In this installment of Diaspora Dining, Jessica B. Harris' series on foods of the African diaspora, the author and historian offers a summer salad that is simply delicious, but not for the fainthearted. Minced fresh garlic gives this salad, inspired from a visit to Guadeloupe, its special flavor., August 2022


Credit: Jillian Atkinson

Recipe Summary

5 mins
5 mins

It's still tomato season, and I am rejoicing. In New Orleans, where I have a home, they arrive early with locally special Creole tomatoes coming sometime in June. Creole tomatoes are medium to large, red, vine-ripened tomatoes grown in and around the parishes of the city, pulling their particular flavor from the rich, fertile soil of the Mississippi River Delta.

In the Northeast, where I spend my summers, tomatoes come later, starting in July. By August they arrive in all of their summer glory. They may be ruby red, slightly tinged with purple, or, these days, even sunshine yellow or green and zebra striped. It's worth the wait for the taste of high summer that can range from sweet to tangy. Then, it's time for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches with just the right amount of mayonnaise, or the squishy tomato sandwiches made with ordinary white bread that were a childhood delight. Thinly sliced and set atop crustless, buttered bread, these summer tomatoes are worthy of any tea table. Gazpacho beckons, and they can be put up in tomato sauces or simply baked into a tomatoey quiche as well. One of my favorite ways to eat summer-ripe tomatoes is in a simple tomato salad.

There are many ways to prepare a summer tomato salad. My maternal grandmother used to simply sprinkle her sliced tomatoes with a pinch of sugar and top them with torn mint leaves. For years, I was partial to a light vinaigrette and a chiffonade of fresh basil. Then I visited my good friend Maryse Pochot in Guadeloupe, a butterfly-shaped, French-speaking island in the Caribbean. Maryse is a native of the island, and I have had many culinary adventures with her over the years. It was during a visit to her home that my tomato salad tastes changed. I learned from Maryse how to make a tomato salad topped with freshly minced raw garlic. It is not for those with delicate sensibilities—in Guadeloupe they don't shy away from garlic, they rejoice in it.

To understand my love of this salad, you need to know that I grew up in a house where garlic, fresh or powdered, was never eaten. I discovered garlic late in life when I was a student in France, and it was love at first taste. Now, I am a serious partisan of the stinking weed. The salad is a very simple one: fresh, ripe tomatoes sliced medium-thick, arranged on a platter and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a very good balsamic vinegar, and one clove (or two, if you're living dangerously) of freshly minced raw garlic sprinkled on the top. Serve with crusty French bread for sopping up the tomato juices. That's it. But it means summer to me, and if you try it and like it, it may begin to mean summer to you too.

This essay is part of the series Diaspora Dining: Foods of the African Diaspora. In this monthly column with essays and recipes by Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D., we explore the rich culinary traditions of the African diaspora. Harris is a culinary historian and the author of 13 books related to the African diaspora, including Vintage Postcards from the African World (University Press of Mississippi), My Soul Looks Back (Scribner) and High on the Hog (Bloomsbury USA), on which the Netflix documentary series High on the Hog is based. She is the 2020 recipient of the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. For more from Harris on EatingWell, see Migration Meals: How African American Food Transformed the Taste of America and her Juneteenth Celebration Menu. Follow her on Instagram @drjessicabharris.

Simple Tomato Salad with Minced Fresh Garlic prep scene
Credit: Jillian Atkinson


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Arrange tomato slices on a serving platter, slightly overlapping the slices to maximize the exposed surface area. Slice garlic clove(s) in half lengthwise; pluck out and discard any bitter green inner stem from each half. Finely mince the garlic. 

  • Drizzle the tomatoes with oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic. Serve the tomato salad with bread.

Nutrition Facts

1 slice bread & about 4 slices tomato salad
164 calories; protein 6g; carbohydrates 30g; dietary fiber 3g; sugars 6g; fat 3g; mono fat 2g; vitamin a iu 1417IU; vitamin b2 riboflavin 3mg; vitamin b3 niacin 1mg; vitamin c 24mg; vitamin e iu 2IU; folate 26mg; vitamin k 14mg; sodium 259mg; calcium 19mg; chromium 1mcg; iron 2mg; magnesium 19mg; phosphorus 42mg; potassium 408mg; niacin equivalents 1mg.