If you’re ready to have a taste of Italy, look no further than a delicious and healthy caprese salad. That’s right, this iconic Italian-colored salad is considered healthy, even making it suitable for keto-friendly diets.
I’m excited to share with you how to make the perfect Italian caprese salad that you can enjoy guilt-free!
A Caprese Salad to Love
The caprese salad first originated in Italy from the island of Capri, hence the name, caprese. It is said it was created to represent the colors of the Italian flag – green, white and red.
Whether that’s true or not, who knows, but as an Italian myself, I love this Italian salad and I know you will too.
In this post I’ll explain how to make an easy Italian caprese salad, the health benefits, and expert tips for preparation and storage.
Is Caprese Salad Healthy?
The short answer is yes, but as with any recipe – moderation is key. A caprese salad is healthy when it uses fresh and organic ingredients.
I always try to use healthy ingredients in my Italian recipes, and for me this often means purchasing from reputable organic brands. Not only is it healthier, but in many cases, I’ve found the flavors are more genuine and robust.
Here are some tips to make sure your salad is as healthy as it can be.
- Use organic ingredients for a healthier salad. Avoiding foods that have been chemically processed with harmful fertilizers and GMOs will ensure an even healthier caprese salad, full of beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
- Use the large ball of fresh mozzarella packed in water, not oils and seasonings. Although I’ve never seen fresh mozzarella offered as organic, you can do the next best healthy thing which is making sure your mozzarella is fresh – packed in water or vacuum sealed, not flavored low-quality oils.
- Use first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Not only will this have more flavor, but it is the literal first batch of the cold pressing in production and therefore the freshest.
- Don’t add salt. Often, a small sprinkling of coarse salt is added on top, but feel free to skip this step and thereby reduce the sodium.
To create a truly authentic Italian version of this tri-colored salad there are only a few ingredients that you need.
- Fresh mozzarella packed in water. Not only is marinated mozzarella to be avoided for this salad, but it is often packed with low quality olive oil, and even soybean oil!
- Fresh whole slicing tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes). Roma or San Marzano tomatoes are best for a caprese salad.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Try to find a healthy first-pressed extra virgin (organic) olive oil. The first pressing of the olives has more flavor and is less processed.
- Fresh basil.
- Salt and pepper. This is optional.
How to Make a Healthy Caprese Salad
This is such an easy salad to make because there are no crazy ingredients. Your end goal is to create a caprese platter where the slices of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil are alternating. This means for every one ball of mozzarella, assume one large tomato of equal size.
As you’ll see in my image, this caprese salad recipe produces 10-12 slices ¼” thick or so, per mozzarella ball. Estimate 2 mozzarella slices per person, depending on how much your happy eaters love mozzarella. For me, I eat 3 or 4 for a quick snack.
Slice the mozzarella into 1/4″ slices.
Then slice the tomatoes the same width.
Wash and pat dry the fresh basil leaves.
- Use a platter or large plate.
- Arrange the slices on the plate, alternating the cheese and fresh tomatoes.
- Add the basil leaves. Typically, put in between each or every other slice, place on top, or on the side. You can also chop the leaves which makes it easier to eat, but not as visually appealing.
- Drizzle olive oil on top.
Salads in general are healthy, right? Thankfully our beloved caprese salad is healthy too! Let’s break down some nutritional benefits you’ll enjoy.
Here’s how many calories are in a caprese salad.
- A whole mozzarella ball can have 1680 calories. (70×24 ounces in the image above).
- For tomatoes, depending on the source, I’ve seen everything from 19 calories to 67 calories. I like how MedicalNewsToday calculates their tomatoes. According to their article, one cup of sliced raw tomatoes contains 32 calories.
That’s about how much we’ll need for the entire recipe.
- When it comes to basil, the amount of calories is very small. According to Nutritionix.com, 1 cup fresh basil, or 24 grams has 5.5 calories. We only need about 12 leaves which is about 2 calories.
Although there are multiple factors to consider, a caprese salad can have nearly 1714 calories per the brand I showed above. However, if you divide that into 4 servings then the calorie amount per serving would be around 428 calories based on the sources I’ve cited.
Cheese has such a bad reputation, doesn’t it? Fortunately, there are some nice healthy benefits to using mozzarella in a salad. And I’m not referring to processed mozzarella sticks that could act as a bungee cord!
Fresh mozzarella contains protein, carbs, calcium and vitamin A. The amounts vary depending on the brand and how they produce their cheese. I find this especially true when it comes to the sodium, since cheese is generally high in sodium.
Sodium is our only big enemy here. According to the BelGioioso label, one ball contains 85 mg sodium per one ounce serving, and 40 grams of protein. Based on my serving size (2 ounces) we’re actually consuming up to 170 mg sodium (85×2).
I wish it mentioned the Vitamin A because according to this link to the USDA, the brand is recorded as having 714 IU which is impressive.
Tomatoes have lots of health benefits, which is another reason I love this caprese salad. According to WebMD.com the benefits of fresh tomatoes provide us with:
- Vitamin K
- …and more (check the article for more health benefits)
Tomatoes also contain lycopene which may help reduce the risk of prostate issues or stomach cancer due to the antioxidants that it contains. If you like tomato recipes, try my stuffed baked tomatoes with tuna recipe, it’s super healthy and full of protein.
Good quality organic extra virgin olive is so much healthier than regular olive oils. Always check the ingredients and avoid any olive oils that contain any other additional oils. Don’t forget to look for organic brands.
