Tomato and Onion Salad with Peppers

~ This super EASY Tomato and Onion Salad gets an extra boost of flavor from vibrant, crunchy peppers. It’s a signature summer recipe from one of the very best cooks I’ve ever known – my Oma! And, it only takes 5 minutes to make! ~

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegan (and Vegetarian)    Gluten Free  

Closeup of right side of serving bowl with a large spoon dipped into the tomato and onion salad to serve it.

What’s the one thing anybody can say about a recipe that automatically labels it “DELICIOUS”? 

“This is my Oma’s recipe.”

Boom. ‘Nuff said. Instant stamp of approval.

Uncomplicated Summer Perfection

This Tomato and Onion Salad may look simple, but that’s actually its true beauty: delicious simplicity.

  • Summer’s best tomatoes
  • Thinly sliced onions
  • Crisp yellow peppers
  • All tossed with a super-fast, tangy vinegar dressing

That’s it. So beautifully simple.

Clean, fresh, vibrant flavors. No need to overthink it.

It’s quick and easy … and blissfully flavorful.

It’s also wonderfully adaptable. (Read on for lots of little tips on how to change this up and truly make it your own.)

Oma’s Summer Tomato and Onion Salad

My sweet Oma just turned 90, but she’s hardly slowed down even a little, especially in the kitchen.

She regularly cooks for hundreds (seriously hundreds!) of people at her local German Club. And she and her daughter, Annie, are an unstoppable force of nature when it comes to preparing massive, over-the-top, buffet-style meals for our own family, too. I cherish the memories we made when my kiddos were little, and a highlight of summer vacations was Oma’s “cooking lessons.”

This woman knows good food. Undisputed.

“Oma made that” is all you need to say to ensure a party dish will be licked clean in the blink of an eye. Everyone loves Oma’s cooking.

She has a lifetime of amassed knowledge, tried-and-true techniques, and signature recipes. Unquestionably one of the very best cooks I’ve ever known.

One serving bowl of salad, surrounded by a tomato and onion and other ingredients and bowls.

This Tomato Onion Salad is one of her most eagerly awaited summer recipes.

She makes it several times each week for family meals, and (thankfully!) brings it along to picnics and parties (and yes … everyone is SUPER excited when they see this one comin’!).

In her sweet, Yugoslavian accent, she patiently walked me through exactly which ingredients to use (hint … it’s REALLY flexible … more on that in a minute), and her precise (but super-easy) techniques.

I took pages of notes, to be sure my Tomato Salad (and yours!) could turn out exactly like Oma’s!

Here’s how you do it …

How to Make Oma’s Tomato Salad

You basically need just 4 ingredients (plus salt and oil, which nobody really counts). And it literally takes about 5 minutes. (So don’t blink or you might just miss this!)

The big, super-important note here is that you’ve gotta use great tomatoes. Summer-ripe, fresh from the garden or farm market. Just like with my favorite Tomato Sandwich recipe: great tomatoes make all the difference!

Two tomatoes, four yellow peppers and onion on cutting board, with extra ingredients and tomatoes nearby.

Once you’ve found the perfect tomatoes, the rest is easy!

Step #1

Thinly slice your onion and massage the slices with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Massaging onions with salt helps to soften the onions a little, and is also particularly important in mellowing their flavor and taking the edge off that sharp, raw onion taste.

Step #2

Set the onions aside while you chop the peppers and the (unseeded) tomatoes. Oma says you want them to be bite-sized chunks.

Cutting board with piles of cut tomato, onion and pepper, with salad bowl and other ingredients nearby.

Then combine the veggies together, and add your extra virgin olive oil and white vinegar, stirring to make sure everything is really thoroughly combined.

Before serving, taste your salad and season it with just a little extra salt if you think it needs it.

Usually, I find that I don’t need any more than an additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt to really make the flavors pop. But that’s the key: you want the flavors to pop vibrantly.

Pro Tip on Salt

As my Oma says, when it comes to salt “You can always add, but you can’t take out – go according to taste.” She also taught me that with this recipe, or any similar kind of salad, a pinch of sugar always balances out too much salt or vinegar (which is great to know if you do happen to be a little heavy-handed with that salt shaker). Just taste and rebalance it all, until the flavors are perfect (which may vary slightly each time you make this salad, depending on the flavor and acidity of the tomatoes you’re using).

