advance?
Yes! I make this recipe and allow it to marinate for 1 hour. But you could marinate it for hours or overnight. It’s a great dish to take for lunch the next day too.
How to store leftovers?
Put the leftover caprese salad in a container with a lid and store it in the fridge. When you’re ready to eat it, allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to avoid serving a chilled salad (unless you like it cold).
Can you freeze it?
No, I don’t recommend freezing, which would ruin the fresh tomatoes and turn the basil brown. This salad is best enjoyed fresh or, at most, refrigerated overnight.