Olive oil is used heavily in Mediterranean cooking and we all know how healthy that is!
According to the North American Olive Oil Association, they make it clear that olive oil is considered heart-healthy for many of its benefits.
They also state that extra virgin olive oil “has been linked to improved cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure”. You can read the full article here.
What to Serve with a Caprese Salad?
A caprese salad goes well with many types of dishes and foods. Although this salad originates from Italy, it doesn’t have to be served only alongside Italian recipes.
Here are some ideas for what to serve with a caprese salad.
- Grilled steak or chicken
- Pasta – although avoid heavy sauces
- Fruit salads
- Fresh Italian or artisan breads, toasted or non-toasted is fine
- Other types of salads or alongside an antipasto platter
A caprese is best served with other healthy dishes. Therefore, I would not recommend serving the salad with greasy foods or dishes with heavy cheeses.
When is Caprese Salad Popular?
For those who love Italian food like I do, this healthy salad can be served all year. It is especially popular at family parties, Italian picnics, get-togethers, or during holidays as part of the appetizers.
But popularity certainly spikes during the summer months when fresh ripe tomatoes are in season at the grocery stores, or right in our own gardens.
Many Italians serve this salad during Christmas time since the colors of the salad match the colors of the season. How fun!
During off seasons, you will need to purchase fresh basil – but usually larger grocery stores will sell them as small plants in the produce section or in small containers where the lettuce containers are.
Here are some tips I’d like to offer you.
- Always use good slicing tomatoes that are meaty. The best tomatoes to use are ripe San Marzano or Roma tomatoes for your caprese salad. Tomatoes that are not meaty will lack the texture and flavor you need. You don’t want to use runny or thin tomatoes if at all possible.
- Adding a small dash of ground pepper brings a little more pop to the dish. This is not necessary however, and a little goes a very long way. Too much pepper and it will ruin the recipe.
- The traditional Italian version does not use balsamic vinegar. If you must use it, you will want to make sure it is not runny, but slightly thick so it clings to the tomatoes and mozzarella. I recommend serving it on the side and keep the salad true to its Italian origins.
Storage and Preparation Tips
Your healthy caprese salad can easily be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap, without the olive oil. This avoids any spillage as the olive oil will run.
When storing leftovers, simply place the salad in an air-tight container for up to 3 days in the fridge. Do not attempt to freeze this salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, a caprese salad is keto diet friendly if you use fresh mozzarella, quality ingredients, and do not use balsamic vinegar which contains sugar content.
Since a keto diet requires high amounts of healthy fat, yet low protein and low carbs, a caprese salad fits those requirements.
The calorie count for a caprese salad varies depending on a range of factors such as serving size. Using an entire ball of mozzarella, the calorie count is near 1714. Divide that by the number of servings for individual serving size calories.
Large meaty tomatoes such as San Marzano, Beefsteak, and Supersteak are best for a caprese salad given their meaty inside that is firm. These are generally wider tomatoes and should be close to the same width as the ball of fresh mozzarella. The one exception is San Marzano which is more oblong, but if large enough has excellent flavor for this salad.
If you cannot find these varieties at the grocery store, try to find a comparable size. I recommend avoiding Campari or grape tomatoes, as they are just too small.
A healthy caprese salad uses organic extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil is already healthy in its raw form. I would not recommend using any other dressing.
Grilled meats such as chicken or beef are often used with a caprese salad, especially during the summer months.
Complimentary Italian Recipes
This delicate pasta with breadcrumbs uses simple ingredients that don’t overpower the mozzarella, tomatoes or basil in your salad.
This Italian zoodles with breadcrumbs and cheese is a delightful recipe that is perfect for vegetarians or people who want to cut back on their carbs or avoid gluten.
Serving your caprese salad alongside homemade authentic Italian bread is a match made in heaven.
This antipasto salad is light and refreshing. It contains many Mediterranean ingredients that will complement the flavors of the caprese salad.
I hope you like this recipe for a healthy caprese salad that you can enjoy guilt-free. If you have any comments or if this is your first time making this iconic Italian salad, let me know below![mailerlite_form form_id=5]
- 1 large fresh mozzarella ball – generally 24 ounces packed in water
- 1 large fresh tomato Meaty tomato such as beefsteak, or san marzano, or others that are same size as mozzarella ball
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 12 fresh basil leaves
- Slice the mozzarella into 8 equal slices.1 large fresh mozzarella ball – generally 24 ounces
- On a platter, arrange the cheese and tomatoes alternating each slice.1 large fresh tomato
- Place the basil leaves in between each slice or simply on top or on the side.12 fresh basil leaves
- Drizzle olive oil on top of the slices.2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Add a dash of salt and pepper (optional).
- Serve at room temperature.
- I estimate two slices of mozzarella and two slices of tomatoes per person. Adjust quantities as you see fit for whom you are making this recipe for.
- Finding the right tomatoes is essential. If the tomatoes do not have flavor, either will your salad. I prefer San Marzano tomatoes, but beefsteak varieties may work as well.
- This salad is best served at room temperature on a platter, so if you made it in advance, remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to serving.
- If making in advance, don’t add olive oil until ready to serve.
- For the basil, only use fresh leaves. You can either use whole leaves or chop them and add them on top and throughout. Although the whole leaves are a better presentation, the chopped leaves are easier to eat for some people.
- To make this caprese salad healthy, or healthier, avoid adding any salt, and use organic ingredients whenever possible.