Make this dairy-free rendition of a classic Italian staple in hot summer months when tomatoes are at peak ripeness and basil is plentiful. With good ingredients, all you need is a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to dress this simple vegan caprese salad. Here’s why you’ll love it:
- It requires no cooking, making it quick to prepare.
- The vibrant colors are always a beautiful addition to any spread.
- The flavor combination of creamy mozzarella, tart tomatoes and fresh basil is timeless.
What Is Caprese Salad Made Of?
Caprese salad is made simply of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and whole basil leaves. It is then finished with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Optionally (but not traditionally), balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze may be added.
Since there are so few ingredients, make sure to select ones that are of the highest quality possible. Your salad will turn out so much better! One of the best ways to ensure a quality salad is to wait until summer to source your tomatoes and basil, and try to get them from a local source like a farmer’s market.
Tomatoes: Look for large tomatoes that are heavy for their size. Heirloom varieties work well, as well as classic “beefsteak” or other slicing tomatoes. You may also use cherry tomatoes, although you’ll want to dice your mozzarella smaller and chop your herbs for uniform size. I prefer the drama of keeping everything large and rustic.
Vegan fresh mozzarella: To my knowledge, the only widely available brand of fresh vegan mozzarella is Miyokos Classic Plant-Based Mozzarella. Do not use sliced cheese (like the kind for sandwiches) or shreds. If you can’t find Miyoko’s, feel free to use tofu, as outlined in the following section.
Basil: Use large, whole leaves that match the diamater of the tomato and mozzarella, if possible. Look for “genovese” basil or other classic Italian varieties, and avoid Thai basil or purple basil. I often grow a patch in my garden and snip some when I need it — it grows prolifically through the warm months in most of the US.
Extra virgin olive oil: Use a good variety that’s meant for finishing, rather than sautéing or high heat. It should taste complex and fruity.
Balsamic vinegar or glaze (optional, but not traditional): Whether you choose to add this is completely up to you. I enjoy the salad either way, as the tomatoes provide enough acidity to balance the dish without it. However, a touch of balsamic glaze does lend a nice sweetness.
Sea salt: Season your salad generously, as tomatoes love salt and fresh mozzarella isn’t naturally as salty as other cheeses. Only salt your salad right before you’re ready to serve, as the salt will draw out the moisture in the tomatoes and make them watery as the salad sits.
What Can I Use In Place Of Vegan Mozzarella?
I highly suggest seeking out the fresh vegan mozzarella — but if it’s unavailable or you have an allergy, you can use sliced tofu instead. Here’s what to do.
- Slice a block of tofu into slabs about 1/2 inch thick.
- Cut the tofu into circles using a cookie cutter that’s a similar diamater to your tomatoes.
- Marinate the tofu in water with a glug of white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt for 30 minutes.
- Pat the slices dry and continue layering the salad.
You may find your salad needs a little extra olive oil at the end to give it the same creamy, luxurious mouthfeel as a vegan mozzarella would give.
Vegan Caprese Salad
- 2 large heirloom tomatoes
- 1 lb vegan fresh mozzarella (see note)
- 1 bunch basil
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic glaze (optional)
- flaky sea salt (to taste)
- freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
- Using a very sharp knife, core the tomatoes and slice about 1/4 inch thick. Set aside the smaller end pieces, reserving for another use.
- De-stem the basil and set aside about ~20 of the largest leaves.
- Slice the vegan mozzarella to a similar thickness as the tomato slices. Use a cookie cutter with a similar diameter as the tomato slices to cut the mozzarella into neat circles. Set aside the scraps for another use.
- Layer the tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella together on a large platter. Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze (if using). Sprinkle with flaky salt and black pepper just before serving.