If there ever were a salad to epitomize summer this is it. It’s simple. It’s classy. It’s colorful. It’s fresh. It’s sweet. And it’s literally just four ingredients: fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and olive oil.

The Caprese (pronounced Kah-pree-zeh) is named after the Italian island of Capri. Its classic red, white and green colors symbolize the Italian flag.

But, be warned, this is one salad that—if you really want it to be that good—you’ve gotta spend the extra dollars to get top quality ingredients. Since it’s only four ingredients, every ingredient counts and you can’t hide the flavors behind other flavors because they all pack an equal punch.

So here are 4 tips for how to make the best classic Caprese salad ever:

Freshly picked basil
A Caprese simply isn’t a Caprese without basil. Yes, you can substitute a different green like arugula or spinach but it won’t have the same signature sweet basil flavor. If you can, buy a freshly picked bunch of basil from the farmer’s market or from an organic grocery store. Or better yet, use a bunch that you’ve grown in your own herb garden. The fresher the basil, the better the taste. Simple. If you can’t, then at least buy organic. Besides, basil is off the charts when it comes to Vitamin K and A and Manganese and is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Don’t be stingy with the basil. Use the entire bunch or two and the whole leaf because it looks beautiful and when you chew it, all its amazing properties will dissolve in your mouth.

Mozzarella di Buffalo (Buffalo Mozzarella)
Yep, you guessed it. Mozzarella di Buffalo is made from milk of a buffalo not a cow or a sheep. In fact, it’s made from the domesticated Italian water buffalo and hence, it’s expensive and hard to find at regular grocery stores although you’ll probably find it at upscale delis or organic grocery stores. It’s often sold in a container of liquid (probably vinegar and salt) and you’ll see small white balls floating in it. Don’t worry if you can’t find buffalo mozzarella. Just use the next best thing, which is regular mozzarella. Again, the more expensive brands that are softer to the touch and stringier than those that come in a big solid log will taste better. Mozzarella is meant to be stringy and elastic-y. High quality mozzarella is a treat if you’ve never tried it, which is why it’s known as “white gold” or “the pearl of the table” in Italy. It’s packed with protein and is high in calcium. But whatever you do, don’t get the low-fat kind that Trader Joe’s sells. It defeats the point of this cheese being full cream and delicious.

Fresh cherry tomatoes
Tomatoes are best when they’re bright red and ripe as can be, and eaten at room temperature, which means do not refrigerate them as many people do out of habit. If you want to ensure a sweet tomato flavor, then opt for small, round cherry tomatoes (red, yellow and orange) from your local farmer’s market or organic produce from the grocery store. Again, the same rule applies: the more freshly picked, the better the flavor. If they’ve been sitting in a plastic container in a refrigerator for weeks, they’re simply not going to taste as great. If you can’t find cherry tomatoes, then get the big round red ones that are still on their vine called vine-ripened tomatoes as they’ll have more flavor than others because they are allowed to ripen on their vine before being picked. Make sure they are not too hard but not too mushy. If they’re on the firm side, still buy them and leave them out on the kitchen counter to ripen for a day or two and they’ll be just perfect. Plus they’re super high in Vitamin C and tons of other vitamins and minerals. So eat ‘em. A lot.

Organic extra-virgin olive oil
A Caprese is not a Caprese without olive oil. That’s all this salad needs with a sprinkle of salt. Again, the higher the quality of the oil, the better the taste. Make sure it’s extra-virgin. And if you can buy organic, do. Some people love to drizzle Balsamic vinegar onto their Caprese, which gives it a delicious sweet-tangy flavor so try it on the side, and if you like it drizzle it all over the olive oil and voila. Don’t be skimpy with the oil. Olive oil—a staple of the Mediterranean diet—is one of the healthiest fats out there. It’s also loaded with Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s and Vitamins E and K. Eat it and enjoy it. Hell, drink it if you want. Smear it on your skin and in your hair. This stuff is so good for you, you just can’t go wrong. Just look for reliable brands that really are extra-virgin.

Ready? Now this is what you do…4 easy steps using 4 ingredients:
If you’re making the swirly version like salad in pic 1 follow these instructions:

  1. Wash the vine-ripened tomatoes and the basil. Cut the tomatoes lengthways in thick slices.
  2. Cut the mozzarella cheese log in thick slices.
  3. Layer a tomato slice, then a mozzarella slice, then a big basil leaf and keep going so it forms a swirl around the plate till you get to the middle.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil (and Balsamic vinegar) and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

If you’re making round balls version like the salad in pic 2 follow these instructions:

  1. Wash the cherry tomatoes and the basil. Don’t cut anything.
  2. Drain the liquid from the mozzarella balls container.
  3. Toss the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella balls in a cute bowl.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil (and Balsamic vinegar) and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Eat it all up yourself. Or share with those you love. Or give it to your friends. Whatever you do, don’t save it for another day. And don’t put it in the refrigerator. The basil will wilt. The tomatoes will get soggy. The cheese will get too hard.
Enjoy your Caprese with a glass of chilled white wine or fresh lemon water with ice.
On a hot, sunny day, you can’t go wrong with this beauty. Here are two ways this could go:

Pic 1: Vine-ripened tomatoes cut in slices and layered with mozzarella slices and basil leaves in a swirl shape:

Pic 2: Cherry tomatoes tossed together with buffalo mozzarella balls and basil leaves. (This pic doesn’t show it but don’t forget the oil and vinegar):

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