Pieces of tomato and onion and pepper in salad bowl, just being stirred together.

That’s it!

You’re done! (Told ya this was pure simplicity, didn’t I?)

Change It Up and Make It Your Own!

Like I keep saying, this recipe is SUPER flexible. 

Even Oma changes it up a little from time to time!

Peppers

All different sorts of yellow peppers work here. 

•  Oma usually uses her own, homegrown Hungarian peppers for this recipe (like you see in my photos). If you like a bit of heat, they’re a great choice!

Closeup of several yellow peppers with some tomato and onion in background.

•  For less heat, choose milder banana peppers.

•  Or for a sweeter flavor, you can even go with yellow bell peppers, which is what I often do if my store doesn’t have other options. (If you opt for yellow bells, I recommend using more like 2 cups of pepper pieces, though, since thicker-fleshed bell peppers don’t pack as tightly into the measuring cup.)

•  In a pinch, you can even use those cute little mini “picnic” peppers. That’s what Oma did a couple of years ago when she planted the wrong pepper plants in her garden!

Hungarian Peppers vs. Banana Peppers: The Confusion

Hungarian Peppers can be hard to find at the grocery store, and they’re often frustratingly mislabeled.

I wanted to photograph this post with the same Hungarian peppers Oma uses, but it got pretty confusing at the market.

So, I actually did a lot of research for this recipe, to try to hunt down the exact difference amongst peppers and help you figure out which to use. The most concise explanation I found was at a site called PepperScale. Here’s what I learned:

Hungarian wax peppers look a lot like banana peppers (and also pepperoncini peppers), so they’re sometimes called “hot banana peppers.”

But, true Hungarian wax peppers are generally larger and also hotter than banana peppers (Hungarians are considered a medium-heat chili, usually hotter than most jalapeños, too, and closer to the heat of serrano peppers). 

Onions

Oma and I both prefer using sweet onion in this recipe, but she says you can use any onion you happen to have, since rubbing them with salt takes most of the bite out of the onions, anyway.

Vinegar

Oma makes this with plain ol’ white vinegar (not white wine vinegar), which is what I always do, too.

But feel free to get creative! Oma assures me that you can use whatever type of vinegar you want. In fact, her son (who’s an accomplished home cook himself), sometimes gets all edgy with a little balsamic instead. And I can tell ya – it’s delicious that way, too!

Oil

Oma usually reaches for canola oil, but after she told me that virtually any mildly flavored oil will work just fine, I always choose extra virgin olive oil.

Just be sure to avoid highly flavorful oils like sesame or walnut.

Proportions

Oma’s version of this salad is more about the tomatoes than the peppers, but you can adjust the ratio however you like.

Closeup of two hands holding a yellow and white serving bowl of salad with large spoon dipped in.

Make-Ahead Tips

Talk about flexible! You have loads of options to make this salad partially … or entirely … ahead!

Making It Entirely Ahead

Oma often takes this Tomato and Onion Salad straight to the table, serving it for dinner immediately after she makes it.

But it actually lasts for at least 5 days in the fridge.

In fact, the longer it sits, the more wonderfully juicy it gets as the tomatoes release their liquid. (Hint: you’ll probably want a slotted spoon for serving.)

And, after it sits, the flavors meld and the vinegar-y flavor more fully permeates the veggies. Yum!

It’s a terrific make-ahead salad recipe for summer entertaining, or to help with meal prep to make summer evening dinners easier and more relaxed.

Little white bowl with one serving, with large serving bowl full of Tomato and Onion salad visible at lower left corner.

Making It Partially Ahead

Oma tells me that you can also get a head start on the prep if you want, without actually making the whole salad in advance. This is a good option if you’re not as keen on long-marinated flavors and prefer not to have your salad be so juicy when you serve it.

• You can salt and massage the onions and store them in the refrigerator for two or three hours. Then, finish the recipe whenever you’re ready.

• Or, you can layer the veggies ahead – onions that have been rubbed with salt, peppers, then tomatoes – and store it in the fridge without the dressing. Simply toss it all together and dress it before you serve it up.  

Whatever option you prefer, the bottom line is: yes … you’ve got options!

FAQs At-a-Glance

What Tomatoes Are Best for Tomato and Onion Salad?

Fresh, flavorful ones straight from the vine or farm market. Don’t waste time making this with sad, mealy, flavorless, mid-winter grocery store tomatoes. Great tomatoes make a great tomato salad! Oma and I normally opt for big, juicy beefsteak-type red ones (and Oma’s are usually straight off her garden plants, still warm from the summer sun).

Can I Use Canned Tomatoes?

Nope – fresh tomatoes only here. And again … really, really great ones!

What Onions Should I Use?

Again, Oma and I both like sweet onions in this Tomato Salad. But, because you’re rubbing the sliced onions with salt to remove some of that raw onion “bite,” it’s ok to substitute other varieties of onions you happen to have, too.

Can I Substitute Different Vinegars?

Yep! As I described in more detail above, you can vary the flavor by trying different vinegars. I can personally vouch for the fact that balsamic is another delicious option!

Can I Use Green Peppers?

I’m not going to tell you that you absolutely can’t, but the flavor profile will be very different if you opt for more bitter green peppers. I highly recommend sticking with yellow peppers, or maybe settling for orange or red bell peppers if you just absolutely can’t find yellow. For more information about which type of yellow peppers to choose, refer to the lengthier discussion above.

So there you have it! Oma’s signature Tomato and Onion Salad. The one her friends and family eagerly await, every single summer.

Straight from Oma’s heart, to your table … in about 5 minutes flat.

Overhead of full serving bowl of salad, with pieces of tomato and onion plus whole vegetables in background.

Such a simple way to celebrate the late-summer tomato season. And totally, Oma-approved, DELICIOUS!

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Overhead of serving bowl with two hands holding it.

Tomato and Onion Salad with Peppers

Yield: 4 1/2 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

This Tomato Onion Salad is blissfully, deliciously simple. One of my Oma's most eagerly awaited recipes, every single summer!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegan (and Vegetarian)    Gluten Free  

Ingredients

  • 1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes – do not remove juice and seeds (from about 2 large tomatoes or 5 medium ones)
  • 1 cup Hungarian wax peppers (or sweet banana peppers), or 2 cups sweet yellow bell peppers (see note) – seeds and ribs removed, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • additional salt to taste (we usually use about 1/2 teaspoon)

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, massage onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let sit for a few minutes (or refrigerate for up to 2-3 hours) while you prepare the rest of the salad.
  2. Place tomatoes and peppers in a medium bowl. Add onion mixture, vinegar, and oil. Stir to combine. Taste to adjust seasoning, adding additional salt if needed so the flavors pop vibrantly.
  3. Serve immediately. (Or see note about making this ahead and storing for up to 5-6 days.)

Notes

Peppers: As discussed in more detail in the post, you can vary the flavors and heat in this recipe by using spicier Hungarian peppers or sweeter banana peppers. You can also use yellow bell peppers (as I often do), but because they compact less during measuring, I prefer to increase the measurement (2 cups instead of 1 cup) when I use yellow bell peppers (note that this will affect your final recipe yield).

Other variations: Besides using different types of peppers, this recipe is incredibly adaptable – adjust it to your preferences and what you have on hand. 

  • While Oma and I both prefer to use sweet onion, you can use any kind, especially since rubbing the onion with salt will take out most of its spicy bite.
  • You can try using other vinegars. This is also really delicious with balsamic vinegar, for example.
  • And, you can substitute any neutral oil for the extra virgin olive oil. Oma usually uses canola oil, while I choose EVOO.

Make-ahead tips: As mentioned above, you can massage the salt into your onions several hours ahead and let them sit in the fridge until finishing your salad. You can also layer the peppers and then the tomatoes on top of the onions at that time, as well. Oma prefers not to add the dressing ingredients until the last minute – however, this is a matter of personal preference, since the dressing absorbs into the vegetables and the flavors meld as the salad sits (and the tomatoes release a lot of juice, so you'll want to serve it with a slotted spoon). Once dressed, this salad keeps beautifully for up to about 5 or 6 days – it's just more marinated and melded in flavor, and much juicier.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 9 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 41Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 144mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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2 thoughts on “Tomato and Onion Salad with Peppers”

    • Oh that’s just terrific to hear! I’m so happy that you found my explanations helpful – I really try to imagine all the questions people might have along the way and share all the little tips and tricks I learn through the testing of every recipe I publish! I hope you’ll find many more recipes here on my site that you enjoy, too – please let me know what you try next! 😀 ~Shelley

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Published on
Updated on August 31, 2021
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